Chittoor, 72 km from Tirupati, is a small town with a limited number of hotels catering to the needs of the corporate executives majorly. With granite, and food pulp factories situated close to the town, 75 percent of the occupancy in the hotels is by the representatives of corporate companies.
Significantly, there are no 5-star hotels in the town, which can help us gauge the quality of spending and life in the town. Hotels in Chittoor are short of skilled staff, both in the kitchen and those serving in the restaurant. Running the hotels has also become very tough with budget constraints being very high.
Vinoth Nagappan, Manager of Prabha Group of Hotels, Chittoor, says staffing is a major issue. The salary being demanded by the chefs is beyond our budget allocation. Around 20% of the income is allocated towards the salaries of the staff but it is not sufficient. We are being forced to shell out nearly 28% of income towards salaries, he revealed.
There are certified chefs in the market but they are demanding more. We are facing a problem with skilled staff, both chefs and serving personnel. Chinese, tandoori and North Indian chefs are asking nearly Rs 30,000 per month. Unskilled labour or second-rung staff can be procured easily. We do get trainees but not professionals even in the serving staff section.
Quality of hotel management courses
The quality of hospitality education has dropped once hotel management has been made a diploma. Earlier, a hotel management course used to be a 3-year degree course but once it has been cut down to 1 year, the quality of education being imparted to them has dropped. Out of this one year, 10 months they do not go to classes and work as trainees only. The students go to classes only for two months. Students who could not make it to the engineering or other higher education courses are entering into hotel management courses and such students can be hired for just Rs 10,000-15,000 salary per month. The quality of hotel management education has diminished.
In Tamil Nadu, all hotel management colleges are run in apartments. They are run just like a local school. Even the teaching staff is not proper in those colleges. All passed-out students are returning as teaching staff to those colleges.
There is a hotel management college in Tirupati. Even there, the quality of education imparted is not up to the standard. The quality of the teaching staff is not good. The size of the college might be big but they are compromising on the quality.
All the kitchen waste and leftovers from customers’ plates are dumped in the bins. Operation-wise, business-wise and customer-wise, there is not much problem. The major problem is operating the departments with the staff. In fact, we have to fight with the management to allocate more budget for the salaries of the staff, he said.
One other challenge is pricing the products. One biryani packet can be sold at Rs 350 in Chennai because it is a metropolitan but in Chittoor, we can’t go beyond Rs 180. Customers complain that Rs 180 per packet itself is too high. Even if we increase the price by Rs 5 or Rs 10, the customers consider it a steep hike. There are not many people who can afford such high costs in Chittoor. They want quality but at a lower price, he said.
Overcrowding of hotels
Mohan Raju of Saptagiri Hotel on Chittoor Highwaylamented that too many hotels on the highway were resulting in losses to them. There are around 4-5 hotels in just 1 km which is proving to be a problem. When the prices of vegetables soar, it will definitely have an impact on our profits as we cannot compromise on the quality or increase the price of the dish suddenly.
J Anil Kumar of Sweet India Caterers, Chittoor, said he considered challenges as part of business and that they should not be considered as a difficulty. Troubles should be considered as an integral part of business but not as a hurdle. Then alone can businesses be done. A rise in prices of onions or tomatoes should not be considered as a big worry. Businesses should be viewed from a bigger perspective, he concluded.
Ram Prasad, Manager at Bhaskara Hotel, Chittoor, says that usually the kitchen staff is uneducated and hails from North India. They are mainly poor and migrate to Andhra Pradesh in search of a livelihood. Hence, training them and getting them industry-ready involves some effort. These days, we are also getting 10-20% of the staff from trainees and students pursuing hotel management courses. Even these people are not completely up to the mark. They also need to be taught some basic etiquette, he said.
Do it with passion
Chefs cannot satisfy all the customers too. What a few might like could be disliked by a few others. Tastes vary from person to person and they go by the taste of the majority, he said, adding that usually, many people prefer eating less spicy food.
Business involves immediate response to a challenge. Based on the trouble we confront in each department, we should respond and try to overcome the problem to keep the show going, he said.
Unlike non-perishable goods, the hotel industry cannot bank on food for a long time. We have to go systematically when it comes to cooking the food for the customers. Businesses involve hurdles and overcoming them will not be a big task if it is done with passion, he felt.
Ravi Babu, Manager, Sindhu Towers, Chittoor says they have been struggling to make profits after bearing all the expenses. Post the pandemic, many small hotels have come up and it is hitting our business. Power bills, LPG bills, and the price of dhals have increased. There is no other way than to throw the leftovers into the dustbins. Unlike sweets and savouries, meals can’t be stored and at times, even this leads to some loss. “We don’t frequently change the menu because the customers might not like it.”
“Rise in price of vegetables will have to be borne because we can’t reduce consumption or even compromise on the quality. If we do such things, customers might not return to our restaurants. At times, onions might cost Rs 50 a kg but the onion dosa might cost Rs 70. In such cases, it is a loss because we can’t compromise on the quality,” he said.
Sujith Kumar, Manager of Jalpaan, Tirupati speaks of an entirely different kind of problem. “Our menu is different. Many of our ingredients are English vegetables and their supply is scarce here. We use broccoli, lettuce, and zucchini which have to be brought from Bengaluru and hence, we face problems in procuring them. Regarding the staffing, we do not have any problems as it is a property of the Jalpaan Group.”
As our restaurant makes food on order, we do not have much wastage. Unlike buffet, a la carte does not involve excessive serving. We have a mere 5-10% of wastage either in the kitchen or from the customers’ plates, Sujith revealed. Moreover, we do not change our menu frequently as it belongs to the Jalpaan Group. We follow the same,” he said.