Shreyas Kulkarni

"INOX is going to be a destination for food and we also show movies”: Dinesh Hariharan, INOX Leisure

The VP of F&B talks to us about the multiplex putting food as its leading ingredient.

“Bhaisaab, yeh kis line mein aa gaye aap?” asked Akshay Kumar in the hit comedy ‘Welcome’. I felt the same question arise in my mind when I spotted INOX Cinemas on the Swiggy app. What is a multiplex doing on a food ordering app?

"INOX is going to be a destination for food and we also show movies,” replies Dinesh Hariharan, vice president, food and beverages, INOX Lesiure. Not the answer I expected to hear but food and beverages (F&B) are being positioned as the driving ingredient for the multiplex chain going forward.

A few days ago, INOX announced a tie-up with ITC’s ‘Kitchens of India’ Ready-2-Eat brand of Indian cuisines across all its multiplexes in India. Along with this, it had listed itself on food ordering apps Swiggy and Zomato and has plans to position its three food brands Café Unwind, Insignia and Delights into full-service restaurants to target non-cinema customers.

Speaking about the tie-up, Hariharan tells us the “multiplex industry throughout the world survives on popcorn and cola” and one has to evolve as people’s needs and choices do. “We did a lot of internal studies and spoke to customers and team members during Covid.”

Dinesh Hariharan
Dinesh Hariharan

As per the vice president, restricting themselves with only popcorn and cola and selected SKUs would not have helped them reach where they wanted to.

“We said our thought process has to be "Now Showing to Now Serving". If I have to shift from now showing to serving in India, I need to cover a larger set of cuisines and options,” explains Hariharan.

Inox did not want customers to go to food courts separately so it started selling pizza, pasta, burgers, sandwiches but Indian food was missing from all of this.

“We wanted something standardised in Indian cuisines; No better than ITC’s Kitchens of India. It is a well known established brand and it is supported with hospitality chains and the recipe is made by master chefs.”

Was the serving of Indian cuisines at INOX’s movies and restaurants aimed at a particular consumer group? We ask because we just could not fathom young folks ordering pulao while watching a movie. Our minds would associate them with cola and popcorn.

As per Hariharan, during the weekdays, a lot of young kids or college goers would visit the movies and most of them do not carry food. Now, rather than spending money on snacks, the kids can have a "home meal replacement" which means he will have a full-fledged meal option while watching a movie. “We are not saying this option will be a popcorn fail, but having a choice is not hurting, it is only complementing the business.”

When asked if people will eat inside theatres or would rather have their masks on all the time, we heard him confident of a smooth affair. “Covid is going to stay and we've to learn to live with it. We (INOX) have followed stringent hygiene practices and for having food, the only way to do so is to open your mouth…”

Another interesting aspect of INOX’s push to make F&B is leading ingredient is its presence on Swiggy and Zomato. “INOX offers, popcorn, cola, beverage, pizza, burger, sandwich, name a cuisine, we are present. It's like a multi-cuisine restaurant,” explains Hariharan and says it’s better than hunting for different dishes at multiple restaurants.

What caught our eye, the most, was the decision to position the in-house INOX food brands as restaurants so that non-cinema goers can visit them too.

"INOX is going to be a destination for food and we also show movies”: Dinesh Hariharan, INOX Leisure
Saurabh Varma

There’s Insignia which is equal to a star hotel. The second is Café Unwind which can be compared to “Starbucks dominated by beverages and long conversations”, and the third is the concessions stand “which can be equated to QSRs where you come, pick your food, in two minutes, food will be prepared.”

"INOX is going to be a destination for food and we also show movies”: Dinesh Hariharan, INOX Leisure

“If there’s a potential area, we’ll do whatever is required to open a restaurant,” says Hariharan after he explained the three different food brands of INOX and their wish to bring it outside to non-cinema goers.

“INOX is standing out, we sell loads of cheese and caramel popcorn because the product we offer is superior to what's available in general trade and modern trade or other food courts,” he claims and goes on to assert they have a fully-trained F&B team, a battery of chefs, and solid experience to go ahead and open a restaurant.