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Sambhar Mafia - Cooked To Kill!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Concept That Works

Annalakshmi restaurant in Singapore is quite famous for its unique concept. The restaurant is run by a charity organization and their menu card doesn’t carry the usual price list. They let you pay what is appropriate for the quantum of food you have consumed. Since they trust you, they don’t really monitor whether you have paid appropriately. IMHO, their model works because lot of people (affluent clientele) pay more thereby cross-subsidizing the crowd which might pay less. Most of the people who work at the restaurant are volunteers (usually well-qualified) who are associated with the charity organization. The charity also makes some money by selling paintings, arts and crafts which are prominently displayed at the restaurant. A recent Reuters article talks about how they manage to run the show.

Annalakshmi has three outlets in Singapore, and eateries in Malaysia, Australia and India. Staff range from retired civil servants to women from broken homes to executives and doctors who believe serving and preparing food is the ultimate blessing.

The flavorsome food -- and unique concept -- attracts hundreds of tourists, expatriates and Singaporeans every day. The restaurants serve north and south Indian specialities such as tamarind soup, chickpea curry and savory lady's fingers.

Lunch is served buffet-style at the Chinatown bistro or at the stall in the bustling Lau Pa Sat downtown food center. The main restaurant offers the most choice with a dinner menu that changes with the seasons. [Link]

I have found that Annalakshmi’s service is a bit sloppy at times (personal experience based on few visits in the past). If you go to a regular restaurant, you can demand a certain level of service for the kind of money that you pay. By going to a restaurant which is run by volunteers, you are in a way expected to behave in a diplomatic manner. Do you feel that we should tone down our expectations while going to such concept restaurants?

It’s quite strange to note that Annalakshmi has not followed the “Pay As You Wish” concept for their Indian operations. Back in the 90s, a meal at their Chennai outlet (opposite LIC in Mount Road) used to be priced at Rs. 150. I’m sure the price would have gone up now. I have nothing against the restaurant or the charity but I somehow feel that if the restaurant can trust its customers in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia they should also trust the Indian clientele by following the same concept back in India. Do you really think this concept will succeed in India?


  • I don't think the concept will work in India (with no offence meant to us indians). In S'pore, the main clientele might be tourists who want to "try" this restaurant for its unique concept. Here in india, there might be zillions of ppl who just go in there for food and might not always have the money to pay for it.

    By Blogger Rajaram S, at 7:14 PM  

  • Their chennai outlet is outrageously expensive and always full...more to do with their location than anything else...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 PM  

  • Few years back, I heard that there was one such restaurant near Coimbatore. It was also run by a charity and I thought what a concept it was. Not sure whether it is in anyway connected to this.

    By Blogger Chakra Sampath, at 12:21 AM  

  • I also dont think it will succeed in India. Maybe, as an in-house restaurant in a star hotel, there is a possibility.

    Also, the feedback on the food itself (as well as price) was not very encouraging.


    By Blogger SLN, at 3:19 AM  

  • Actually they have the 'pay as you wish' thingy in chennai on the founder's birthday or something. But this was a long time ago, maybe mid nineties.

    By Blogger Sowmya, at 3:24 AM  

  • Interesting post. I wasn't aware that such a restaurant existed in S'pore. Imho, I don't think this concept will work in India (as mentioned in a previous comment) mainly because the cross-subsidizing you mentioned that happens in S'pore (which helps the management run the place) might not happen in India coz there is a wide gap between the haves and havenots in India.

    By Blogger Priya, at 3:35 AM  

  • no, no way. Indians, including me are gonna walk off saying "Hey! you deserve nothing!"

    ...hey ppl, any one outside India, can anyone tell me who won the Amazing Race Asia...the bloody ppl r not allowing AXN in india!

    By Anonymous game!, at 6:22 PM  

  • I have had food at the Annalakshmi in Hyderabad ( When I lived there in 2003). They had the "pay-as-you-wish" model there back then.

    Annalakshmi is one of my favorite jaunts in spore.But ever since they moved out of excelsior centre,I never visited them. Heard they don't have dinner anymore.

    By Blogger Cogito, at 9:08 PM  

  • kaps..
    This brot in fond memories of our meeting at Annalakshmi last yr.
    Yeah.the service sucked a bit but then the crowd was also too much than a regular restaurant.

    I liked the place and people there though.
    Will it work in India?My answer would be "No"..

    Every tom,dick n harry passing through the restaurant would go in and have a meal and pay some measily amount without shame.In india,people don't mind to take their anger against the government or their employer over some other entity :For example,people hate the saloons that charge 25 rs for a haircut and even a bank manager would be seen haggling over 1/2 kg of potatoes from the poor market vendor.
    In India,everything needs to have a price tag and sooner or later they won't exist.

    By Blogger rajesh, at 1:59 AM  

  • I don't know if its the same Annalakshmi, but there is an outlet on Mettupalayam Road in Coimbatore with the same concept and its been successful too.

    By Blogger Ravi, at 2:09 AM  

  • in chennai... annalakshmi owners will have to look for annam if they say pay as u want :)

    By Blogger smiley, at 10:12 PM  

  • It is surprse to note that the restaurant opposite to LIC mount road is run by charity institution.
    I am sure the concept will not work in India , being poor.

    It might work in US probably

    By Blogger Naren Ranganathan, at 11:49 PM  

  • as a volunteer in one of the annalakshmi outlets, I'ld say diners have every right to expect decent service - no compromises on this. but service and diner etiquette are two sides of the coin..

    India is home to the ideal of charity - even today temples practice this tradition with gusto. Indians forget this unfortunately.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:52 AM  

  • ive been to quite a few annalakshmi's and honestly i think the chennai one tops the list. perth too, is real nice.

    the kl one however could really use an uplift... ive seen the same decor up on the walls for the LONGEST time, the food is only slightly past mediocre, and the service, save for a few nice aunties, isnt that great either.

    i admit its a great thing they're doing, but why should it be done at the cost of quality?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25 PM  

  • Yeah. I know what you mean. The food in KL Annalaksmi is nothing great. The restaurant has to decide whether it is a Maxim's or MacDonalds.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:57 PM  

  • The concept of Annalakshmi is not just pay as you wish. Its the mums cooking, you dont know what you are going to have for dinner or lunch when your mum is cooking, the same concept here, so no. menu cards. WhaT they have in their buffet is very traditional and homestyle food and not the retaurant style servings. You dont eat the same serving of every item your mum has made or dont clomplain about sloppy service to your mum.

    Annalakshmi is for filling your heart and not for filling your stomach.

    By the way there is no MSG or any addded chemicals or colours or any other presevative added to this food (your mum doesn't add them at home) so you know what you are eating, a very healthy and tasty and stumptious meal.

    Above all Annalaskhmi adds "love" the most important ingridient to your food, which restaruants don't add as the food is not cooked by a Chef its your mum who has cooked this food.

    The other side of Annalakshmi is fine dining, such as the one in Chennai, which helps support the entire system and other activities hence charged premium rates.

    Go to the Annalaskhmi in Perth in Australia its situated right on the swan river and you are eating your mums cooking with a view to kill at a price you choose to pay.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:23 AM  

  • The Chennai outlet was 'pay as you wish' in the beginning. Dunno when it changed. We can only guess the why!

    By Blogger DesiGirl, at 5:19 AM  

  • Yes, This is a Remarkable. All the best to Annalakshmi Team, Coimmbatore.

    By Blogger Covai Ravee, at 8:20 PM  

  • Let me give U some honest feedback. while it is all in concept, there is a grouchy old man who sits at the counter on some days. He gives dirty looks and says awful things, when people pay amounts which are lesser than the average.. This does not do justice to the " pay as you wish concept". With due respect, I dont think Indians are cut out to run concepts of this kind.

    By Blogger Wadapav, at 9:36 PM  

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