In an era when restaurants open and shut like a dime a dozen, there are a few that I absolutely don’t enjoy. Of course I won’t be naming any but if they are serving molecular anything to the masses or OD on the carbon ice for their showmanship and presentation, then they are on my ‘Seriously Avoid’ list. But then there are some places I like so much that I wonder why didn’t I think them up in first place so eventually I come to harbour a loving hatred for them, stemming from sincere admiration and the most-flattering version of jealousy. The Beer Cafe and Social are two such chains.
The Beer Cafe appears to be so simple a concept that one wonders what took people so long to open it. A choice of beers with decent finger food, a pleasant playlist and mostly efficient service, frankly there are a few places this could go wrong. Sure the beer has a short shelf life and draught equipment must be kept spotlessly clean, also attrition can wreak havoc on any service standard one tries to put in place but for most parts, they manage to get most of it right. The proof is in the pudding for, since I last checked, they are expanding and spreading like a chain reaction, so more power to them.
Social is the quintessential local bar. Albeit different in format, it is nevertheless as close as we shall possibly get to an Englishman’s pub down the road. I can’t count the number of times I simply walk down to the neighbouring Social for a quick pint or two. Sure on weekends the music is too loud for my liking but I am mostly the early crowd there. And then, to boot, the food is lovely. Nothing special or fussy but innovative and with flavours cognisant and marked. Also, it’s consistent, which is something one can rarely say about any place nowadays. And it’s pocket-friendly, which is yet another rare treat on the going-out scene.
Both these places are a great example of what spells success in the hospitality business today—a keen eye on the product and the service, and ensuring consistency. Both have interiors that don’t scream money; unlike certain other places, the owners of these two deploy no garish superlatives—highest, first, best, and what not to describe their outlets. This then possibly means that they have applied their resources to putting systems in place and they have spent on people to ensure those systems are followed. People, and not random gimmickry or tawdry party tricks, I believe, should always be the most-cherished resource.
Unfortunately, TBC and Social seem to be rather the standout cases when they should instead be the poster boys. All other outlets, if not trying to work out a new way to discount drinks, are busy getting a paid Page-3 mention for yet another party celebrating ugliness. Needless to say, they lack character and soul, which makes them immediately replaceable. So the minute the next equally crass cafe or club opens up, the crowd migrates. But people who go to Social and The Beer Cafe, people like me, we go back because we connect and relate with the spaces. And no matter how intangible it really is, one feels at ease with the product. So much so that one doesn’t even mind paying the service charge when there!
The writer is a sommelier.