Elena Bezrukova is a remarkable woman. She has thrown her passion and enthusiasm into many projects over the years and is respected as one of Kazakhstan’s leading business coaches and psychologists. She channels most of her energy these days into the Elena Berzukova Centre, where she works with leading businesses to help drive their agenda and develop their people. Open Central Asia sat down to find out more on her thoughts around how a new area of the Kazakh business landscape is developing – the hospitality industry.
Open Central Asia: What uniqueness does Kazakhstan have in the domain of the development of hospitality industry?
Elena Bezrukova: Kazakhstan is an exceptional country in terms of its hospitality industry background. Its ground is deeply soaked with one of the national traditions of Kazakh people, to respect a guest. Through the centuries, generosity has been raised to the level of being one of the key values in the national Kazakhstani culture. Respect for a guest is as equal, as respect for elders.
The southern heart of the country – Almaty – concentrated both on the Eastern traditions of meal and the Western experience of the HoReCa (food service) industry. Residents of Almaty travel a lot. Almaty’s proprietors also have restaurants and bars in other countries and they bring along new knowledge and impressions from travelling that they introduce in their establishments. Many seek to create European quality standards but with the southern inhabitants’ kindness. Such mix of traditions, cultural values and international experiences makes the restaurant business in Kazakhstan both original and attractive for tourists.
OCA: What are the dynamics of the development of Kazakhstan restaurant business market?
EB: According to the website edumart.kz, currently, there are more than 1 000 enterprises registered – owning many restaurants, cafes and bars. Numbers differ across other cities – Astana – 1900, Shymkent about 700. Overall, there are more than 25 thousand food courts in the country.
Astana takes the first place for the dynamics of restaurant business development. Many international, cultural and political events take places in Astana. Therefore, Astana has favourable economic conditions for HoReCa. In second place is Almaty. It has not only the heritage of having been the capital centre, but it also continues to position itself by being the cultural capital city, in which traditions of many nationalities, trends of Western neighbours and friendship with Eastern states are intertwined. Therefore it is not surprising that in Almaty seven to ten new establishments are opened every week. However, many of these businesses also close rapidly. The national average is that 30 percent of the establishments close during the first three years. The business is very difficult to manage in spite of its largely visual appeal. Accounting is complicated as well. It is not easy to constantly support the high level of service, mostly because of high stuff turnover and the social unattractiveness of professions in the service sector. Nevertheless, according to the edumart.kz website, despite the instability of the hospitality industry in the country, on the average, it still grows by 15 percent every year.
OCA: How has the economic crisis influenced the activity of restaurants, bars and cafes?
EB: On the one hand – yes, it has an effect. It has forced owners to search for new tools to attract and retain guests. The crisis awakened many to invest more resources in staff training too. It pushed owners to consider the restaurant business not only in terms of value-enhancing investments, but also in terms of social accountability and providing the possibility for creative work.
On the other hand – no, it does not have an effect. People continue to throw the same lavish banquets as they used to. Meat is being ordered more frequently, and even appears in coffee shops. As many have traditionally fixed meetings in the restaurant, so they continue to do it.
There was a reduction in numbers dining in restaurants from August 2015 to February 2016, but this was offset by growth in other food outlets (including coffee shops) showing that people are simply changing with the times.
OCA: What do the modern Kazakh restaurateurs do to attract guests? How do they stay afloat?
EB: Restaurateurs have generally raised the level of service they provide. They have made prices more flexible and improved the quality of cuisine. These methods are traditional enough of course.
There are restaurateurs, however, who use an innovative approach in dealing with staff. Let me tell you one story.
There was an old, vintage restaurant “Demalis”, in the Central Park of Culture and Leisure in Astana, which was loved by many people. The business owner constructed a modern complex out of the old building, because the family atmosphere it used to have had diminished and clients turned their back on the restaurant.
The construction of the restaurant took two years. At the end of 2016 “Demalis” opened doors to old and new friends. During the two years, while the building was taking place, its guests “were lost” and they no longer had a reason to travel there from the other end of the city.
I visited the new establishment in November 2016. The luster of the outside glass, brightness in the children’s halls, the expanse of banquet rooms, the harmony of colour – all of these provided unrestrained wonder. At the same time, though, I was upset by the vast emptiness space.
Clearly new (and old) guests were lacking and needed to come back. Unfortunately, the owner of family complex did not have the energy for this and then I offered to involve his staff in some marketing activities.
We had two training courses: one for managers, in which they generated objectives and tasks, and the second course was held with all the staff. Then, everybody, including me, developed a plan of action to improve the attractiveness of service for guests, which they immediately introduced. “Demalis” employees got into three groups. The first group left to the park and told bypassers about the new restaurant. The second group was photographed with poster proclaiming, “All interested people are welcome!” in front of the building that afterwards was sent to all their acquaintances. The third group delivered business cards to nearby offices, shops and venues located in the vicinities. Training was interesting, easygoing and fascinating. And, the main outcome – there were no empty seats in this restaurant!
Thanks to the creativity and courage of the owner and constant work of controlling networks, the participation of the staff in the development of the restaurant, “Demalis” became a new fairy tale of the old legend.
I finally want to note a very important phenomenon on what happens in the modern market of the Kazakh restaurants. The owner of these enterprises have begun to change actively, shown willingness to learn, and opened their doors not only to guests, but also to colleagues’ restaurateurs!
The restaurateurs learn together on courses and master-classes, where they share their experience and plans. From the last theme events, it is possible to mark two food tours held together with my colleague, Irina Perminova, in Astana (October 2016) and in Almaty (February 2017).
We visited more than 15 restaurants and coffee shops, where more than 30 restaurateurs from big and small Kazakhstan towns took part.
Kazakh restaurants have created their own new, original approach to work, but they still are hospitable and welcoming, and expecting their guests from around the world.