He is someone who never gets tired of food. His Mrinals Vlog, which has gone viral on YouTube and social media, has become synonymous with taste.
Kasargod native Mrinal Das Vengalat is not only a well-known food vlogger but also a world-renowned restaurant consultant. He speaks to his viewers about the quality of the food eaten through the expressions on his face.
There are many small vloggers mushrooming on social media right now, many of whom see vlogging as a way to go to a restaurant to have a free meal.
Mrinal Das Vengalat talks about how to have a clean vlog and also about restaurant consultancy.
Rs 1 lakh for a food vlog!
There are people who call me and say: 'I have a restaurant, can you make a video?' I state the terms clearly to all those who call. I tell them Rs 1 lakh should be deposited in the account before I visit them.
After having food, if I comment in my vlog that I did not like the food, I send the video with that comment to the restaurant, and if they are fine with that, I publish it as such.
I don't edit the content and change it. They can decide whether the video should be published or not. Some people decide not to have any further dealings with me and run away. And with that many stop bothering me.
The problem is when my clients go to the police station complaining about the fees I charge. What can I say if someone who is not likely to be my client in my life goes and complains?
I charge hourly fees. I charge that fee because there are people ready to give it. If I am indulging in a fraud, how long can that possibly sustain? If no one comes looking for me, then wouldn't I naturally reduce the fees? I have never gone to people saying I will do a vlog and that I will need this much money. I have done more than 400 video vlogs by spending from my own pocket.
I have not approached a single client. From the first client to the current client, all have come to me. I send away 95 per cent of them by saying something. I have no great greed for money. But I have incurred a huge debt because of a previous business.
So, I have decided three things in life. One, I will not use a credit card or take out a loan for any reason. That is to ensure that the existing debt does not increase. Second, there was no one to help me in business. I had no contacts. There was no one to tell me about the market conditions. But all those were my faults. I should have ensured all this before starting the business.
That is why I first tell about my experience to anyone who comes to me with a business plan. I tell them not to rush into starting a business. If, in your excitement, you take the plunge, you will not be able to get out if something else catches your fancy.
I was greedy for money, but there was no point. I tell all these kids: When you work for money, money will go away from you. But, if you work for the best result, money will come to you. Ask anyone who has made money and they will tell you this.
Friends talk about places where you can get good food. I also save as notes information that I get from them and through Facebook, newspaper reports and other sources, including Google Maps. When I pass through a place where a restaurant is located, I try to go there and eat if possible. That note now has over a thousand restaurants.
If I am doing a food vlog, I do not inform the restaurant in advance. But there are occasions when I have to say in advance.
If it takes a long time for a dish to be prepared, it will have to be ordered a day before. I don't place the order. I ask someone else to do it.
On occasions when the kitchen has to be shot, I will have to inform the restaurants beforehand that I plan to show it in the vlog. Otherwise, they will not give permission if I just go there and say I want to shoot. Because, for big restaurants, it doesn't matter even if such vlogs are not made.
Many think that if I go to restaurants, I get a great reception and that I don't have to pay money. That is not the case. Madhu from Cherthala told me while vlogging that he was already not able to cater to the rush and if more people come after watching my vlog, he would find it very difficult.
I had made a vlog comparing five types of 'mandis' in Kozhikode. For that, it was not me but a friend who bought the mandis from the shops. If you ask me why, that is because those who see this vlog and go there should get the same product that I got.
Are all bloggers eating for free and walking around without shame?
There are kids on Instagram and other such social media who call restaurants and say they have a page and that they can vlog about restaurants but they will need free food in return.
I am against this. I pay for whatever I eat. I also post those bills on Instagram. Some new vloggers with more than a certain number of followers also ask restaurants for money. That is also not right. A restaurant makes a profit of only 10%.
These child bloggers often get into trouble with people at the restaurants and threaten to make adverse comments against them. That, too, is not a good trend.
Things to take care of in vlogging
If we do a vlog, it is not necessary that everyone should watch it. Our subscribers are located in various parts of Kerala or outside Kerala. If I vlog about a restaurant in Kottayam, all those seeing it will not go and eat there.
In this, there is something called the target audience. That audience power must be there in the correct place. They must desire that product. So there are a lot of topics on marketing techniques involved in this. If five lakh people see it, then only five hundred of them could be real customers.
The restaurant business is a challenge
There is no connection between my career and my vlogs. After seeing the vlogs, a lot of people ask me if I can help them start a restaurant. They are told about the fees. The fee is a bit high. I conduct a class for those who can't afford it once a month at a star hotel.
This is to show you how the kitchen in that hotel works. The class fee is Rs 9,000. From that I have to pay tax and the hotel bill, after which I get to retain about Rs3,000 to Rs 4,000.
They will be given information on how to do the costing, how to do the budgeting and how to select the location. Those interested can read more about it. But most of the time, after realising what it entails, 99% of the people who come to the class drop the idea of starting a restaurant. That is because this business is that challenging.
Does food vlog help consultancy?
Restaurant consultancy is a very difficult job, and the benefit of vlogging along with it is you can recharge through such trips and also get to know about new resources and ideas.
When his business collapsed
I started blogging when I was wondering if I should stay in a hospital as a mad man or do something else that was similar.
At the time, my wife said to me, "Go to America once." But getting a ticket to go to America was a problem.
I travel only in business class. There is no shortage of pride, you see. When one looks at it, the life of another person would seem strange.
Our life is dear to all of us. We, therefore, try our best to carry on despite problems. Whenever there is a crisis in my life, I go to America for 10 days. There those with money and those without, white and black people, are all normal humans. We realise this when we wander through the streets for 10 days.
The American Dream invites everyone. Everyone has the same opportunity, and they can become anyone. That country helps you recharge greatly. In India and the Middle East, it would seem that those who have money or power or white skin are superior to others.
America is not like that. You get a huge recharge when you go there. This is what happened in 2016. I started vlogging after all this.
I have to complete a lot of work that I have accepted. It is time to get refreshed. After completing all these works, I will go to America. Then I plan to drive alone and go to many places.
One of the benefits of vlogging is that you get to interact with all types of people. They will think of us as their own. The biggest advantage and also the disadvantage of vlogging is that everyone recognises you.
It is those around us who have brought us to this position. If they think, they can also easily take away all this from you.
Clients abound, but I don't take up all assignments
I can't handle more than five or six clients at a time. The work that was started before COVID has is to be completed. But when the prevailing circumstances forced me to stay back in Kerala, I took four clients to earn a living. This includes restaurants that have made more profit after the coronavirus struck.
We need to understand the situation and react accordingly. I had already lost money in business. I do not know much about the consultancy itself that I currently do. What would be the situation if I go into a business about which I don't know anything at all? I just do it from confidence.
At the same time, now one has to understand what the market is and what people want, then change the menu and tune the workers accordingly. Doing so will only increase the profit. Those who were selling 50 or 100 items have reduced the menu to less than 10 items. They have told the staff that it is not enough for them to just stick to one role, that they have to do other work also. Waiters were told to also make bike deliveries. They, thus, kept everyone together. Then there is also the help from technology.
Many hotels are now launching their own apps and starting their own delivery setups. Then how many local shops survived. It also helped those who made goods at home and gave them to shops.
We can get through any crisis if we have the correct plan and the will to work.
Not all businesses will survive during the corona pandemic
There is another reason for that. The hotel that I am staying in right now is a five star hotel. It would have required an investment of thousands of crores of rupees. If it has to be bought, one may have to shell out Rs 2,000 crore.
This is a problem for them. A large part of their income is gone, and people no longer spend money like they used to. They don't indulge in expensive dinners like before.
In the past, there would be no room available during the months of November and December. Now, since tourism is very low, there are no people. They can't go on the road and sell biryani and make a living. But not every business will be able to survive.
I have not done a paid video for restaurants, but there is now a lot of demand. So, I am thinking about making video content with the "paid" tag in future. But I will take up such work only if I am convinced that it is good.
The plan I had made for one of my hotel clients outside Kerala was to set aside a floor for weddings. People could come seven days before the wedding and stay there. Everything, including the wedding, would be held at the hotel. What would normally cost Rs 20 lakh could be completed for just Rs 8 lakh. They did good business based on my plan. This is consultancy. This is what the fee is for. Many such ideas can occur if we think about it.
You need to set aside the tension first. Sit back calmly and think. There will be a way out.
There is only one way to reduce tension and that is to eat the food that makes you happy. If 'kappa' (tapioca) and pazhankanji (gruel of rice left over from the previous day) is what you like, keep having that. You can cross the bridge when you come to it. Keep interacting with people who make you happy.
Eat good food. Read good books. These simple things can help reduce a person's troubles to an extent.
Mrinal Das Vengalat is also participating in First Shows Manorama Online Techspectations 2020. The third edition of the national digital summit organised by Manorama Online, which has given a digital face to the reading habits of Malayalees, will be held on November 27 and 28.
For more information, visit www.techspectations.com