Replicating the dining out experience at home is the new normal
There was a time, whenever we had guests coming home, my father would go early in the morning to the market and bargain for fish and vegetables. My mother would be cooking and cooking all day. The idea was to lay a table with a vast variety of dishes. How much of it was appreciated I do not know, but my parents would certainly be satisfied.
Today the world has taken an about-turn. When guests come home we resort to the phone and order online — it could be Mexican or Chinese or Mughlai. No more do you have to sweat it out in the kitchen. Once in the office we were having a marathon brainstorming session on a new brand. All of a sudden I crave Afghani biryani, which is generally not available everywhere. Being a foodie I have these weird food cravings all hours of the day. It was 2am then! My colleagues told me to “Swiggy it”. Lo and behold, my Afghani biryani arrived with great aplomb!
The new generation is all glued to the latest technological innovation of every kind. I could never imagine if my father ever had the luxury of ordering a late-night snack and that too from his favourite shop without having to step outside the house.
The other day, I bumped into a long-lost friend in Delhi. We have been childhood pals but had lost touch. He took me to his house for dinner. Thinking that I may not be getting much Bengali cuisine in Mumbai, his wife ordered food from Oh! Calcutta. Later, she was highly embarrassed when she realised my connections with the restaurant.
What has evolved is that people have now resorted to ordering food online. Yes, it sounds like a dream. India’s young brigade has opted for a far easier and stress-free option. With different online grocery apps, one can just make a list and have everything delivered right at your doorstep. Moreover, if you are not a chef at heart it does not really matter because you have quite a few “virtual mothers” like Swiggy and Zomato. All you need is a gadget, a stable Internet connection and online payment. Voila, the next thing you know is that your table is laid!
Convenience and feasibility
Right now we are going through tough times. The ongoing lockdown has prevented people from being able to get hold of basic food stuff. With restaurants shut, many are donning aprons to face the heat. But the greatest difficulty is for those who are unable to cook. As coronavirus creates a global social distancing phenomenon, individuals are resorting to food delivery. With people trying to stay away from crowded places, restaurants have to work around these challenging times. So restaurants are reinventing themselves for a contactless world in the midst of coronavirus pandemic.
India’s F&B industry, currently estimated at $60 billion, is one of the biggest and has an employment capacity of 7.3 million, the highest after agriculture in the country. Currently, the Indian online food ordering market at 20 per cent is making a slow but steady progress, estimated to touch almost $17.02 bllion by 2023. Now many apps are offering takeaway dining services to save your mood on rainy nights. These apps are partnering with restaurants and cafes to bring convenience, feasibility and taste to your life. I mean, you can put on a raincoat and step outside for sure, but we do not want to get splashed by rain all the time.
To circumvent these troubled times, I have started a cloud kitchen that is only meant for home delivery. It basically serves most of the main items from all my restaurants. And it’s not surprising that people are ordering more food than they would had the restaurants been running. While we already had a standard operating procedure (SOP) and followed good practices on hygiene and safety as per global norms and standards, we have now incorporated more stringent processes, which is the need of the hour. These include checking temperatures of all our staff daily and making mandatory the use of hand sanitizers, gloves and face masks for everyone at our outlets. In light of a recent incident where a delivery boy was detected as a Covid-19 positive case, we have even started a practice of not only recording temperatures of all food handlers, including delivery boys (whether our own or third party), but also tagging the same on all delivery bags for transparency. We have also started deliveries in our own vehicles over and above through aggregators, where the temperature of the driver of the vehicle is also checked.
This innate fear of the virus is not going to disappear easily, at least not before medicines or vaccines are in place, which will take time. People will still be wary of visiting crowded places. Therefore, restaurants have to reinvent themselves and resort to takeaways and home deliveries. Ultimately, this can address the isolation caused by the pandemic. For all you know, soon the entire dining out experience may be replicated in your home and that will be the new normal!
Moreover, in the given circumstances, people have stopped being picky and are opting for whatever is available. For instance, pizza houses have started to make pizza crusts that are 50 per cent cooked, served with cheese and sauce, so foodies can make pizzas at home. Others are providing a lockdown menu with larger portions as people have resorted to comfort eating. So these apps are here to save us! At the end of it, while some might fear that these technological innovations can turn us into couch potatoes, let’s admit that deep inside, we are loving our changed eating style.
Anjan Chatterjee is the chief of Speciality Restaurants, which owns Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta, Cafe Mezzuna, Sigree Global Grill, Hoppipola, Asia Kitchen and more. And yes, he is a foodie! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org