By Vishakha Talreja,
During the strict lockdown in April when most food enthusiasts were busy making that perfect cup of Dalgona coffee for the gram, no one quite imagined that when they start stepping out the Indian food space would have completely metamorphosed.
In last five months we have seen restaurants reopen with strict safety precautions, concise curated menus of many home chefs on Instagram, home deliveries from cloud kitchens and DIY food and even cocktail kits. While larger-than-life elaborate service was key at fine dining restaurants, they now boast of contactless service. “Our utmost priority is safety of our guest and our employees. Contactless and frictionless are now terms we have all adopted,” says Gaurav Shetty, Managing Director of MRG Group that runs popular seafood restaurant chain Sana-di-ge with outlets in Delhi, Bengaluru and Mangalore.
Besides taking safety precautions, restaurants are tweaking their menus, using immunity boosting ingredients and going big on deliveries in the new normal. “Apart from the obvious and overt safety precautions, the restaurants are now playing to their strengths. We have noticed a move away from large multi-page menus, restaurants are focusing on getting their hit dishes right. In the West, sharing portions are being frowned upon and large buffets now seem redundant. Many restaurants in India are also embracing local ingredients and produce as a consequence of the import regulations due to the pandemic,” explains Raaj Sanghvi, CEO of Culinary Culture, a platform for chefs and restaurants.
According to Zomato, the food delivery volumes have reached the pre-Covid level with the sector likely to grow at around 15-25 per cent month-on-month for the foreseeable future. “Digital F&B aggregators and food delivery has gained a sudden momentum amid the pandemic. We have witnessed a substantial growth in our food delivery business—through online delivery platforms and restaurant self-delivery,” adds Shetty. The new mantra seems to be stay home and order in. The trend of cloud kitchens had started to catch up even before Covid hit us and it was deemed as the future. The pandemic has fast tracked their growth, as cloud kitchens are able to home-deliver gourmet meals at a much lower cost as they don’t have to invest in elaborate dine-in set ups and interiors. Post unlock many cloud kitchens have mushroomed and are doing brisk business. “We started our cloud kitchen two months back and have got a better
response than what we expected. Customer retention has been great and we get repeat bulk orders. The key is to package food in a manner that customers can just heat and eat saving them from all the fuss,” explains Sanchi Arora of Grub Bowl, a Noida-based cloud kitchen that delivers bowl meals convenient to be consumed at home.
The spurt in online delivery has offered ample opportunity to home chefs as well. Some solopreneurs are doing it as a weekend gig and others are taking a more commercial approach. Home chefs have introduced to foodies a whole new world of authentic home style dishes. When 22-year old digital marketeer Chitrangda Gupta along with her mother Arati Thapa started trials of authentic mountain momos using her grandmother’s recipe in July, she didn’t expect their venture-Boju’s Kitchen- to taste success so soon. “Boju’s Kitchen is a pandemic baby, but the response has been so good that we see ourselves doing this even post pandemic. We started with mutton, chicken and pork momos but are now expanding our menu to include Thukpa, noodle soups and main-course dishes,” says Thapa.
Just like these cloud and home-kitchen set ups, some food trends will also stick around even when the virus loses its sting and the pandemic ends. “Once the vaccination is out, I am hoping that restaurants will continue to follow safety measures, that otherwise our country lacks,” expresses Sanghvi. We hope that too.
(The author is a Delhi-based travel, food and lifestyle writer. Views expressed are personal.)