How dining out has changed in 2021: Sustainable food choices, vegan and plant based diets among key trends

In 2021, thanks to vaccines and gradual lifting of restrictions, the Indian fine dining scene has witnessed a revival of sorts. More families are dining out and not waiting for just weekends. Even those tiny takeaways in the neighborhood are full with customers waiting in queue!

mood diets
Plant-based foods are fast becoming a rage in India, particularly with the millenials.

Dining out options are plenty but the experience isn’t the same anymore! In 2021, thanks to vaccines and gradual lifting of restrictions, the Indian fine dining scene has witnessed a revival of sorts. More families are dining out and not waiting for just weekends. Even those tiny takeaways in the neighborhood are full with customers waiting in queue!

While the pandemic has ended spontaneity in so many ways including dining out, it has changed the way Indians approach the experience of dining out.

Reservations are now essential, and securing one involves more time and planning than ever before. More planning is required, with full adherence to safety protocols. 

Now, guests know the importance of minimizing contact and prefer to book their reservations before coming to a restaurant. 

Masks are a must-have for guests and restaurants to permit entry. Also, unlike before, restaurants are continuously rejigging their seating arrangements and guests are asked to comply when assigned seats or tables in a restaurant of their choice. Even menus are no longer the same as before, QR code menus are a part of the new normal. 

Yes, a lot has changed in case you plan to dine out!

Dining out? Gear up for long waiting queues

Walk into any of the malls in Delhi NCR or Bengaluru or Mumbai or any place, you will not be surprised to find that the dining scene is flourishing and witnessing a vibrant comeback! Serpentine queues can be found outside popular fine dining restaurants and if you haven’t made a reservation, you will find yourself standing in a queue with your name waiting to be ticked off on a long waiting list that could take at least 45 minutes to an hour!

Sustainable food choices are the ‘new normal’

Himanshu Taneja, Culinary Director – South Asia, Marriott International, whose contribution in growing the culinary operations in the hospitality industry is well known, shares insights on key trends pertaining to sustainable food choices.

Based on his repertoire and knowledge about the ‘Science of Food’, Himanshu Taneja shares details with FinancialExpress.com about Mood Diets 2.0, which is a Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels (MBOW) initiative. Curated to meet the nutritional requirements of guests from natural, plant based meats, the menu will be co-created by crowd sourcing authentic recipes through a contest spanning 15 cities.

Highlighting the importance of sustainability, Himanshu Taneja informs FinancialExpress.com, “Sustainability is a responsible conversation that clearly emphasizes the importance of safeguarding our ecosystem. While creating a concept like Moods Diets 2.0, we wanted to contribute and support the environment through a plant-based diet that is reliable and consistent. At Marriott International, we are doing a lot of work around sustainability. A plant-based diet is a very small contribution towards our Serve 360 programme that is our commitment to creating a sustainable impact on this planet.”

Plant-based foods are fast becoming a rage in India, particularly with the millenials. In fact, the recent launch of Imagine Meats, co-founded by Bollywood actors Riteish Deshmukh and Genelia, is a testament to the growing trend in favour of plant-based meats though it is yet to become mainstream in India. 

However, if you compare the trends and the data pertaining to the vegan population, it is clear that the country’s vegan population has more than doubled since 2019 and with more Bollywood celebrities endorsing the vegan movement, this trend is here to stay, which means more culinary innovations can be expected in this segment.

Not just in fine dining restaurants, the holistic approach to plant-based diet is gaining traction across different segments.

Oziva is another highly reputed brand that is now offering whole foods and plant based diets with focus on holistic nutrition to enable a healthier eating lifestyle. Recently, the brand has launched a new Kids Nutrition range as well.

Mumbai-based Blue Tribe Foods introduced its range of ‘plant-derived’ chicken nuggets and sausages. Sohail Wazir, COO of Blue Tribe is confident about the company’s line up of plant-derived products in the coming months.

“Anti-cruelty movement towards animals and the increased awareness with regard to the high carbon footprint of the meat industry are trends that are currently driving the alternate meat revolution in the past few months, ” Sohail Wazir observes.

Being vegetarian is a hot gastronomical trend 

Tarun Gulati, Director, Himalayan Hotels & DJUBO Hotel Tech Suite, feels that being vegetarian is a hot gastronomical trend in 2021.  

Sitting on the banks of the river Ganga, overlooking the mist-laden Shivalik Himalayan foothills and bountiful Rajaji National Park, Potpourri is the latest addition to the culinary lineage of Hotel Ganga Kinare in Rishikesh. 

According to Tarun Gulati, Director, Himalayan Hotels & DJUBO Hotel Tech Suite, “Potpourri, as the name suggests, strives to be eclectic while staying true to the underlying essence of the Mediterranean. And just like a gentle waft of a potpourri’s fragrance can transport you, the whispering waves of the sinuous Ganges and emanating mist under a starry night sky promise to be a transcendental experience of anyone living in or visiting Rishikesh.”

While it is an exclusive Mediterranean garden restaurant designed by award winning chef Anuj Kapoor, its authentic menu is a clear winner and crowd pleaser as it includes artisanal pizzas that have been inspired by Turkish, American, Mediterranean and Italian flavours. 

Also known for lip smacking tapas such as bruschetta bars, falafel with homemade hummus and patata bravas, a popular Spanish tapas, the culinary offerings are plenty to choose from. 

Wat-a-Burger’s Bullish expansion plans across tier 2 cities

Wat-a-Burger, a popular burger chain, recently launched its cheapest burger at just Rs 29 and has announced its expansion plans across tier 2 cities.

Farman Beig, Wat-a-Burger’s Co-founder and CEO, expects a tremendous response from tier-2 cities as he says, “Due to Covid 19 pandemic, we had to make slight changes in our initial expansion plans. Things are now back on track. We are going aggressive with the idea of tapping tier-2 markets. This has been one of our best strategies and has worked in our favour.”

Christmas Cheer All Around

At Crowne Plaza New Delhi Okhla, guests can enjoy the annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, which features a 30 feet long, beautifully decorated Christmas tree which strengthens the message of IHG Green Engage. Interestingly, the showstopper will be Santa Claus as children and guests can meet and greet the jovial figure and explore Xmas Goodies that feature plum cakes, Yule logs, mince pies and a plethora of classic goodies that can be customized as festive hampers for the purpose of gifting.

A ‘Festivity Desk’ has also been launched as the hotel has curated unique dining and stay options for the guests for the upcoming festivities related to Christmas and New Year amidst celebrations that include carol singing and gourmet Hi-Tea for in-house and corporate guests.

Kneed, an artisanal bakery brand that is gearing up with vegan options, is rolling out specially curated gifted boxes besides offering plum cakes, Christmas donuts, whole wheat Christmas loafs and a range of desserts to celebrate the festive holiday season. 

Dessert Delights for Christmas and New Year

While the pandemic has largely shut the door on spontaneity in so many ways, food enthusiasts may be looking forward to special culinary delights for Christmas and New Year. 

Clearly, this holiday season spells good news for dessert lovers!

Himanshu Taneja, Culinary Director – South Asia, Marriott International, is confident about the exciting lineup of experientials for guests coming in for brunches and dinners at the Marriott.

In his view, “Some favorite ingredients that will stand out this  holiday season will be white/dark, chocolate, vanilla, cream cheese which will blend into delightful desserts. We are also curating liquor based desserts that are an X-mas go-to for locals and guests. A lot of confectionery items will front our menus such as plum puddings and gingerbread cookies among others.”

Meanwhile, Leisure Hotels Group (LHG) has rolled out special packages for Christmas and New Year across its portfolio spanning boutique resorts, bespoke villas, smart hotels and luxury camps across destinations such as Rishikesh, Haridwar, Nainital, Corbett National Park, Ramgarh, Kausani, Dharamshala and Kasauli, among others.

Shahzad Aslam, Head – Sales, Leisure Hotels Group, highlights that the special and exclusive packages are a perfect option for those who enjoy Nature-centric tranquility this season and enjoy savoring freshly produced locally sourced ingredients.

In fact, spiritual experiences are a key draw at Haridwar and Rishikesh as Leisure Hotels Group’s special December package includes the Ganges walk, Genealogy Session, Ganga Aarti, Havan at the Ghats, among other activities. Special attractions for food enthusiasts on December 31st will include Chaat & Live Food Counter, Popcorn & Candy Floss and a gala gourmet buffet meal.

Scenic mountain views by the river side are a key attraction at Country Inn Tarika Resort, Jim Corbett, where the Christmas stay package includes among other things a special Christmas dinner, brunch and more and the New Year package comes with a special gala dinner and a brunch.

Ode to sustainable living

Notably, Himanshu Taneja’s emphasis on sustainable food choices makes a compelling argument.

“Our Mood Diets 2.0 is an ode to sustainable living as it comes with a vegan menu made from local and easily available ingredients, which are significant of the states they come from. Every ingredient that is chosen for the menu will convert into a recipe with unique flavors, most of which are uncharted, enabling guests to visit and revisit the menu and understand more about sustainability and giving back to the environment.”

Taneja strongly urges that the menu is designed to meet the nutritional requirements of guests as it is curated from natural, plant-based meats. More importantly, he highlights that the menu will be co-created by crowd sourcing authentic recipes via a contest that will be hosted across 15 cities.

In a nutshell, from booking a reservation to actually dining out and sitting down at a table to enjoy a good dinner, everything has changed in the last two years.

Simply put, welcome to the New Normal of dining out.

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