BENGALURU: These past few months, the pandemic has led to unprecedented disruption in the food and beverage industry. Dine-in options at restaurants are suspended in most cities, bars are unable to function without the service of alcohol, food delivery business is on a slow rebound, social distancing regulations has cut the business prospects by more than half and there is an increased expenditure towards the implementation of safety and hygiene measures in restaurants.
However, in these troubled times, the restaurant industry has adapted to adjust to the new normal with a slew of initiatives. Contactless diner experiences which minimises the need for human touch elements through the effective use of technology is being widely adopted by most F&B establishments. Restaurant discovery, table reservations, QR-enabled menus, digital payments and live streaming of the kitchen are all channelled through diner smartphones.
Founder and MD of Massive Restaurants, Zorawar Kalra, is championing the cause of ‘Stress Free Dining’ with the implementation of the best safety and hygiene standards at Farzi Cafe and Bo Tai. He says, “The impact of Covid-19 has been most severe on the hospitality industry. Eating out is undergoing a change. Food safety and hygiene are playing a key role and delivery and take away orders are becoming an intrinsic element of the business.” Conrad Bengaluru has elevated the safety and hygiene standards with the implementation of the Hilton CleanStay initiative.
General Manager Srijan Vadhera is happy to see diners returning at his hotel restaurants Caraway Kitchen and Tiamo by the poolside. He says, “We anticipate that consumers will continue to dine responsibly. A stronger inclination towards contactless dining experiences, the use of digital platforms for menus and transactions, and a reduced seating capacity is most likely to become a norm.” In addition to stand-alone restaurants, food delivery menus by star hotels are gaining popularity with options of ordering a Sunday brunch from home. Through ‘Gourmet Couch’, ITC Hotels is offering a distinctive home delivery menu with dishes from their signature brands. And, IHCL has launched Qmin, their own gourmet food delivery service from popular restaurants of Taj and Vivanta hotels.
The pandemic has also catapulted the popularity of home chefs since it allows people to order authentic food cooked safely at home. On offer are Anglo-Indian dishes, Bohri meals, Maharashtrian snacks, Andhra delicacies, Mughlai biryani, local desserts, artisanal bread and more. According to Riyaaz Amlani, CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants, which sport the Smoke House Deli and Social brands, “Dining out will no longer be on a whim. It is likely to go back to a time when people dined out to celebrate an occasion.
They will expect more from their restaurant experience and we will have to work harder.” Farm-to-table dining will also become more prominent with restaurants procuring locally sourced produce and creatively incorporating them in their menus. Case in point is food pop-up Lore BLR where founder, Kaushik Raju and chef patron Johnson Ebenezer, are unfolding the art of storytelling through locally grown farm produce. Cloud kitchens are witnessing growth, especially with existing restaurants converting their kitchen space for production facilities to cater to a focused delivery model, in some cases under a new brand.
Vinesh Gupta, GM at The Den Bengaluru, feels, “Hygiene and technology which was perceived as ‘luxury’ are now the ‘necessity’ and social distancing will force businesses to rethink their approach. Probably, outdoor venues seem to be the most preferred outlet to deal with new normalcy.” A case in point is Layla at The Den. He adds, “The restaurant industry will bounce back as more and more people would like to step out.” Kalra concludes aptly, “Restaurants can never go virtual. People will always want to meet up with family, enjoy a meal or have drinks with friends. This is just a temporary blip and things will eventually return to normal.”
The writer is a Bengaluru-based hospitality professional, food lover and travel enthusiast