What’s on the menu?

The pandemic mandated the usage of QR codes in restaurants to ensure a level of hygiene, and also because, at that time, the industry was short-staffed and human interactions were kept minimal.
Carpaccio at 360°
Carpaccio at 360°

As India played against South Africa in the T20 World Cup finals, my husband and I, along with our group of friends, decided to watch the match at a well-known pub in Delhi. The feeling of enjoying a sport along with fellow enthusiasts is unparalleled — remember our childhood, when the whole neighbourhood would come together to watch a cricket match and cheer for India?

Coming back to that evening, the said restaurant which once boasted of menus that were designed like a newspaper and were quite quirky and fun to flip through, now has the QR code menus which allows a diner to scan the menu and place the order directly from their phone. Now in the revelry and excitement of the night, I do not recall when, but I managed to place an order not once, but three times. Apparently, due to a server issue, the dish I wished to order just once, was received by the backend of the kitchen three times. The fault is neither theirs nor mine, and yet the price had to be paid. 

The pandemic mandated the usage of QR codes in restaurants to ensure a level of hygiene, and also because, at that time, the industry was short-staffed and human interactions were kept minimal. Today, in a booming food and beverage industry, no restaurant in good conscien ce should take away the experience of browsing a well-put-together physical menu as they leave a big impression on diners.

At Delhi’s The Big Chill — a popular chain serving some of the most delectable and comforting fare, the A3-sized vibrant menu is a key attraction. It boasts of classic movie posters that also add to their décor and ambience, and dishes defined clearly with designated numbers that loyalists remember well. There is a sense of drama as one turns every laminated page — a feeling that you’re about to spot a dish that you never knew existed, despite a decade of visiting the chain.

A block of cheese at The Oberoi New Delhi 360°
A block of cheese at The Oberoi New Delhi 360°

Recently, The Oberoi New Delhi launched a menu at 360° where the menu is presented like a coffee table book. The restaurant that boasts of introducing sushi to Delhi back in the day has reintroduced Indian, Japanese, Thai-Indonesian and Italian cuisines in this menu — one which weaves into a way of storytelling.

As one flips through the pages, you cannot help but immerse yourself in the narratives that have been splendidly illustrated. These illustrations, spotted on almost every page, give an in-depth insight into the cuisine and its culture. For instance, as you browse through the Japanese section, you will notice how the legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s film Seven Samurai bestow their nomenclature on the sushi platters.

In the Indian section, the menu takes you on a journey from Punjab, to Lucknow and Bengal, almost as if traversing the Grand Trunk Road. “Our talented chefs have put immense effort into researching and designing a menu that encompasses a grand world tour of authentic international and Indian cuisines. We are extremely proud of this anthology of dishes,” said executive chef, Manish Sharma.

One of the things that stood out on the menu was how tactile the experience was. The textures that have been used in the printing process add a touch of novelty to what can be known as the first coffee table book menu in mainstream venues in the NCR. Maintaining this, though, will be no child’s play as it requires dealing with incidental damages to the pages, mishandling, and even updating of specific pages in the menu in the long run.

There are undoubtedly a few advantages to ‘virtual’ menus — for one, any update to the menu needs no mass-scale printing. However, over the years, many diners have expressed (justified) frustration over the QR-coded menus, citing difficulty in navigating, concerns about their internet privacy, and the perceived negative impact on the ambience of a restaurant. Today, it is quite a welcome change to see how the industry is hearing the woes of the diners, and adapting and getting back to the printed menus, but in diversely creative formats. Personally, I love flipping through the pages of a menu—it even makes for great conversation with a restaurant staff!

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The New Indian Express
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