It’s 2 am and not a single restaurant or dhaba is open. There is no food at home. Yet there is a slice of hope for the famished. Saleem’s in Delhi, popular for Mughlai cuisine, recently launched its late night service that operates from midnight till 4 am. Then there is Foodpanda.in for those who don’t want to venture out for food. The portal lets customers choose from 12,000 restaurants in 200 cities across the country. Bengaluru-based ITiffin.in focuses entirely on healthy, balanced food with options for diabetic meals, heart-healthy meals and calorie-defined meals. You subscribe on a weekly or monthly basis and have your healthy meal delivered to your office or home. Nutritious school lunchboxes and munch boxes are also available at ITiffin. For those who like the exotic, there is Sushiya that delivers Japanese delicacies in Delhi NCR through sushiyaonline.in. It’s a paradise of food out there, literally at your fingertips.
Technology and new-age entrepreneurship are transforming the food ordering business that once meant calling for a pizza. Today, you can order ingredients for a Greek salad or have biryani flown from Hyderabad to any city through apps on your phone or with the click of a mouse. You can get exotic recipes and ingredients or sushi delivered to your door.
Then there are restaurants that operate only from 11 pm to 4 am for those who work nights and get home late and hungry. Midnight deliveries, healthy tiffins for office-goers and a mobile bar that brings cocktails to you can all be ordered. You have food from restaurants of your choice delivered to your seat on trains and buses when you are travelling. An array of new food businesses has spawned the concept of Internet-first restaurants.
It’s dinner time and rush hour at Mani’s Dum Biryani in Bengaluru’s Indiranagar. The 50-seater restaurant is filled with dine-in customers, but what’s accelerating the high-speed activity in its kitchen are online orders for home delivery.
“Delivery of online orders has grown to become a significant part of the business,” says restaurateur Jayanth Narayanan, who launched this homespun quick service chain, specialising in a single product, value-for-money biryanis, in 2009. Mani’s has put in place technology that allows customers to call or place orders online. It is also fine-
tuning a custom-made app for the restaurant chain. “Even as you deploy technology, you have to work on the ground to produce good food and build systems to ensure that an order reaches a customer within 30 minutes,” he says.
If you want to order your favourite dishes from different restaurants at the same time in Chennai, then Dinein is the place. It allows customers to order from some 70 outlets in the city. “We operate in 155 pincodes and our menu covers Indian, Italian, Mexican, Lebanese and Japanese,” says founder Vinit Chordia. Orders can be placed on the phone, on Dinein.in or through their recently launched app. “Our app has about 25,000 items, which we update regularly,” he says. Dinein.in employs 45 delivery persons and handles an average 5,000 orders a month, with barely any advertising; it’s the word-of-mouth and the occasional social media post that works for them. The service operates between 11 am and 10.30 pm, and also delivers from fine-dining restaurants. Chordia plans to add fast-food joints to the platform and to expand to other cities.
By far the biggest restaurant food delivery service today is Foodpanda.in, set up by Saurabh Kochhar and Rohit Chadda. “I was a loyal customer of an online food ordering service in London. When I returned to India, I had a tough time trying to order food from a restaurant in Bengaluru,” says Chadda. That’s when Foodpanda.in took shape. The portal lets customers choose from 12,000 restaurants in 200 cities across the country. “We’re constantly diversifying the choices we give people while they’re placing an order. We’re also focused on incorporating the right restaurants, rather than having them all,” he adds.
The huge demand for home-delivered food has paved the way for a new-age concept, that of Internet-first restaurants. These food supply businesses do without retail outlets, decor and staff, and allow customers to order meals via websites or apps and have them home-delivered. This is the model that Biteclub.in adopts while supplying some 400-plus meals a day in Gurgaon. Like several other food enterprises, this one was born out of founder Prateek Agarwal’s own futile quest to find good food after he had left home. “Eating in restaurants is not something you can do every day and it was impossible to find home-style food on a regular basis,” Agarwal says.
Biteclub.in connects people who want healthy, tasty, affordable meals and those who are willing to create such meals. “We work with home cooks, caterers and professional chefs to come up with 10 to 15 meal choices a day,” Agarwal says. Customers can order on the web or through apps for iOS and Android. “Menus tend to be textual and we wanted to make ours visual, and still keep it clutter-free,” he says. “We’ve also made it possible for customers to see the meals on offer for the day, make their choice and order, all in just three taps.”
Holachef.com, set up in May 2014 by Saurabh Saxena and Anil Gelra, is a similar food-ordering platform for Mumbaikars. It describes itself as a ‘restaurant in cloud’ and works with professional chefs and home cooks who turn out daily meal combos that the Holachef team packs and delivers to customers. “The idea is to provide a great mix of delicacies from around the world,” says Saxena. “Our chefs must be able to create menus because that is crucial to our everyday offering, a new menu each day.”
In Bengaluru, Eatloapp.com was created by Sai Priya Mahajan and Rahul Harkisanka for working people. “If you don’t cook at home, you can imagine the amount of time spent just on deciding where to go and what to eat,” says Mahajan. Eatloapp.com’s food emerges from a central kitchen and is cooked by professional chefs. “We’ve invested a lot of effort in designing cyclical menus which are a mix of veg, non-veg, healthy and exotic,” says Mahajan.
Not just readymade meals are being home-delivered now, it’s also possible to discover and order artisanal and gourmet foods as well. It was Sowmya Parthasarathy’s search for healthy food for her baby that led to the creation of Foodtribe.in. “I didn’t like what I saw on the shelves and began to search for foods that weren’t loaded with preservatives and additives,” she says. Parthasarathy discovered several home cooks and small-scale food manufacturers producing everything from paneer to pasta sauces and granola. But not everyone who wanted fresh or healthy food knew how to find these. So Sowmya and business partner Diksha Jain set up Foodtribe in Bengaluru, a one-stop online destination for artisanal products. Foodtribe supplies freshly baked breads, cookies, chocolates and fresh pasta, honey butter and pickles.
A similar platform for gourmet products sourced from everywhere is Placeoforigin.in. Founded by Ashish Nichani and Sudarsan Metla, Placeoforigin allows buyers to order “legendary foods” in Bengaluru. This service offers chocolate with Guntur chilli from Bean Therapy, fruit cake from Flury’s, Gulkhand from Bhagyalakshmi Gulkhand and more. “Whenever we travel, we bring back food that is special to that particular region because there is a lot of authenticity attached to it and people are willing to pay for that,” says Nichani.
Food delivery services now also come to the aid of those who wish to toss up something exciting but are daunted by the prospect of shopping for ingredients or scouring for recipes. So, anyone who feels like tossing up a Greek salad at home, but wonders where to shop for Feta cheese, or anyone who fancies a bowl of Pho for dinner, but is unsure of which recipe will work can count on Cookfresh.in, which caters to most parts of Delhi and Gurgaon. It has 30-plus recipes that cover the gamut from Vegetable Tofu Stir Fry to Blueberry Muffins.
Bengaluru’s Chefkraft was launched by Mohit Mittal with the express purpose of “hooking people to cooking”. The site has drool-worthy photos of meals you’d be tempted to cook: lemon butter shrimp with rocket citrus salad, tofu red curry, Asian greens and jasmine rice, roasted vegetable pasta with a pear salad. Once you order, precisely measured ingredients will arrive at your doorstep in a cooler box with a fail-proof recipe.
Home cooks may dabble in arugula salad and Vietnamese summer rolls, but celebration cakes are best left to the professionals. Miras Dial A Cake, started by
Ratan and Mridula Hastu, will bring your dream confection home. The cakes are baked in their production unit in Bengaluru, but Dial A Cake’s creations have found fame in Delhi, Kolkata and Pune. “We turn a cake into a memorable event,” says Ratan. Eleven designers, sculptors, sugar artists and bakers make 25-30 customised cakes a week at Dial A Cake. “One can select the design from our site (dial-a-cake.com), send a theme for a new design or an image of any design and Miras Dial A Cake will try to make that cake dream come true,” says Ratan.
Masalabox.com sprung up when two pregnant women couldn’t get home-cooked food delivered to them. “When we were pregnant, we used to have cravings for something tasty but healthy, like the food we prepare at home. The only options were online deliveries from local restaurants, that were oily and unhygienic,” says Harsha Thachery, founder and CEO of masalabox.com. Thachery and her friend Liya Susan Verghese decided to launch masalabox, a home delivery service with a difference.
A team of over 25 chefs come together to offer home-cooked food free of preservatives, artificial flavours and colour and made in a hygienic kitchen in someone’s home. Among local delicacies like karimeen pollichathu, malabar chicken biryani and kappa meen curry, there are Continental, Chinese and Bengali offerings.
Speaking of specialised creations, what could be more so than sushi. Sushiya has been delivering Japanese delicacies in Delhi and NCR for several years now. Its more recent online platform, sushiyaonline.in, allows customers to order Maki boxes, teriyaki and donburi and have it home-delivered. Sushiya has a clientele of 20,000 households and owner Varun Modgill believes it’s the affordable pricing of usually expensive Japanese fare that drives his business.
When it comes to home-delivered gourmet offerings, Delhi is spoilt for choice. The Midnight Munchies team, one of the first to introduce late-night deliveries, has now moved on to set up Hand Pies, initially catering to Gurgaon. This outfit bakes artisanal pies with luscious fillings such as Seasalt Snickers, Brown Sugar Cream Cheese and Rocky Road, which customers can order at handpies.in.
Given our 24x7 lifestyles, food delivery businesses in various cities have also begun to operate outside conventional restaurant hours. Customers like Delhi resident Ashutosh Chawla, who often returns home close to 2 am, find it the perfect solution to the problem of finding food after most restaurants have shut. Saleem’s in Kailash Colony is popular for its Mughlai cuisine, and recently launched its late-night service from midnight and 4 am. “Logistically, midnight delivery is very demanding,” says the owner, Saleem Qureshi. “The limited menu includes all the favourites such as Mutton Korma, Butter Chicken and Mutton Nihari.”
Batmandelivers.com, which covers Delhi and Gurgaon, will send home anything from a Ferrero Rocher shake to a kathi roll, pain-killer or ice cubes for that impromptu midnight party. Bengaluru’s equivalent of this is Niteout.co.in, keeping night owls and late night revelers well-fed. Flybyknight is Mumbai’s express night delivery service, operating from 9 pm to 5 am and promising to cater to everything from red-eye flights, to late night meetings, last-minute house parties and midnight sugar cravings.
Food delivery for train passengers is a booming business too. Piyush Kasliwal, who founded Merafoodchoice.com, a Nashik-based operation and one of the first entrants in this segment, says, “We now have an easy-to-navigate app that every train passenger can use to order their food.” Merafoodchoice operates from 180 locations or stations and has served train meals to five lakh-plus passengers so far. It was launched before smart phones became ubiquitous and initially took orders via SMS.
While Merafoodchoice specialises in pure vegetarian food, Trainkhana.com makes mixed menus available on 6,000 trains. The Jodhpur-based service was started by Navneet Singh Chaudhury to address the problem of a mere 5 per cent trains having pantry cars. “This meant that passengers were forced to eat from unreliable sources like station stalls,” he says. Trainkhana.com operates in 150 cities and allows passengers to order food on the phone, via its website, app and even WhatsApp.
There are several other players in this sector like Raildarbar.com, Chennai’s Idlyvada.com and Yatrachef.com. Abhibus.com, a bus-booking service offers a food-on-board as a value addition to passengers. Busmeal, a venture between Abhibus and Foody’s, the delivery partner, currently gives passengers the option to order food on bus trips when they book from Hyderabad.
Indian foodies once went seeking experiences. Now the food comes home with a phone call, a few clicks of the mouse or three taps on an app. Bon appétit!
With Meera Bhardwaj, Chetana Divya Vasudev, Rashmi Rajagopal, Nimmy Merlien Philip, Samhati Mohapatra and Ayesha Singh