In cities, we’re spoilt for choice with food.
Every alley hides a potential find, and every venture into the streets is a journey of discovery. We all carry around our own secret culinary maps of the places we stay in (the momos under the flyover, the Chicken Kiev at the swanky restaurant, the lassi from that hole-in-the-wall), so it’s only a small leap to imagine that the Internet would step in to help us share these with the world.
Table for two : Make restaurant bookings or place an order on the Net.
India now has a number of food-centric websites to help people discover new places to eat, and order from or book a table at these places. The newest is JustEat.in, which boasts a network of 750 restaurants and 42 kinds of cuisine over 10 cities. That’s not much, but JustEat is growing fast. Here’s how it works. You search for a particular restaurant, or for a particular kind of food (Chinese, pizza) in an area of choice (Koramangala, Connaught Place, south Mumbai). The site throws up results for both deliveries and table bookings. Payment can be made using credit or debit cards or cash on delivery. The order request, depending on the availability, is then confirmed by the restaurateur and communicated to the customer via email and SMS. The customer can then rest easy and wait for the order to arrive. It’s similar to services in the US, such as OpenTable.com, which help reduce diner frustration by simplifying reservations and orders and even allow for regulars to specify particular tables they’d like.
Restaurants are eager to jump on this technological bandwagon since they are essentially outsourcing the painful process of creating guest lists and reservation queues during peak hours. It also increases their visibility, as they show up on vague search results for “Chinese food” or “sushi”, depending on their speciality and location.
The problem with JustEat is that your choice, at the moment, is restricted to mid-budget or gourmet joints. The database still has a long way to go. A search for pizza delivery joints located in two corners of Delhi turned up the same results, while a query for table bookings in south Delhi turned up options in faraway west Delhi. Zomato.com (formerly Foodiebay.com, which recently launched an app for BlackBerry phones) works better as a “food discovery” site. Search results are still a bit random, but Zomato has painstakingly scanned the menus of thousands of restaurants in Indian cities (the site currently works for the four metros, plus Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune)—everything from the tiny street food joint with the “double chicken, single egg” rolls to the posh Italian restaurant in the malls. These menus, however, change often, and Zomato succeeds, to an extent, in keeping up.
Burrp.com has been around since 2006, and its focus is user-generated reviews of things to do and places to visit in Indian cities. This, of course, includes food and nightlife. Burrp’s built up an enviable repertoire of heated opinion on the best places to eat in cities, and even hands out awards to the highest-rated (you can spot these “certificates” in many local restaurants). The site offers updates over Twitter, and anyone registered can help expand the database by adding places.
But these sites are often beaten by the sheer amount of choice. Dining out in India is an ephemeral beast, an ever-shifting chimera of street food, small restaurants and multinational chains. Anything that even attempts to impose some order in this chaos is welcome. Especially an attempt we can participate in.
Anupam Kant Verma contributed to this story.