In the 18 years of managing Grasshopper, a fine-dining restaurant in a Bengaluru farmhouse, owner Sonali Sattar never considered food delivery. Till covid-19 happened. By April, she was sharing takeaway menus with friends and patrons.
“I had reservations that the food won’t travel well. But then, I started wondering, how am I going to pay salaries?" says Sattar. So, she started testing home delivery. “We sent food to friends across town to see what travels well and we tweaked the menu accordingly." Sattar now gets 15-16 orders on weekends that are packed in eco-friendly boxes.
Regi Mathew followed the same route a month ago. The chef and co-founder of Kappa Chakka Kandhari, which specializes in Kerala food, came up with a special delivery menu for his Chennai outlet. “It’s a small, dynamic menu that changes as per ingredient availability. We realized that people wanted comfort food with familiar flavours so we introduced Thalassery biryani available in different sizes (1/4 litre, 1/2 litre and one-litre containers) as well as Kerala parotas that aren’t on our à la carte menu." They are delivering 30-40 orders a day.
The restaurant business is among the worst hit by the nationwide lockdown put in place because of the coronavirus. A report by credit rating agency Crisil says the organized dine-in restaurant segment is headed for a 40-50% decline in revenue this fiscal year. To stay afloat, several establishments are finding unique ways to run their businesses without violating lockdown rules— from re-engineering menus to curating DIY meal kits and conducting online cooking workshops.
Little Italy, for instance, is offering DIY pasta and pizza kits. We are selling at least 200 kits a month, informs Amrut Mehta, director, Little Italy Group of restaurants. The response has been so overwhelming that group has launched a new vertical, Acasa, that offers gourmet Italian products for home cooking across cities on Zomato and Swiggy.
If Italian doesn’t interest you, there are Social’s cocktail mixer kits, The Bombay Canteen’s Keema Pao kit, and Smoke House Deli’s marinated deli meats. Most of the meal kits comprise of precooked or raw vegetables, sauces, condiments and raw or semi-cooked pasta or pizza bases. Everything is measured and packed separately and delivered after all the required sanitation checks.
Sameer Seth, partner, Hunger Inc Hospitality, which runs The Bombay Canteen, O Pedro and Bombay Sweet Shop in Mumbai, says a large part of dining out is creating an experience. “People come to restaurants not just to eat but also to socialize. And people continue to want those things but the point of consumption has changed."
To that end, Hunger Inc Hospitality is offering a range of curated experiences. On 9 May, for example, O Pedro’s chef Hussain Shahzad held a Goan poee-making workshop over Zoom, which was attended by 20 people.
Then there are chefs who are using social media to keep their patrons engaged. Vikas Seth, culinary director at Sanchez and Sriracha in Bengaluru, has been using Instagram to show a range of easy-to-make dishes. “After a few requests, I decided to start posting these quick recipe demos from my home kitchen," says the Bengaluru-based chef.
Similarly, Prashanth Shadakshari, executive chef and co-owner of Amande Patisserie in Bengaluru which specialises in French pastries, launched an Instagram baking series few weeks ago, where he collaborates with experts to demonstrate a range of recipes for housebound home cooks. “The idea is to remain connected with our patrons and reach out to more people," says Shadakshari.
Both the Olive Group restaurants and Social from Impresario have gone a step further. They have been streaming live music shows on their social media handles. A.D. Singh, managing director and founder of the Olive Group of restaurants, says the online initiatives are a way of engaging customers. “It’s a matter of life and death for us to get our patrons back when we reopen."