NEW DELHI: Pricey restaurant chains in India, popular among the country’s affluent consumers, are now preparing to deliver frozen dishes, do-it-yourself (DIY) meal kits, curate intimate meal experiences at home, and introduce new “cloud kitchen" concepts as uncertainty over the future of dine-in business looms large.
Restaurants -- especially those that rely on fine-dining and whose meals, unlike that of fast food chains, are not reliant on deliveries -- say they are now eyeing sales from takeaways and online to generate revenue. Some are even expanding offerings to allow consumers to order gourmet groceries, as Indians, cooped up at home, seek restaurant-style experiences in the absence of dining out.
Riga Foods, that runs chef Ritu Dalmia’s high-end Italian restaurant chain Diva, has introduced the concept of DIY kits for gourmet Italian dishes in Delhi. “It was a natural pivot for us as we own a catering business and had kitchen assets and packaging equipment to do this," said the company’s chief executive officer Nakul Chandra. The DIY meal comes with separately packed ingredients including chopped onions, parmesan cheese, fresh leaves, among others along with a QR code for a video link of chef Dalmia explaining how to cook it.
Chandra said given that consumers are extremely conscious about hygiene and safety, this gives them a chance to enjoy a gourmet meal without fear of contamination as its being heated and cooked at home. Even to deliver the meal kits, the company is using its own vehicles and staff. No third party delivery is allowed to avoid slip ups, Chandra said.
CAARA, a catering company, co-founded by Ambika Seth—who has partnered with lifestyle store Nicobar and Ogaan to launch upscale restaurants—said it is expanding its online food delivery service that will now offer gourmet groceries (cheese, olive oil, pasta), DIY meals, and continue orders for its fully-prepared dishes offered on its menu. Seth said since restaurants will not return to normalcy in a hurry, pivoting to a full range of services and partnering with online food aggregators makes sense. People are finding joy in cooking meals at home, making a case for selling gourmet groceries and DIY kits, she added.
Earlier this month, Lite Bite Foods, that runs several restaurant chains in India, partnered with Swiggy to roll out “ready-to-eat" chilled meals, ‘Daawat' by the company's fine-dine Punjab Grill restaurant that offers north India cuisine. “We have not seen much traction as yet, however, we will continue to push it through our own channel. Once we start business as usual, we also plan to launch frozen momos and pizzas," Rohit Aggarwal, director, Lite Bite Foods Pvt Ltd said.
Restaurants will have to move towards delivery and cloud kitchens, said Zorawar Kalra, whose Massive Restaurants straddles across fine-dine and contemporary bistro concepts such as Masala Library, Farzi Cafe, among others. He has come up with a new concept of creating restaurants experience at consumer’s home. “For instance, Masala Library will be recreated at home—we will send servers, chefs, and food to curate in-home experiences for connoisseurs," he said. Kalra is also planning a premium line of delivery-only Indian dishes under his father’s legacy brand—Jiggs Kalra. Expansion of physical restaurants, for now, has been put on hold. Over the next few days, Massive's popular brands such as Farzi Cafe, Pa Pa Ya, will be up for online orders.
Speciality Restaurants, which owns fine dining brands such a Oh! Calcutta, Mainland China, Sigree and Sweet Bengal, among others, across the major metros is already home delivering and offering takeaway service from its outlets. Founder and chairman of Speciality Restaurants, Anjan Chatterjee said: “We are doing well thanks to our 26 years in the business representing trusted restaurant brands. But, yes, going forward you will see us launch cloud kitchens under the Speciality Kitchens brands. We have a structured plan in place but I cannot divulge more at the moment," Chatterjee said.
India’s restaurant industry, much like restaurants the world over, is under duress as strict lockdowns and social distancing measures are likely to alter the way consumers eat out. Dine-ins still draw a bulk of business for such up-market restaurants.
According to Chandra, even after restaurants are allowed to open, consumers may take three months to return for dine-ins. “Besides, with social distancing norms in place, we won’t be allowed to operate at more than 30%-40% capacity. Fine-dining restaurants will not be viable at those numbers as most of them pay steep rents for high-street locations and commercial districts," he said.
Little surprise then that Zorawar Kalra expects the company to become cost efficient by scaling up deliveries. “All restaurants will work as hub and spoke which means a Farzi Cafe kitchen will also make food for Masala Library and Made in Punjab," he said.