From the price of dishes being the sole deciding factor while choosing a restaurant for family dinners, to eating out becoming more about the complete “experience” of dining, the food and beverages sector in the city has undergone immense change in the last two decades. The hospitality sector, say industry watchers, isn’t remotely recognisable, when compared to what it was 20 years ago.
With an influx of people in Pune after the boom in IT sector, increasing number of foreign trips by locals and more awareness about fine dining, expectations from hotels in terms of services and add-ons had prompted a competitive market to reinvent itself dramatically.
In the past 7-8 years, the hospitality industry has seen the biggest expansion in business, especially with international hotel chains making an entry in local markets, say hoteliers.
Suresh Talera, one of the oldest hoteliers in Pune, recalled, “In late 1980s, when we opened the Woodland Hotel, it was the biggest hotel in Pune, with 105 beds. At that time, Taj Blue Diamond had 92 beds and another three-star hotel near Pune railway station had 84 beds. At that time, with 700 beds across all our hotels combined, we controlled 50 percent of the Pune market. Today, JW Marriott alone has 550 beds at one property.”
Talera said in 2000, there were about 1,500 beds available in four-star and five-star hotels, and they used to be almost completely sold out. Today, such hotels have 7,500-odd beds, while the demand is for about 4,000 beds.
“… There was a time when hoteliers had to connect with each other to accommodate extra guests, today that’s not the scene,” he says.
It is not just the extra number of beds which has led to this change, adds Talera. “Around 20 years back, barely any flights were available and that’s why people would have to stay back overnight. Now, people find it easier and cheaper to come in the morning and fly out by evening, after attending their meetings,” he says.
Pointing out the change in the food industry, Talera says two decades ago, food and beverage bills at hotels would contribute to barely 20 per cent of the total revenue; today, they amount to 50 per cent of the revenue.
Well-travelled patrons demand international standards, more choices
Ganesh Shetty, president of the Pune Hoteliers Association, said that in the last two decades, the entire outlook about eating out has changed completely. From a limited number of stand-alone family restaurants and few fine dining options then to a plethora of choices available today, and with specialised restaurants and international cuisines, the experience of dining out has changed completely.
“Earlier, the prices of dishes was the main criterion… limited kind of cuisines were available and international food choices were fewer. Today, patrons are more concerned about presentation, ambience, cuisines of their choice… they are ready to pay any amount for ‘authentic’ experiences. The patrons are now well-travelled, exposed to world cuisine and they want international standards, so specialised cuisine restaurants are the rage today. People want innovation in menu, ambience and plating, which has led to a boom in the restaurant business,” he says.
Praful Chandavarkar, of Malaka Spice, adds, “In 1997, Pune was a much smaller city. When things like the IT boom, Mumbai-Pune Expressway happened, it brought in a whole bunch of new residents to Pune, giving the entire city a cosmopolitan feel. That’s how the industry changed, to adapt to the new demands of these new customers.”
Shetty says that an RTI application moved by the association two years ago showed that Pune today has over 10,000 restaurants, cafes, food trucks, bars and pubs. “While we don’t have official figures, I think two decades ago, the number would have been less than even 1,000,” he adds.
Social media’s impact
Another major change has been the increasing influence of social media on the food industry. From Instagram to reviews by food-related apps, restaurateurs have to keep social media in mind. “Food is now more like a status symbol. Pictures are clicked and likes happen even before the dish is tasted, instant reviews are shared on social media and many times, they do more harm than good. People want to talk about food, be seen as someone who knows food but very few actually know it well. With food bloggers, online foodie groups and even apps, we are always on our toes,” said chef Shailendra Kekade of Stone Water Grill.
Online Food Deliveries
Other than social media, another factor has been the opening up of the online food order & delivery segment. Restaurateurs, however, are happy with the development, saying it has brought in more business.
“Earlier, people who lived far away would think twice before going to a restaurant after a long day at work. Today, they can simply order online and one of these portals will pick up the food and get it to them. Yes, there is a price involved for us but we also have a wider reach. In fact, this segment has benefited fast food restaurants the most, which serve food on the go,” says Shetty.
Means of Marketing
Things have moved so quickly in the last few years that just opening up a super-speciality restaurant, ones with a quirky menu or innovative decor, doesn’t make the cut anymore. To stay ahead of the competition, restaurants are now resorting to special marketing initiatives like food festivals, flying down international chefs and even hosting pop-ups by home chefs. “I don’t really see a lot of innovation happening in food, in terms of these events, but it does create brand value and recall. In this crowd, one has to stand out…,” says chef Milind Sovani of April Rain.
The food industry in Pune isn’t just restricted to brick-and-mortar restaurants. From food trucks in street corners serving everything from waffles to French fries, and a number of home chefs delivering food as well as hosting meals, there are unconventional options available for eating out. “A city like Pune needs much more of this alternative dining out scene. More food trucks and more home chefs would mean more vibrancy and fun,” says Kekade.