Behind the glamour of India’s buzzing restaurant industry lies the harsh truth that many of India’s most exciting restaurants, headed by gifted chefs and steered by owners who are both passionate and visionary, find it difficult to sustain in a highly competitive industry. Writer-columnist Anoothi Vishal, who, as a journalist, had documented the start of the so-called boom at the beginning of the new millennium, has examined what makes a few restaurants work where so many others fail in her new book Business on a Platter (2019).
Vishal, who has previously authored Mrs LC’s Table: Stories About Kayasth Food and Culture (2016), partly blames the dearth of high-quality restaurants that are also financially successful on an unforgiving economic climate, with high rents and low spending power. She also points to the lack of talent in professional kitchens and diners who are satisfied with pastiches of culinary creativity from other parts of the world.
“Then, you have an entire ecosystem geared up to celebrate mediocrity. Look at all the food awards, almost all are ‘events’ to make money and, therefore, lack credibility. Anyone with more influence, anyone who can advertise or be useful to the organisers at a later date and anyone with better social media is invariably celebrated, and those who do not have the means to lobby are ignored,” she says, in an email interview.
And despite this, customers frequently stay away because, as Vishal says, “A majority still goes for deals rather than be discerning or experimental.” There’s also pressure on restaurants from delivery services and cloud kitchens, she says, “as customers get hooked on to cheaper prices, or eating in with more exciting menus.”
If she is optimistic at all, she says, it’s because of the few “high-quality restaurants that are able to pull on without profits for a few years, sticking to their philosophy, and gradually building their own customer loyalty”.
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