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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Dine-ins vs cloud kitchens and takeaways: How pandemic has changed the way we eat

Industry experts say that while cloud kitchen is the next big thing, nothing can replace the experience of fine-dining.

Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi |
January 24, 2022 12:30:56 pm
Pune restaurants, Sheraton Grand, Omicron, Republic Day, Covid-19, Pune, Pune news, Indian express, Indian express news, Pune latest news“In terms of our offerings, the guest can be assured that our culinary team will be leaving no stone unturned in giving them a delightful brunch experience,” said Saurabh Dube, General Manager, Sheraton Grand Bund Garden Hotel. (Photo: Pixabay)

As we brave a new Covid wave with a surge in cases of the Omicron variant, we once again navigate what it means to stay safe while also holding on to a semblance of normalcy. Unlike the previous two years, this time, there is no forced lockdown and people are going about their business as usual — going to office, buying groceries, meeting up with friends and family — albeit cautiously.

But, if there is one sector that has been impacted once again, it is restaurant/fine-dining. Indian Express had earlier reported how dine-in at Delhi’s restaurants have closed in a bid to contain the rising cases. While nothing can replace the experience of sitting in a plush restaurant — or even a cafe — and eating your favourite food, there is a strange comfort in getting to eat that exact same meal, but at home.

Cloud kitchens and takeaways have made it possible for people to have access to luxe meals and just about anything they crave, and restaurant owners and businesses are tapping into its potential.

Foodya, for instance, is a cloud kitchen that gives customers an authentic taste of North India, South India, Italian, Continental food, and more such cuisines. “Nowadays, people are sceptical of going to restaurants amid the pandemic, due to safety concerns. Consequently, they are getting deprived of the convenience that restaurants offer. Nonetheless, cloud kitchens are revolutionising this by providing food at doorsteps. Its services perfectly cater to the busy, pandemic-stricken lives in the cities,” said Bharat Sharma, the director of Foodya.

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He explained that cloud kitchens are “virtual entities” that provide food for delivery or takeout only. Though they do not offer dine-ins, they provide “fresh, satisfying meals on time and at one’s convenience”.

Covid-19, Covid-19 pandemic, fine dining, fine dining in the pandemic, restaurants and lockdowns, cloud kitchens, what are cloud kitchens, takeaway and delivery, food delivery apps, indian express news Cloud kitchens are virtual entities that provide food for delivery or takeout only. (Photo: Pixabay)

“They have several advantages over a brick-and-mortar restaurant chain. While food entrepreneurs can start a business with very little investment, cloud kitchens are an affordable means of quality food for customers,” he told this outlet.

Naman Pugalia, the founder of Peppo, agreed. He said that all kitchens are, by definition, cloud kitchens. “The extent of delivery and takeaway over the past few years has grown substantially on account of several restrictions put in place by the government. Today, the line between kitchen and cloud kitchen has blurred.”

Peppo, a Bengaluru-based brand, caters to the needs of restaurants, enabling them to make online sales so they can focus just on the cooking bit. Pugalia added that the incidence of dining out has reduced, on account of both “reluctance as well as regulation”. “Since there has been growth in work-from-home, the overall share of wallet as far as food delivery is concerned, has increased. Restaurants that used to pride themselves on experiential dining have also pivoted to delivery and/or takeaway,” he shared with indianexpress.com.

Pugalia said that of late, a lot of traditional kitchens have diversified, and now serve different types of cuisines — and this has, in some way, led to the mushrooming of cloud kitchens, “because, all kitchens want to be present in the consideration set of consumers when they are thinking about either eating out or calling food home”.

What do restaurants think about it?

According to Thomas Fenn — the owner of Delhi’s Mahabelly restaurant that is popular for its South Indian cuisine — delivery/takeaway is the only option right now. “But it varies across categories [of restaurants]. So, while it is good for those in the premium and casual dining space, it does not work that well for fine-dining restaurants, because a large part of what they sell is the experience and the level of service. We have a cloud kitchen in Gurugram, but that is not the result of the pandemic; we have been doing it since 2017. We have tied up with food aggregators (like Swiggy and Zomato), and fortunately or unfortunately, 90 per cent of all sales today happen on these platforms, even though the commissions are ridiculously high.”

While Fenn mentioned a crucial point of how fine-dining and luxury restaurants cannot depend solely on cloud kitchens, Zorawar Kalra, the founder-director of Massive Restaurants — which includes brands like Farzi Cafe, Pa Pa Ya and Bo Tai — told indianexpress.com that since April 2021 they have “segued extensively into a deep cloud focus”.

“We have already launched two brands — Louis Burger and Butter Delivery — across many parts of India, and we are about to launch a pizza and biryani brand shortly in the cloud space. Before [the pandemic], the cloud business didn’t interest me. But, then we started thinking about it, and concluded that if given the same ethos and same level of energy and detailing as we give to the offline space, we can create a cloud kitchen model that recreates a premium dining experience at home.”

Kalra added that the beauty of the cloud kitchen model is the “low cost of setup and the return on capital and time invested”. “Having said that, it does not mean that the offline model will lose its relevance. Restaurants and bars will always be the bastion of hope for offline human social engagement,” he said.

Covid-19, Covid-19 pandemic, fine dining, fine dining in the pandemic, restaurants and lockdowns, cloud kitchens, what are cloud kitchens, takeaway and delivery, food delivery apps, indian express news Food delivery under the Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels. (Photo: PR handout)

The fine-dining space was quick to jump back to business post the first lockdown. Indian Express had reported in 2020 how hotels had sprung into action to give customers a novel experience by undergoing food menu overhaul, bringing in food trucks, allowing takeaways, etc. The tradition seems to continue two years later.

Rahul Puri, the multi-property general manager for The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi and The Westin Sohna Resort and Spa weighed in on the delivery/cloud kitchen model, telling this outlet that while they welcome guests for “exclusive and safe gourmet experiences”, they also “take pride in continuing to being a part of dining conversations in the comfort of their homes, through our food delivery services”.

“The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi started food delivery services in May 2020, under the Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels umbrella by Marriott International; this remains an important segment driving revenues till date. Our delivery menu features signature specialities from all our dining outlets including signatures from our expat chefs from EEST (Pan-Asian) and Prego (Italian). We have seen a major spurt and continued demand in this segment month on month, and I am sure this demand will continue for some time to come,” he remarked.

The service was initially executed by the hotel through their own resources, but as demand increased, they signed up with food delivery aggregators and are now available on food apps.

“The need was to re-look at the ‘delivery menu’ and experiment with different ingredients to ensure the product — when it reaches the customer — meets the visual appeal in addition to taste and texture. It is important to observe industry forecasts and trends, be agile and keep innovating to suit the need of the hour. While we have always had an ‘Eat Well’ menu, we now have a dedicated space for special dietary requirements like keto and vegan items, and special immunity boosters, especially for the current scenario,” he concluded.

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