When we asked people what will they do immediately after the lockdown, many said that they would want to go to their favourite restaurants to have a hearty meal. While the food is unlikely to change, the experience of eating out certainly will.
“The F&B industry seems to be the worst hit due to the lockdown. It is the second-largest employment-generating industry in India,” says Zorawar Kalra, Founder and Managing Director, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd, an F&B venture that has restaurants like Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, Farzi Café, BO-TAI, Pa Pa Ya and others.
As restrictions are being eased in the country, Kalra along with Master of Wine Sonal Holland throw light on the new normal in the food and beverage industry.
Slow recovery of losses
Restaurants will have to be relooked at. “For some time after the restaurants open for business, cloud kitchens will hold prominence. All eateries will also have to adhere to the new guidelines expected from the government,” says Kalra. He quickly adds that even cloud kitchens may not be able to recover the losses that the restaurants will incur in the first six to eight months after the lockdown is lifted.
Distancing will be the key
Social distancing inside the kitchen and the restaurant will be the new normal. Expect more space in between tables, and a limited number of people will be allowed in the restaurant at a given time.
“All the waiters will be wearing a face mask, gloves and hairnets. They will also be required to wash their hands more frequently,” says Kalra. He plans to conduct deep sanitisation every two hours in his restaurant and sanitise each table that’s been used by guests after they leave. Disposable cutlery is likely to take prominence for the first few months in the business.
Touch-free dining experience
Digital resources have become a boon in the current times and will continue to play an important role in the near future. “People will be wary of touching the menu and the credit card machine or a tablet,” shares Kalra. This is where technology will come in. “In the future, once the customer enters the restaurant, they will have to scan a QR code, which will enable them to read the menu straight from their phone,” he adds.
The order will be recorded on an iPad. The waiter will convey it to the chef, maintaining social distancing. A big change will be that the kitchen will have fewer chefs and Kalra also plans to live-stream working kitchens on the website and in the restaurants as well. Payments, too, will be done using phones, so that the guests won’t have to touch the credit card machine.
“We are calling this system the stress-free dining experience,” says Kalra. But he cautions that there is also a flip side to it. “With greater digitisation, the need for human resources will drop,” he adds.
A lot more energy and resources will be spent in maintaining superior standards of hygiene not just at the restaurant but also at the source from where the various ingredients are procured.
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Challenges in importing ingredients
The travel ban and the fear of contamination will lead to difficulties in importing ingredients, especially from China and Thailand.
“Now there’s a need to find substitutes for the ingredients that were being imported before the pandemic. I think the import of products will be severely affected. That said, I think a handful of things will still be imported like certain cheese and pizza dough bread. This, however, will be in lesser quantity,” says Kalra. The good side of this is that the F&B industry will start sourcing locally, which is, in fact, better for two reasons —it is cheaper and it is relatively easier to track the ingredients’ origins.
Karla, however, is worried about profit margins. The cost of operations will increase substantially, maybe by 10 per cent, which will wipe away all the profits. The profit margin in a restaurant business is usually between 10 to 15 per cent.
“It would be great if the government of India can help the industry in the way some other governments around the world have been helping the food & beverage industry. For example, in Farzi Café, London, up to 80 per cent of the salary of my staff is being taken care of by the government through a furlough scheme,” he says.
He elaborates that the British government’s policy involves paying the wages until the lockdown, so the restaurant doesn’t have to fire any staff members. In Canada, up to 75 per cent of the rentals is being covered by the Canadian government and the landlord. Such packages would be a lifesaver for the restaurant industry in India as well.
New drinking habits
In the spirits business, Master of Wines Sonal Holland feels that the way people interact will change and this will impact their drinking habits. People will prefer to host smaller gatherings at home than opt for a large party. As a result, there is likely to be a shift towards home consumption rather than drinking at luxury hotels and restaurants, where alco-beverages are served at a marked up price.
“At the retail level, wines at affordable price points may see a spike in sales; however, sales of mid-tier and premium wines may taper off after the initial flurry for a few days post the lockdown,” informs Holland. “Indian wines have a real opportunity to market their premium wines and gain market share against cheap, imported wines at comparable points. Clever digital marketing programmes by all stakeholders of the wine industry will be the name of the game.,” Holland concludes.