Pandemic poses us with a question: Unable to go out to dine at our favourite restaurants, would there be a way to get that fine dining experience at home?
With the pandemic situation on the rise again, it looks like ordering in will remain in vogue rather than going out, really. Therefore, celebrations this year will be low key affairs with as little friends and family as possible since partying with one’s inner circle now has become risky as well. Most of us have been getting our food locally to satiate our cravings for a tandoori chicken or some local momos, a pizza from one of the chains, etc. Not only has that proven to be risky, the whole hygiene and safety issues may be massively compromised. Which brings us to the question that if we are unable to go out to dine at our favourite restaurants, would there be a way to get that fine dining experience at home?
The silver lining in the otherwise dark clouds is that some of our favourite restaurants are now delivering! Even though one may not be able to get everything that is on the menu, a lot of that experience is possible now at the comfort of one’s own house. I for one have been craving some Dim Sums and Chinese food for a while now, but I also wanted something that’s also hygienic and awesome, which could only be experienced through a restaurant of repute. China Garden made it possible through its wonderful delivery, which was not only neat in terms of packing, but also with the quality of food, the portions, and the freshness.
“We actually realised the potential of a delivery model a few years ago. As traffic and pollution levels increased in the city and quality of home entertainment improved by way of Netflix, IPL, etc we witnessed people getting home later than usual and opting to ordering in within the safety and comforts of their home rather than heading out, especially for dinner. The Dine-in business pre pandemic accounted for about 85% of our business with deliveries only being 15%. Now however, the delivery business accounts for about 70% of the total business whilst Dine-in only 30% percent,” says Henry Wang, the owner of China Garden.
As a busines model, the delivery model is fairly new for most, but it looks like this is something that restaurant owners can think of carrying forward later as well. Vanshika Wadhwa of FIO says, “FIO’s primary focus is curating dining experiences – just food delivery does not do full justice to the Fio Cookhouse & Dandy experience in-person. At the same time, there is an increase in demand for deliveries from the audience’s favourite standalone restaurants or hotels, which makes us think that deliveries for FIO has great scope going forward. A new delivery brand is in the pipeline too!”
There is a difference between food that is made to order from a home chef or cloud kitchen, which work with a notice of 24 hours where planning can be impeccable, as opposed to food that is being delivered from a restaurant, which not only has pressures of guests dining in as well as catering to folk that prefer to stay at home and order. Sumit Gulati of Spice Market shares, “Home chefs that are doing well usually offer an experience that’s not possible for a bulk kitchen, or a home chef’s personal stand out dishes which anyway have a unique demand in their own circle. What a restaurant offers you is instant gratification. You order and receive your food within an hour, unlike a home caterer where you must preorder a few hours or a day in advance. Both have their own specialities and I don’t think there is any considerable overlap in consumer trends.”
For a restaurant, some of the major challenges are distance and time taken to get the food delivered because the latter determines the condition of the food received. However, two of the most important factors of ordering from a restaurant and a local joint are: cost and quality. Therefore, it is safe to say here that the expectations from a restaurant is way higher than what we order in from either our neighbourhood joints or from home chefs, to match the taste we crave as well as the quality and quantity. Since most restaurants have delivery partners, it is an uphill task for them to ensure that their food reaches the desired destination on time so that the quality of food remains intact. However, the best part about the well-known brands are that they can also be trusted far more to make each experience memorable.
Henry Wang reiterates, “Traditionally, all over the world, Chinese food has always been popular when it comes to deliveries or take out. And, India is no exception. Even though there is truth in the fact that fresh food can never quite taste the same as when it is brought straight to your table. We are understandably still witnessing people choosing safety, convenience, and comfort over risk. Which is likely why the response to our delivery has been exceptional. For China Garden, Some of the bestsellers are Smoked Chilly Bacon wrapped Prawns, Sa Po Chicken, soya wine Chilly fish, Hunan Black peppered chicken, Shredded Pork Sweet & Sour with pineapple and of course many items from our Dim Sum menu. We however advise customers to avoid ordering fried, baked or roasted dishes such as golden fried prawns, Cantonese BBQ puffs or crispy aromatic duck as these items tend to lose their texture by the time they reach the destination.”
Indian food has always been good on deliveries because the heating process doesn’t alter the curries very much; if fact, except a few dishes, most Indian food can actually taste better the next day. As per Sumit Gulati, “The delivery can never be exactly like having these dishes in dine in. For example, breads can never taste the same but the paranthas and roomalis stay pretty ok.” Overall, Indian food is easier to deal with for most of us as well in terms of heating and the tastes remain more or less the same, thankfully. A kebab can be slightly tricky but heating it in an oven for about a minute gives perfect results. However, the biryani, the nihari and the rest of the curries taste pretty good even when delivered to places that are not exactly close.
Italian food can be slightly tricky for deliveries, which is why Vanshika adds: “Even as the delivery model for restaurants begin to pick up, there are many challenges one may face in terms of food quality and distance. At large we deliver something from every category of the menu by handpicking dishes based on how they travel. We don’t encourage deliveries of dishes that should be eaten within a few minutes of cooking for the optimum freshness or they tend to get tough & chewy, for example, a Braised Pepper Lamb and other such delicate grills. If a guest specifically requests it in such times when they don’t want to dine out yet, then we deconstruct it and send tips & instructions to reheat or finish it off in their own kitchen.” The pizza for example is sent more than half done and can be finished off in the oven, while something like a Wild Mushroom Languini can be assembled at home as per taste since the sauce comes separately.