Eating out, particularly in star hotels and expensive restaurants, was an occasional affair treated with much fanfare by the average middle and upper-middle-class consumers in urban India.
Kitchen Only as Utility
Even for those spending on a company account or accustomed to a more lavish lifestyle, the reasons for going to a restaurant in a hotel were usually restricted to celebrations or business meetings with a focus on interactions with the rest of the dining party and consumption of quality food and beverage. Succinctly, then restaurants were treated as the venue of, and not necessarily the source of, an evening of entertainment.
Consequently, restaurant operators did not need to focus on the aesthetics of the kitchens. The restaurant kitchens were designed to be purely utilitarian and were expected to provide the tools to complete the sole function of food production.
Of course, at premium restaurants adequate care was taken to ensure cleanliness and hygiene standards acceptable at the time were being maintained, while in others this depended on the level of supervision and inherent qualities of the line staff. Guests did not see the restaurant’s kitchen or displayed any care to know what was happening within. Their concern was with the taste, presentation and appeal of the food set before them. If at all the guests desired, the Head Chef would be called to come to their table and interact with them.
The Interactive Edge
Fast forward twenty years and the entire eating out concept in urban India has been spun on its head. With greater disposable incomes, the emergence of a ‘flat’ world with global exposure available to those on the move, and at the click of a button online to those who are not, along with a faster-paced lifestyle with little room for cooking elaborate meals at homes, the desire to eat out in urban India, particularly in metropolitan India, and particularly among the upper middle class and above segments, has in many a case become a need.
And when eating out of home is a routine activity then the demands and expectations from a restaurant are bound to increase from mere eating out establishments.
As is often the case, it is the more affluent segment of customers and service providers who are leading the trend. In this case it is the star hotel’s restaurants who are offering a greater experience to their patrons, who in turn have become ever more demanding and discerning and have become exposed to a wider variety of cuisines and other F&B experiences than they had before.
Of course, this process of transformation in consumer tastes is turning the food & beverage business in urban India literally inside out, with the restaurant kitchens becoming an integral part of the dining room itself.
In the early days of this transformation, guests were offered a view into the food preparation area by means of a display kitchen, which is typically a small section of the kitchen segregated from the main kitchen by solid partition and with limited function.
Examples of such display kitchen can be a kebab or bread counter, with activities limited to finishing of a pre-prepared product in the line of vision of guests; behind a glass window and in a controlled environment.
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Revving up the Revenue
The corona virus outbreak has not only impacted travel in affected regions it has also caused the cancellation of some of the world’s biggest exhibitions, which has adversely affected the hotel industry globally. Though the lockdown for India’s hospitality sector was lifted from June 8 by the central government several states have continued with curbs on usual operations. This has affected the industry on several fronts. Ashok Malkani reviews the upshot of the pandemic on different aspects of the industry and the steps taken by it to tackle this situation effectively.
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