Saturday, Jun 03, 2023

Yearender 2021: A Roller-Coaster Ride Into The Future Of Eating Out

Yearender 2021: A Roller-Coaster Ride Into The Future Of Eating Out

From adoption of new technologies for ease of business to reinvention of experiences in compliance with the new normal, the food industry has undergone robust transformation owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Representational Image PTI

There was a period when people were skeptical about even ordering food from restaurants, restaurant owners say from that to today, seeing restaurants full to the permitted capacity every day is immensely reassuring.

2021 was a year of big change for the food industry and 2022 is a great opportunity to take those learning and use it to drive the business forward. Whether it is by adopting new technologies for ease of business or to connect with the customers and enhance service standards, transform restaurant spaces and experiences to the new normal or being flexible and speedy in the response to changing situations, restaurants are set for a new era in dining. Food trends also went through massive transformation this year and it is here to stay.

Sameer Seth, Partner Hunger Inc., Hospitality that owns and manages The Bombay Canteen, O Pedro & Bombay Sweet Shop says, “The pandemic resulted in massive disruption in supply chains that optimistically gave way for a lot of small businesses to emerge and in a way to bridge that gap. This resulted in a number of new purveyors producing and supplying speciality ingredients and a greater focus on the use of local and artisanal produce than ever before. This will continue in 2022 as Chefs have been inspired to use what’s locally available to design menus and the new found inspiration will find its way to the newer menus and offering. Technology too has also played its part here.”

Earlier, smaller businesses could not think of starting a business considering the number of factors that came into play. The ease of technology has now helped people seek out these kinds of brands making it profitable for both parties and also giving us a gamut to choose from. Seth adds, “The pandemic forced owners to embrace new technology options and online ordering was a ‘lifesaver’ for many establishments. However, in 2022 there will be a focus on investing in technology to enhance the customer experience whether it be for dining out or delivery. Moreover in 2022, dining out will be so much more than what’s on your plate. It will be more about experiences which will become more transformational. Service and experiences will play a greater role in ensuring that each dining out occasion is memorable and exceptional.”

Food experts have to say that over the past year and a half people have leaned towards comfort food in a big way and this will be continuing in 2022. Chefs will take inspiration from this and take it up a few notches and use the best available ingredients and technique to put out reimagined takes on favourite comfort classics. During the pandemic, restaurants got more creative with their offerings and adopted new technologies to make ordering more seamless for their customers. Plus, higher-end restaurants that were previously dine-in only began offering takeout or delivery meals and special packages. Restaurants will continue to create diversified revenue streams in 2022 and there will be an emergence of newer and more retail concepts within the F&B industry.

There has been an increased focus on leading a healthy lifestyle and eating healthy food as part of preventive healthcare measures since the world has been hit by the global pandemic. After witnessing the worst shut down ever, F&B industry is getting back on track by adhering to the new normal. While the year 2020 saw “home deliveries” on the rise, the year 2021 was better. Restaurants and food outlets are burgeoning with crowds once again after relaxation in government regulations.

During the pandemic, food habits of most people have changed drastically. Nowadays people do not rely on flavoursome food solely but have increasingly become choosy about the kind of ingredients that go into their plates. Most have become conscious consumers while eating out as well. They have become health conscious, plus environment conscious who prefer to have something on their plates that leave a lower environmental footprint along with a great nutritive value.

A food tradition that focuses on sustainable alternatives is setting the path for future consumption of food and beverages. Even when people throng our restaurants, they follow mindful eating. In fact, most are inquisitive about what goes into the making of what they’re ordering. Indian customers’ dietary trends and consumption patterns have also evolved over the years. Proteins, fruits and vegetables, superfoods such as green tea, quinoa, chia seeds, olive oil etc. have all surpassed the consumption of grains as per the market reports. Nutri-cereals like different kinds of millets have started to substitute once staples such as rice and wheat. There is a keen fortification on food that enhances the nutritional value.

Shubhadeep Dutta, General Manager, Goldfinch Mumbai says, “Health enthusiasm has even been lapped by the younger generation. Many of our younger guests have gone vegetarian. Plant based diet and artisanal food choices have also risen over the past years. Support for local food producers and backyard growers has caught on with tremendous enthusiasm during the COVID-19 outbreak. Artisanal food has become a way of healthy indulgence (although an oxymoron, yet possible) for the mindful ones! Artisanal pasta, bean-to-bar chocolates, granola bars, cured meats, vinegars, fruit preserves, cold cuts, fruits induced flavours of ice-creams like the custard apples and pineapple, cheese, chocolates – all have just become a rage.”

In an era where everything is delivered quickly, people are as concerned about the safety standards of the food that they consume and how it is produced, processed, packaged, and delivered. This has led to the emergence of strong regional brands. There is indeed an increase in food outings, but our customers engage to know what is being served on the table. Friends, families, colleagues gather around to celebrate every now and then and this trend has accelerated after a routine indoor lifestyle for almost two years.

Dutta explains, “F&B industry has transformed a lot - from cloud kitchens to staycations to dine-outs to take-outs and this trend has equipped the restaurants to stay ahead of the curve in the years to come. As customers seek higher safety and hygiene measures at the restaurants, the adoption of digital menu has become the new normal that supports physical distancing within the restaurant. Restaurants throughout have already switched to digital menu, digital payments, digital feedback and have adopted technology to communicate with their customers in a big way.”

Artisanal foods became popular during the pandemic and it is here to stay. Artisanal food consists of foods that are made by hand using traditional methods that involve home preservation or fermentation by skilled workers known as food artisans. These foods include fruit, grains, milk for cheese, meats, fish, oils and vinegars from farmers. This concept is focusing on farm to fork foods that are locally produced that benefit the consumer, farmer and overall economy. It is usually produced on a small scale.

Unlike mainstream and mass-produced products, artisanal products are unique. The products are made using traditional methods and tools. They are created according to a traditional recipe that has a rich history and that doesn’t come with preservatives, colorants, sweeteners, thickeners or other chemicals. They are made locally from traceable ingredients and establishing provenance is a key aspect of such products.

 Chef Rajesh Sharma, The Roseate, Delhi says, “The moment we start talking about artisanal food products, the first thing that clicks in our mind are bread or cheese or jams. It has much more to do with each community and their beliefs, food culture, traditions, festivals, geographical location that determines the seasons and what the land can bear. Food products that are traditionally made with hands and are free from chemicals or an industrial process may qualify as artisanal products.”

Artisanal foods have glided successfully into the Indian food scenario in the last few years and the pandemic has only enhanced this new trend. People now love a range of artisanal food like breads, cheeses, fruit preserves, cured meats, cold cuts, beverages, oils, and vinegar that are made by hand using traditional methods. The love for traditional food made from healthy ingredients and the avoidance of hormones and chemicals has made artisanal food very popular among consumers.

Different communities and families have different versions or recipes of similar ingredients. This is how the culture of cheeses or bread must have evolved which has a very different manifestation in an industrial scenario. Sharma explains with an example, “The method of making a particular cheese will be very different in a village or community than the industrial counterpart and the end result may have very different qualities in terms of taste, aroma, texture and shelf life.”

Artisan products are most importantly seasonal and local and also labour intensive as the setup is always smaller compared to an industrial one. Sharma adds, “I have always believed that being a Chef it is our responsibility to respect and honour the hard work of local farmers and growers by utilising their products in a way that reflects local culture. At ‘Roasted by Roseate’ in order to create artisan products we are using a vast variety of ingredients including a special mix of flours, extra dry butter, artisan teas, gluten-free mixes, organic eggs and coffee, vanilla bean, prosciutto, vegan cheese, exotic vegetables and salad leaves, olive oil and balsamic.”

 Chef Gagandeep Bedi, Executive Chef, Roseate House New Delhi says, “Another change one witnessed over the last few months and will continue into the future as well, is the focus on wellbeing and wellness diets. Diets are not designed to just make one lose weight but to achieve a genuine sense of wellbeing, which inevitably starts from the gut. People are mindful now about their eating habits, even while dining out or traveling. An emerging trend that is more likely to pick up momentum in the coming year is Go-local cuisine. Focus here is to work closely with local artisans and farmers and incorporate seasonal, local produce in our menus.”

Fermented, gut healthy drinks will continue to rule the preferences of a mindful consumer. Plant based menus, vegan - dairy, butter, ice creams, curd are going to be freely available. The new trend on the block is a Pegan diet, which is a combination of Paleo and Vegan, and which has some great health benefits focusing majorly on 75% fruits/vegetables and rest from animal sources.”

 Another trend is that restaurants are increasingly focused on using local ingredients. AD Singh, Managing Director Olive Group of Restaurants says, “Across the country, the quality of ingredients grown in India has steadily increased though it has a while to catch up with the quality available internationally. A number of young next-gen chefs are focussed on innovating with these local ingredients in a wide spectrum of international cuisines and pulling that off with success.”

Another trend that Singh has noticed is that customers are excited about it is the Farm to Table experience and some notable restaurants are taking that a step further and taking their diners to visit farms where local produce is grown and then have them experience a meal in that setting with the produce that grown on the farms. A number of such experiences are growing across the country and the customer is embracing it with interest and curiosity in equal measure. This also speaks about the consumers interest in ‘experiences’ of different kinds to add to their meal.

 Post the second lockdown, the good news for the industry has been that customers have largely been coming back to dine-in at restaurants and we are steadily reaching pre-covid business. Singh adds, “In some states like Maharashtra there are still restrictions on timings and dine- in capacity and here business is only at around 70 percent of pre Covid levels. However, many markets have almost completely reopened which is helping groups like ours who have establishments across the country garner business.”

Bad times don’t last forever. The food industry is definitely in a better position currently. Restaurant owners and chefs have to say that there was a period when people were skeptical about even ordering food from restaurants. From that to today, seeing restaurants full to the permitted capacity every day is immensely reassuring.

Seth says, “People have missed the experience of dining-in and have accepted the new kind reality of enjoying the dining experience but with caution and within the norms set by restaurants. And this is how we will continue to evolve. It’s too soon to say what the future holds for us in the F&B business considering the current circumstances with the new variant but one thing I can say for certain is that it is the time for local brands to own the food space.”