You can get anything from pizzas to parathas in a box, with cloud kitchens, delivery apps and even home chefs delivering on the promise of hygiene, safety and health
Food has become the next big thing in entertainment after Netflix and Amazon Prime, as people start getting fed up (no pun intended) with standard fare such as rice, dal and veggies. Home cooking has been stretched too far as people have been confined by state-imposed or self-imposed lockdowns for over a year now.
“People are ordering a lot more from outside,” says Chef Irfan Pabaney, Country Head, SodaBottleOpenerWala, a chain serving an eclectic mix of Bombay and Parsi food. While the outfit continues to deliver via food aggregators, it is also trying to optimise space by doing multiple brands from a single kitchen. Pabaney adds that people are looking for good flavourful food of the kind they are used to and are comfortable with.
But the biggest space right now in food delivery is for Chinese and Indian food. Says Pabaney: “We don’t do run-of-the-mill Indian food. So there is no butter chicken or kali dal, and what you get instead is our dhansak dal and our berry pulao. But we have adapted our menu to make it more delivery-friendly and affordable. We don’t serve rolls in the restaurant but we do make and deliver them home. We have a whole new pav menu where we stuff the pav with kundapuri prawns or chicken cutlet.” Their signature dishes remain, but the rolls and pav are the new big categories.
Comfort food is catching on. Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi, known for his television cookery show ‘Turban Tadka’, has launched several cloud kitchens in Mumbai under various brands such as Saojee to Bhaujee (Maharashian to Punjabi food), Sardar Missal (Missal Pav), and Bhukh-hara (for the vegetarians). He says it’s all about indulgence and whatever you long for, you want exactly that. For instance, some people are chaat freaks, others binge on burgers, biryani or Chinese. Says Sokhi, “Our bestsellers remain butter chicken, biryani and paneer butter masala. Somehow, Indian curries are the only thing that retain taste in deliveries unlike the stir fried Chinese or pizza or even Indian breads which lose their crispness and original flavour.”
He says orders peak on weekends, more specifically the Saturday dinner, the Sunday lunch and the Sunday dinner.
There has been a spike in the number of cloud kitchens pan-India. Unlike traditional restaurants, they don’t have brick-and-mortar locations where you can dine in or pick up. They typically run out of commercial kitchens, so the focus is on food preparation and order fulfillment, rather than the experience. Initially people were hesitant to order “outside” food but come September 2020, things changed, says Karan Tanna, who started Ghost Kitchens in May 2019 and by March 2020 had 18 stores. He says the pandemic has only served as a catalyst and that the food delivery market is turning out to be better than pre-Covid levels. His bestsellers include biryani, Indian food (North Indian), Chinese (desi Chinese), pizzas, desserts and shakes.
Even five-star hotels have got into deliveries. Over 60 restaurants of Indian Hotels Company Ltd (the Taj group) across 14 cities have been delivering signature and comfort dishes through Taj’s food delivery app Qmin since June 2020. According to IHCL Spokesperson, “We have a new INNERgise menu consisting of immunity boosting herbs and spices. A meal for two consisting of a balanced combination of healthy appetizers, main course, Indian breads and accompaniments and dessert is priced at Rs 1,500 plus taxes while the three-day subscription meal is priced at Rs 4,000 plus taxes.”
He says the dishes contain fresh, home-grown ingredients and the food is prepared using simple cooking techniques like sautéing, steaming and grilling to ensure that the nutrient quotient remains intact. Dishes include ragi uttapams, amchoori kale chane, quinoa methi tikki to gond ke ladoo and rabdi aur sabja among others.
For the customer, the market has expanded and the one-off dine-out experience has, in many cases, become a daily need. Says Anand Ramanathan, Partner, Deloitte India: “There have been opportunities for food service players willing to adopt and adapt, go digital and offer a menu that promises variety and freshness to the consumers. Indian food has gained momentum and is being conveniently served in different formats–-so from pizzas in a box, it’s now parathas in a box.”
Ramanathan says there is food available for the customer for that “in between” period, with cloud kitchens catering to late-night snackers or dessert lovers. The snacking category has grown, so if someone were to order chips today, he might also order a few samosas along the way.”
The sunny side and the flip
The upside of “delivery” is the affordability as meals can be quite economical. More so, with the vertical of home chefs and tiffin service that deliver staple food like dal, roti, subzi, salad, achaar, the cost can be as low as Rs 55 to Rs 150, depending upon how elaborate or specialised the fare is.
There is no dearth of demand today for hyperlocal food such as Himalayan food, Konkani, Bori biryani or Bengali cuisine. If you specialise in a certain regional category that is difficult to find, especially at odd hours, you have a big market. However, the biggest challenge here is how to maintain consistent food quality, hygiene, efficient logistics especially when the volumes rise.
On the flip side, in the delivery format, the consumer doesn’t get ambience and service–the two key parameters in a typical restaurant experience. In delivery, it’s just food and how it has been brought to you.
Says Ramanathan, “The industry has improvised both on menu and packaging. One chain built a menu around ingredients as a key differentiator to create an experience. The menu was on a luxury premium product called the Himalayan Morel or guchchi. Besides, people have gone high on packaging – earlier when you ordered a cake or a pastry, it would come in some distorted format, with cream getting pasted on all sides of the box. But innovations around packaging today ensure that the product integrity isn’t compromised. Also food chains have adapted their menus around festivals and navratras, delivering vrat ka khana, and even IPLs in their delivery option.”
Dine-in vs dine-out
Food delivered at home is 10-20 per cent cheaper than a dine-out. But then, as restaurateurs say, you miss out on the experience with home deliveries. Says Gauri Devidayal, co-founder of The Table, a premium fine dining restaurant: “The average order value in our fine dining restaurant was Rs 2,000-2,500 whereas for a premium delivery brand it is just Rs 1,000 odd.” Devidayal has launched cloud kitchen brands Iktara (Indian food), Magazine Street Kitchen (Pizza brand) and MissT (Asian cuisine).
You can either visit the brand’s website, social media handles or order through food aggregators such as Swiggy and Zomato. Generally, cloud kitchens rely on both, their own website and food aggregators.
How are cloud kitchens able to pass on the cost benefits? Says Karan Tanna, founder, Ghost Kitchens, and co-founder, BroEat: “We have multiple brands across multiple cuisines under the same kitchen at multiple locations. This decreases the cost of capital per brand and increases per unit optimisation of space, manpower, rent and resources. As for the specific costs, the real estate component is 15 per cent sales/bill value, versus six per cent in delivery, while food is 30 per cent and 35 per cent, due to packaging due to packaging in delivery. Manpower cost is 15 per cent in dine-in versus 12 per cent in delivery. Aggregator commission is zero in dine-out versus 22 per cent in delivery. Then there are other costs like electricity, licenses which depend on the size of business etc.”
There is a better chance of catering to a customer’s personalised demands in delivery as cloud kitchens monitor the trends closely. Tanna, who has been curating five food delivery experience brands with India’s top chefs across cuisines says, “Depending on the demand-supply gap in a particular hyperlocal area, we can quickly and easily tweak our menu or introduce new brands.”
As a customer, what should you be mindful of? Go for big brands, or if these are new brands, read about them, opt for those with a set of SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and read the ratings on the food apps and customer reviews.
Appetite for more
While cloud kitchens are expected to follow protocols on food safety, health and hygiene, they must be audited by third party agencies to keep a check on these metrics. The staff must wear masks at all times, wash hands at regular intervals, and check their body temperature every day before reporting to duty. Fumigation and pest control must be done regularly.
There is scope to improve the menu in food delivery. Says Deloitte’s Anand Ramanathan, “There is a need to look at menu in its entirety and not just a few healthy options. After all, the customer has evolved –there is a need to revisit the menu and create something more holistic rather than one that satiates your hunger or craving need. Menus around weight management, anti-oxidant food, diabetic friendly, scientific diet plan and an emphasis on portion control, plant-based food are in big demand.”
Table: Dine-out versus delivery—a price comparison
|Food Item||Food Delivery (Per-head cost in Rs)||Dine Out (Per-head cost in Rs)|
|Indian Food (Main Course: Paneer Makhani with Parantha, Dal Makhani with Pulao)||200-250||300-700|
|South Indian (Dosa, Uttapam)||100-150||200-350|
|Pastries and Muffins||75-125||150-250|
|Shakes and Smoothies||90-150||200-350|
Credit: Market Research