Picture this. The virus has been contained successfully. Lockdown has been lifted. Life has returned to normalcy. But is it, in sooth, normal? Perhaps, living with coronavirus is the new normal. To keep people at arm’s length has been perceived quite literally. Going out to eat just because you were bored might not be welcomed anymore. But how deeply will these values be imbibed? Would the culture of Eating out entirely change?
If you wish to eat out on Saturday, you have to act on it a day before at the very least. You’d ask why? It’s because reservations will now act as a prelude to every social activity, be it coffee dates or get-togethers. While you’re at it, you have to choose a good restaurant. Let me redefine ‘good’ for you. It’s not the one with the cheapest of meals, but the cleanest of tables. The caddies may not have sauce or condiments, but sanitizer and wipes are a must. Dineout, an online reservation platform, performed a consumer survey where it revealed that Indian diners are now ranking safety assurances and premier hygiene as prime factors when it comes to picking a restaurant to dine in.
However, such change in consumer preferences will lead to a rise in the maintenance costs of the restaurants. Needless to say, the burden will be shifted to the customers. But is the customer ready to pay a little higher price for dining out? Most probably yes, as long as you are assured you won’t get the “virus”.
These are some of the changes that you could possibly predict being a consumer yourself. When we flip the coin, we realise that restaurants are undergoing tremendous changes in their infrastructure at the same time. The restaurants cannot, at any cost, operate at their full capacity. A 6 metre distance between the tables is going to cost these massive chains a fortune. Besides, the less fancy eateries will have an even harder time dealing with social distancing. The fixed costs like rent, salaries, electricity will remain the same. However, revenue will be reduced fractionally due to ineffective utilisation. Now you can do the math.
Talking about other possible innovations to survive the post-pandemic era, digitization will get further impetus. Starting from reading the menu to making the payment, a phone application (read: Jio-Facebook’s youngest venture) will do it all. Some secondary products that we unconsciously consume include pickles in the basket, mints in the bowl, sauce bottles and many more. Well, bid goodbye to them. Restaurants will know better than to offer them. They don’t want bad reviews, do they?
There are more facets to the culture of eating out. Buffets, for one, could be a little tricky. If hygiene is taken care of a little more seriously, buffets could be everybody’s messiah. This would barely cost the restaurants anything, and could go a long way.
Takeaways will become a regular exercise. It allows you to enjoy the savoury without the fear of unwanted contact, giving you the best of both worlds. But home deliveries serve this exact purpose too. Home deliveries will pick up pace quickly once virus subsides. Zomato and Swiggy have already come up with comprehensive non-contact delivery process. The panic among people has not diminished enough to allow them to order in.
Fast food franchises such as Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC had popularised the idea of drive thrus in recent years. This concept might be adopted by Indian fast food restaurants as well. Drive thrus seem like the most feasible path to take since they allow you to take responsibility of your delivery, rather than trusting a 22-year old boy with it.
Creative ideas that could help this industry make a comeback are the need of the hour. DIY meal kits could be one of them. Although it’s a very niche industry in India currently, it allows people to enjoy gourmet food at home while giving a feigned sense of cooking for self. But it won’t be late when niche turns to a necessity, changing the culture of eating out entirely.
“Restaurant industry is one of those industries that will show no optimism for the next 8-12 months. The loss of business for high street restaurants will be gain for food delivery players and a new segment of DIY meals will see the rise,” said Karan Tanna, Founder, Ghost Kitchens. Cloud kitchens are feeling the pain too, as they scout for buyers. Cloud kitchens are restaurants that only operate through online ordering. Social dining was an upcoming trend in the country where people bonded with strangers over food and drink. Given the current situation, all the developments in this area have gone down the drain.
Besides, there are some psychological changes that will indirectly impact the culture of eating out. Do you feel weirdly uncomfortable looking at crowded places in movies or shows? Have you been enjoying the sheer pleasure of cooking food for yourself? Will Joy of missing out (JOMO) replace Fear of missing out (FOMO)? Has the millennial generation undergone a transformation while quarantined? Let’s see how long they stick to it.