Good news, foodies! The central government has given a nod for restaurants to open. As your favourite eateries prepare to welcome you back, they’re devising special efforts to make you feel safe. However, as you enter the era of post-COVID dining, socializing maybe a distant dream and the intrinsic human element missing as the focus turns to contactless and stress-free dining. Here’s a peek at the new normal.
The new normal
You enter the restaurant; your temperature is checked and the smile of your server is hidden behind a mask. He will take you to your table but will he bring the menu or take your order? Probably not. You can’t sneak a glance to see what the next table has ordered because it is six feet away. Technology will rule, your table may have a QR code that will help you scan and browse the digital menu, the order will be placed and the bill paid via the app.
“We are planning to give a live feed of our kitchen, the tables will be placed at a distance, basic things like wearing masks, social distancing of the staff, temperature checks, regular sanitization of the place goes without saying. Our product placement will also be focused on hygiene,” says Priyank Sukhija, CEO and Managing Director of First Fiddle Restaurants.
Sukhija isn’t the only one thinking along these lines. Although hit hard by the lockdown, the F&B sector plans to woo customers by going beyond any regulations the government may set out. Food taste will be secondary, safety will be the priority. “Eating out will undergo a substantial change post lockdown. Food safety and hygiene are going to be the biggest differentiator,” according to Zorawar Kalra, Founder & Managing Director, Massive Restaurants.
F&B industry experts feel that people may initially hesitate to step out of their homes but at the end of the day, human beings are social animals. “People used to be homesick, now they are sick of home. But they are scared as well,” adds Sukhija.
So the winners will be those who manage to build confidence by reinventing themselves.
“If we had 50 people earlier, we will only have 20, but the idea is to make sure that those 20 guests feel safe and also get a good experience. Then word will spread and others will come,” says mixologist Yangdup Lama who heads Sidecar.
Dining out may no longer necessarily mean a leisurely meal or hectic partying. “Customers may want to come in for a lesser time, pre-order their food, have it fast and leave,” says A.D. Singh, Managing Director and founder of the Olive Group of restaurants. “With limited seating, there is going to be no bar nights, no events, corporate bookings, or parties.”
A tighter menu
Will your favourite dish still be on the menu? Maybe not. With lesser people in the restaurants and less crowded bars, restaurants will have to trim down the menu.
This also means offering pre-batched cocktails and replacing imported with local ingredients as far as possible. With quality being the touchstone, the focus could turn to more seasonal and regional.
Sidecar for example plans to limit its menu to about 50-60% of what they offered originally.
Will you be paying more?
The good news is, you will not. Even though they face rising costs, restaurants are not looking to increase prices immediately; the main aim is to win back customers. Leaner staff due to lower demand, and trimmed down menus will hopefully help maintain costs.
Cloud kitchens & house parties
Eventually, many people will be comfortable ordering in, be it cocktails or food, therefore, a lot of restaurants will also function as cloud kitchens. “We are looking at delivering food from our restaurants in the post-COVID era. This will bolster sales and we expect the share of delivery to range between 15-30%. Cloud kitchens are going to gain prominence,” says Kalra.
Bars like Perch, Social, Masque, and Sidecar are also upping their game by providing DIY cocktail kits where all you do is add alcohol to a premix. Lama says, “We are going to make customized premixes so if someone tells us what spirit they have at home, we will make an appropriate premix and deliver it.”
The same will go for bigger gatherings at home. “House parties are going to pick up massively so bars have to cater to that with DIY cocktail kits. Bottled cocktails will be the new trend,” predicts Vidhi Puri, Founder & CEO of The Cocktail story.
Restaurants and bars are gearing up to re-invent themselves, but are you ready to step out and embrace the change?
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has released mandates and SOPs for restaurants. To know more, click here.