As the year draws to its inevitable close, here’s looking back on the trends that ruled the business of eating out (and also ordering in). These will also provide pointers to what to expect in the new year.
Casual was the new cool: Restaurants kept opening everywhere, but you’d be hard put to it to spot a formal dining space among them. Perhaps it’s the stressed-out lives we lead, especially in our Metros, but when people went out, they wanted to kick back and just chill. Nearly all new restaurants wanted to cater to this segment and went casual with design, menu and service.
Brewpubs and gastropubs were the in thing: More microbreweries opened – even in Bangalore where there already seemed to be a surfeit of them – and also did decent business. Other new drinking places wanted to call themselves gastropubs which are, essentially, watering holes that also take their food seriously. But many just ended up being pretenders and didn’t make it past nachos and masala fries.
Chefs became more eco-conscious: In the high-end restaurants, especially the ones with name chefs, we noticed a conscious attempt to cook with local, seasonal produce. The over-use of imported ingredients, no matter how exotic, began to look decidedly regressive. Beyond the gourmet destinations, even small restaurants in small towns began to work with millets and natural ingredients – a reassuring sign that eating out can also be a healthy pursuit.
Playing with the classics: So, Manish Mehrotra can serve burrata papdi chaat and drizzle his wild mushroom kulcha with truffle oil. And Monkey Bar added playful twists to familiar dishes. Elsewhere, ‘me-too’ chefs decided to introduce quirky elements to the classics, frequently with unsavoury results. Tweaking dishes, particularly Indian ones, takes expertise and mastery, else the effort ends up being mere gimmick.
Cocktails got quirky: Bartenders were in the mood to experiment, serving cocktails in anything from a steel lota to a pipette balanced precariously on a martini glass. Smoke, dry ice and other drama surrounded the drinks as well. I would, however, draw the line at serving a Mojito in a saline drip bottle. As for the cocktails themselves, most bars still relied on synthetic syrups and flavourings, which isn’t what top bars across the world are doing.
We’re the fast food nation: You’ve seen the packed tables at KFC and McDonald’s. And don’t need me to tell you that going out to grab a Zinger Burger and a portion of fries is a great meal outing for a vast majority of people.
We want VFM: While eating out has become a top form of recreation in Indian cities – with more people eating out more often – we seek value as much as we seek great food experiences. This meant even restaurants in five-star hotels, especially the newly opened ones, had to ensure they were perceived as good value for money. It also meant that buffet restaurants and eat-all-you-want offerings continued to enjoy popularity.
Tap that app: So, urban dwellers work long hours, they don’t have the energy to dress up and go out to eat, let alone cook at home. What could be better than simply ordering in! Download app, choose, order, pay and wait for delivery. The food tech business – a misnomer, as Jayanth has explained in an earlier post – saw a boom and has since hit a rough patch. We’ll have to wait and watch how this one pans out in the coming year.