Prof. (Dr.) Ajay Kumar
Director – GLBIMR (Greater Noida)
Before the virus hit, the Indian dine-in restaurants, take-away outlets and home-delivery setups was grossly overheated with new places opening at a fast pace in many cities. The number of cloud kitchens obviously increased to keep pace with the growing demand. While it’s still too early to say what the post-COVID-19 scene is going to look like, a lot has changed in a very short period.
For a country like ours, the biggest take-away from this pandemic will be an increased focus on health and sanitation. The restaurant industry needs to adopt more stringent practices to ensure that both its people and the food preparation follows stringent hygiene practices. Business strategies need to be revamped as per the changing consumer perception. Since the fear of changing infection rates is going to be very high, the focus should be on procuring branded ingredients for preparing food rather than earning profits by using me-too and brands with a doubtful lineage. Branding will signify hygiene, safety standards and in a way, sourcing credibility of businesses. Pop-up kitchens of the Auntyjii Food genre will be in demand, which will make small quantities fresh in their home kitchens and supply in packaging that is following all safety and hygiene standards.
During the lock-down phase, the home delivery business, as we have observed, has survived despite all real and fictional fears around food safety and possible transmission of the infection, and home deliveries have continued (albeit 50-60% lesser) because they were allowed as an essential service. Going forward, certain precautions like sanitizing the kitchen every hour, taking employees’ temperature every day for screening, and sanitizing delivery bags after every order are required.
In the wake of Covid-19, the biggest losers in the food business are likely to be dine-in restaurants, food stands and road-side vendors. To regain the confidence of consumers they can and must offer meals with minimal human touch-points. As of now, dine-in restaurants are still not allowed to function fully, except for home-deliveries, and top restaurants do offer ‘premium’ delivery with full food experience sans the ambience. Consumer confidence towards restaurants will be directly proportional to the flow of positive news on lower numbers infected, and those succumbing to the infection. Thus businesses will take a few months to begin sustaining and staying above the danger mark, so to say.
“No waiting, No Contact” can be the technological formula for all players. They canuse smartphone apps for creating a positive consumer interface starting from reserving a table, selecting food from the menu, valet-parking and making payments, thus reducing physical contact points. Training of staff regarding gloved service, masks and hairnets and the desire to up-serve the consumer will act as a booster. Restaurants which have an uninhibited kitchen view, will subliminally send out more welcome signals to the consumers. In today’s digital era, marketers are required to shout loud about all these initiatives on various platforms to get positive reviews and comments. Besides full mealtime menus, restaurants may offer in-between meals menus, snack menus, all-day menus and maybe even late-night menus to keep their bottom line intact.
Decrease in street-food consumption, greater pick-up in take-aways, and better prospects for home-delivery are predicted. Lesser eating-out, sparser crowds at restaurants, visible kitchens, no/low-contact technologies, gloved and masked service, single-serve portions will be the ‘new normal’.
This pandemic will act as a transition point for food-related health and hygiene in India. Innovators and adopters will emerge as leaders. Let us all wait and watch for the new advisory by the Government of India for lockdown 4.0.