Mumbaikars, here's what dining out in the new normal will look like
It has been a long wait for restaurants out there, especially for Mumbai-based restaurants who will be opening for dine-in service later this week, after almost 200 days. The last few months have also been very difficult for the F&B industry - many had to shut their less profitable outlets, some had to redesign their business plans, and all those who survived incurred massive losses and almost emptied their reserves.
But, now that the restaurants are about to open their doors from October 5, hoping for things to turn around for good, we ask Mumbai’s restaurateurs and chefs what the dining experience would look like in the new normal, changes they will be incorporating in their restaurants and in the menu, and the challenges that lie ahead.
Sanitisation is the key
It is clear that sanitisation is going to be the key. Alongside incorporation of mask and gloves, regularisation of hand sanitisation and temperature monitoring in their premises, restaurateurs are looking at sanitisation of entire premises on a daily basis, with tables and washrooms being sanitised after every use.
“There is going to be a thorough sanitisation of the entire premises before we open doors for dine-in besides sanitisation of all raw materials and inventory coming inside the premises,” informs Praveesh Govindan, Managing Director, Boteco Restaurants, India’s only Brazilian restaurant, adding “We would also be encouraging his guests to sit in the open-air terrace section as much as possible.”
Dining in new normal
“Rearrangement of restaurant seating and capacity to ensure physical distancing, digital menus, individually plated portions and digital payment options are some changes that would immediately come into practice,” says Chef Abhishek Basu, Executive Chef, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu.
Besides these, some are incorporating additional changes to make dining an even smoother experience.
“We now have a special area for a take-out window. We have removed booths, tables, and chairs to meet rules requiring a distance of two metres (six feet) or more between tables. We have rearranged restaurant entrances for spacing, add floor markings, and signage. We have also made employee workstation adjustments to ensure a distance of one metre (three feet) or more between staff,” says Gurmeet Arora, founder, Flax Healthy Living, who is also looking at weekly sanitisation of their kitchen by a third-party vendor.
Rachel Goenka, CEO & Founder of The Chocolate Spoon Company, the company behind The Sassy Spoon and House of Mandarin, is expecting a shift in people’s behaviour when it comes to dining out. “While earlier dining out experience was all about meeting up at your favourite restaurant or trying out a new restaurant with friends, people will now go out in smaller groups to maintain social distancing. We are also pre-empting that guests will visit restaurants less frequently,” she says, adding, “We are also foreseeing the trend of curbside dining picking up where people would prefer to eat in their car rather than be seated at the restaurant.”
Immunity boosters and local food to rule
Immunity-boosting dishes and local food are going to dominate the menu. While Healthy Flax Living has introduced hot bowls and immunity-boosting and building juices, The Sassy Spoon would see an immunity-boosting menu focusing not just on main dishes but also on desserts.
“Our menus have been re-engineered to incorporate immunity boosters, healthy options for everyone (vegan, organic, farm-to-table, gluten-free) and the 'Greatest Of All Time' signature dishes from our restaurants. Promoting local produce would be a top priority for us. Besides, we will have farm fresh daily specials and ingredient-based drinks menu,” says Chef Basu.
Restaurants have also been tweaking existing dishes to ensure they don’t serve anything raw. “We're working around tweaking our salads since that’s the only uncooked item on our menu currently. Besides, we've shortened our menus a little to adapt to the manpower in the kitchen,” says Pawan Shahri, Managing partner at restaurants like Butterfly Fly, The Bigg Small Café & Bar, and Oi Kitchen and Bar.
Another trend that we would see would be of a smaller menu. “We're definitely going to be seeing smaller menus as the supply chain has been disrupted in a big way and sourcing ingredients and raw materials are a lot harder now. We are tweaking our menus to include more seasonal and local produce and will be using ingredients wisely to avoid wastage. A smaller menu plays to our advantage not just in terms of social distancing norms within the kitchen but also in terms of sustainable kitchen practices and reducing costs. Besides, the menu will change more frequently so that there's something for customers to look forward to each time they visit our restaurants,” adds Goenka.
A trend to watch would be customisation. “We are going vocal for local and would be working with our neighbouring farmers and promoting regional ingredients. The dishes would be intimate and customised, and our guests are going to feel like kings,” quips Rahul Makhija, Director Operations, THE Park Navi Mumbai.
Will customers come?
While some are optimistic that people are eager to dine out considering they haven’t in the past six-seven months, others are sensing some scepticism.
“Realistically speaking, even though people are eager to dine-in, they will probably want to wait for a couple of weeks before they go out to a restaurant. We've conducted a survey to understand how comfortable our guests would be to dine-in once we reopen and a majority of the responses indicated that they would like to wait it out for 2-3 weeks before visiting,” adds Rachel.
Another challenge people are going to face is adjusting to the new normal. “As lockdown restrictions are easing up and we as business owners have started opening the restaurants and bars, many would find that their old business model doesn’t fit the ‘’new normal’’. Not only do we have to adjust to social distancing inside the premise but we also need to regain consumer confidence in these changing times,” adds Arora.
Are you excited to head out for dining or would you still prefer to order in or cook at home? Tell us in comments below.