Several sectors of the Indian economy are slowing down, the automobiles, manufacturing, and fertilisers to name a few. However, one sector that is showing no signs of slowing down, and is in fact booming is the Indian Restaurant Industry. The sector is doing well on all parameter, be it employment generation, growth or revenue.
The NRAI India Food Services Report 2019 charts the growth of the industry. The market size of the Indian food service industry’s market size stands at Rs 4,23,865 crore with it expected to grow at a CAGR of 9 per cent for the next 3 years. At a time when employment generation is scarce, the industry employed 7.3 million people in 2018-19. To put things in perspective the Indian food service industry is the largest service sector in India after retail and insurance and is 20 times of the film industry, 4.7 times of hotels and 1.5 times of the pharmaceutical sector. Long story short, Indian food businesses are doing really well.
So what’s the problem?
Simply put, more and more Indians are ditching home-cooked food for the offerings by the restaurants. With this, restaurants in India are expanding, offering a variety of fusion foods, multi-cuisine dishes and innovations to cater to the Indian consumer. While the restaurant sales are surely up, these restaurant, in their quest for increasing revenues, are moving away from their core competencies.
This results in an amalgamation of a food menu, which has been diversified so much, that it no longer caters to just the cuisine it started out with and was famous for.
Take the case of the famous Kyani Café for example. The more than 100 year old café has long been famous for Iranian and Parsi delicacies. In spite of all these years, the restaurant has managed to preserve its rustic and old age charm. The café still only accepts cash payments, and frequent visitors tell how the owner looks down upon people coming in and using their laptops and phones will eating! However, if you look at the menu, the restaurant has diversified to offer foods that are anything but of Iranian descent. Famous for delicacies like keema pav and chicken koliwada, the restaurant now also offers chicken and veg burgers. If you want, you can also have the not so Parsi breakfast of chicken sausage and baked beans. While it is understandable that the restaurant expanded their menu to cope up with changing times, the fact that a traditionally American dish has made its way into a Parsi restaurant jus because it sells more is a bit disheartening.
Many restaurants are guilty of this. Dubbed as authentic Italian, Mexican or Chinese restaurants, many of them sell food that is in no way close to the authenticity they’re going for. The fact that various hot selling foods such as Indian versions of Chinese food, burgers and pastas are sold in almost all restaurants, irrespective of the cuisine which forms their core business, is proof of the fact that restaurants in India are trading authenticity for more sales and popularity.
“In today’s times there’s no choice but for you to keep a diverse menu if you want to run a successful restaurant. That’s because the people that come into your eatery aren’t just looking for a specific dish, they’re looking for quality and a good experience. By focusing on just one cuisine, you’re restricting that customer to come into your restaurant only when they are in the mood for that particular dish. This ultimately makes you lose out on a lot of potential customers. Your fast-moving dishes, as we call them, basically the pastas, the multi-cuisine appetizers the pizzas, they’re mainly there because they’re hot selling and are preferred by all people, irrespective of their demographics, preferences, tastes etc” said *Rajdeep, the owner of a famous Italian café in Mumbai.
While restaurants will always look out for what is selling and try to incorporate it in their menus for success, sometimes the trade-off results in dampening the authenticity of a good restaurant. Because when you see pizzas being sold in a restaurant that prides itself on its authenticity, it does more harm than good!
*Name changed on request