The food and beverage industry has clearly evolved since the emergence of the pandemic and several allied verticals are actually helping restaurants navigate their business. Restaurants have turned to digital POS solutions, food delivery has become a necessity driving increased packaging demand for biodegradable options and in-venue F&B customer-engagement technology platforms are busier than ever.
Prashant Issar, Founder, Ishaara, Mumbai, acquiesces, “The hospitality industry is the worst hit and so any evolution will only help. New verticals in the home-delivery and take-away space will help tide over the storm for many. As an entrepreneur, I am programmed to look at any new situation as a time of extraordinary opportunities, and so I'm forever keen to see innovation and new products. In addition to entrepreneurs, the challenging environment has resulted in job losses thereby forcing people to self-employment. Hence, all the boxes of the Ansoff's matrix are being populated, as we speak. The last 8-10 months have seen it all, from essentials manufacturing and distribution; hand-made, home-made goods; innovating on existing products and the list goes on.”
Emergence of new food businesses and local restaurants launching their own delivery apps and platforms are commonplace in the backdrop of the pandemic. The online food business emerged as the easiest and fastest way of earning and many jumped on the bandwagon, especially home chefs and entrepreneurs. Restaurants too have ramped up their takeaway and delivery offerings and adopted new marketing strategies to target consumers. Many have built their own online-ordering mechanisms or mobile apps, while others have partnered with delivery aggregators.
Five-star hotels who were never a part of takeaway and delivery, have also succumbed. Paul Kinny, Director of Culinary, St. Regis Mumbai, reiterates, “This has given rise to the requirement for allied partners and vendors who provide the much-needed support. We have also started implementing varied new protocols that require equipment and apps that were not required earlier. These are the need of the hour to ensure that our guests get a feeling of safety and comfort while dining at our property.”
As demand has increased, so has supply. Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) for instance, launched Qmin, a mobile app for a repertoire of culinary experiences, delivering signature dishes from Taj Hotels in Mumbai in June 2020, followed by other cities.
As consumption patterns shift to food delivery, with a greater focus on hygiene and safety, disposable takeaway packaging options have registered a higher demand. Deepang Nandu, Managing Partner, Ecolyf by Silver Impex, a company into eco-friendly disposable products, elaborates, “The demand for these products had already begun when the plastic ban happened and with COVID, packaging and disposable cutlery has further received a boost. In Western and Southern India, our business has grown by almost 50 percent. However, with the cost of raw materials which are imported, having gone up, our margins are now calculated on a consignment basis, rather than on each piece. We supply mainly to five-star hotels and the volumes have increased.”
Technology has become an enabler like never before. Placing an order online, before heading into a restaurant is preferred, as is making contactless payments. In fact, technology has simplified the food business and given it the requisite boost.
Pre-COVID, the only tech or digital solution used by the restaurants were the aggregators, but now restaurants have shifted to QR Menus for safety and convenience, as per the WHO and FHRAI guidelines.
Abhishek Bose, CEO, My Menu, explains, “QR Menu has now become our primary product, as restauranteurs are looking at contactless solutions to maintain hygiene.” He further adds, “This, accompanied by ordering and payments has led to a surge in our business. At present, we have over 1000+ restaurants across various brands as registered users. The restauranteurs have understood that the primary way to survive the economic impact of the pandemic is to transition to these solutions.”
Digitisation had already begun in the last few years, but has gained momentum during the pandemic, forcing restaurants to turn digital in order to succeed as many traditional ways of doing business had to be done away with. Gautam Bhirani, Co-Founder and CEO, TagTalk, substantiates, “With restaurants reopening their doors in a new world where customers are cautious and curious, modern digital display solutions are coming to aid in a contactless dining world. With the introduction of our online SaaS-based subscription to help restaurants combat crisis, we have been able to expand our footprint from 5 to 12 cities and from 500 to 2000+ cafes and restaurants during the pandemic, turning tables for us, literally. We have introduced multiple new features like QR Code scan for menu, offers and payments, real-time POS offers, which save restaurants' printing costs, increase sales with automation through our web OS and mobile application.”
While the food and beverage industry acknowledges the importance of these verticals, they admit to the inevitable rising costs. Kinny quips, “These additional costs which did not exist before have to be considered. However, the costs are not that high so as to be concerned, especially given that the business is slowly picking up.”
Mini Ribeiro is an independent food writer and critic.