Remember those days of social distancing when the world was just opening up post pandemic? Restaurant after restaurant downed shutters. The gloomy forecast was that dining out would be a casualty and consumers would opt for dine-in. Home chefs emerged and investments moved to cloud kitchens. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) put out alarming statistics saying the restaurant industry had shrunk by 53 per cent in India, resulting in the permanent closure of more than 25 per cent of business operators and nearly 24 lakh job losses.
Cut to present — literally every other week there is a new restaurant opening, one more exciting than the other, in Delhi NCR, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Pune. Delhi NCR alone has so much new on the menu that it is hard to decide which culinary destination to head to. Investors are back in a big way, betting on both fine dining and casual outlets — though ‘gourmet casual’ is the new buzzword. At many of the new places, a star chef is the face of the F&B brand.
Dishing new options
Take Khi Khi, which sounds like a giggle, very appropriate when you consider its vibey fun feel and playful plates and drinks, that opened this May in the Priya Cinema Complex. Put together by chef entrepreneur Tarun Sibal, the gastro bar has fast become a favourite of Delhi’s denizens.
Or take Pincode, seeded by True Palate Café, a company founded three years ago that has invested in several new restaurant brands, whose menu has been created by Masterchef India’s effervescent judge, Chef Kunal Kapoor. Pincode, which promises to bring you timeless recipes in a contemporary avatar, has opened two branches — one in Civil Lines and one in Saket. “It is our sole yearning that every dish on the Pincode menu takes you back in time and kick in the effervescent nostalgia,” says Sumit Wahal, COO of True Café.
Chef Kunal Kapoor also had a hand in a new opening in Noida called Quarter Plate, which too banks on the pull of nostalgia and regional street fare like Ram laddoo chaat. In Noida, another internet star chef, Harpal Singh Sokhi, has opened his Karigari restaurant with much fanfare. Noida is seeing a lot of action. According to reports, 708 restaurant licences have been issued in Noida and Greater Noida in 2023, compared to 332 in 2019.
Meanwhile, True Palate Café, which is also the company pushing Neuma India and Virat Kohli’s world cuisine brand One8 Commune has aggressive plans for its restaurants. “As of now, we have established seven outlets across Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata with our latest project launching soon in Bengaluru,” says Wahal, talking about the journey of One8 Commune.
But one of the most disruptive launches in Delhi was Inja (which stands for India and Japan) in March, and Camillo’s in August at The Manor Hotel, the first a fine dining concept and the second a pizzeria. Inja, created by chef Adwait Anantwar has truly stretched the boundaries of imagination presenting familiar Indian flavours with Japanese aesthetics. So well received has it been that the restaurant that was open only in the evenings is now opening for lunch on weekends. “We definitely want to expand our operations across India in due course with interesting and exciting concepts,” says Panchali Mahendra, MD of Dubai-based Atelier Hospitality, which has its eyes on the Indian market.
In Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art, not one but three restaurants have sprung up. There is Amoda, serving Indian cuisine, and The Saddle House, which is continental and pan-Asian, while Cafe Green Lane is a quick-service restaurant.
Changing the recipe
Even as new brands are launching, many of the existing brands are suddenly scaling up and expanding. Diggin has been opening several new outlets. An experimental brand like Burma Burma that disrupted the Asian cuisine market in 2014 with its vegetarian Burmese fare is now expanding furiously. It now has nine restaurants and delivery kitchens across seven cities and the tenth going to open soon in Hyderabad.
Ask Ankit Gupta, Co-Founder of behind Burma Burma, what is leading to the frenzied footfalls in restaurants — is it because of new concepts or revenge dining? He responds, “The YOLO (You Only Live Once) sentiment is undeniably strong among younger consumers and high-net-worth individuals, particularly evident in their consumption patterns when it comes to expensive wines, spirits and visits to Michelin-starred restaurants. We’ve observed a subtle but notable up-tick in the Average Per Consumer (APC) as guests increasingly opt for beverages and desserts in addition to their main courses.” But he says, “It’s important to note that, in India, there hasn’t been any discernible recession, especially within the organised restaurant and bar sector. As we look ahead to the next decade, there’s a palpable sense of promise and optimism, with this sector poised for exceptional growth.”
According to an IMARC report, in 2023-2028, the Indian food service market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.58 per cent. While that is encouraging, the F&B brands have to keep evolving and changing the recipe to survive and grow.