It is no secret that pandemic has impacted the foodservice industry just like any other industry in India. The industry relies on people who either step out of their homes or order in, but due to the pandemic, both mediums saw a sharp downfall in numbers. As brands looked for an alternative to continue operations, low demand, and social distancing norms led many brands shutting their outlets, especially the dine-in.
“The dine-in sector saw a drop of 6 percent in the number of restaurants in the first week of March, another 20 percent in the subsequent week. It all came to a standstill from April and lasted till mid-June. The only option left for many restaurants amidst the chaos was to become takeaway and delivery only outlets to ride out this pandemic,” says Kabir Jeet Singh, CEO & Co-Founder at Burger Singh.
“Certain sectors of the industry which were already in the delivery business have seen their business grow. However, the vast majority of dine-in facilities such as cafés, restaurants, bars and food courts in malls have been dealt a very severe blow with many casualties,” adds Kazem Samamdari, Founder, L’Opera.
Many restaurateurs have been quick to adapt to some changes in their business model to offer their customers more flexible, pandemic-friendly dining options.
Importance of Technology
With a majority of businesses set to open again and with the consequent rush of home-weary customers, technology is the only way to ensure a safe and seamless consumer experience in this COVID-ridden world.
“Dineout’s Contactless Dining abilities help restaurateurs avoid extraneous contact points inside the restaurants, while still providing their diners a flawless and safe dining experience. Takeaway is going to emerge as a key revenue line along with home deliveries for most restaurants and food tech players would adjust to this new normal. The quality of food, service and hygiene will be paramount and use of technology to ensure cleanliness, social distancing and as a tool to save costs for the restaurants is becoming supreme,” says Ankit Mehrotra, CEO & Co-Founder, Dineout.
“Since social distancing is here to stay for some time now, customer safety remains the prime importance for every restaurant and retailer, especially in food court areas where ordering procedure can be quite chaotic. By using our Digital Ordering solution, customers can avoid multiple human interventions. We have one QR code for all the food brands, which can be quite convenient for the customers who want to order food from their favourite vendors but end up avoiding the queues, being worried about safety. The uniqueness of our platform is that end customers don’t have hassles in downloading any app and can start ordering by simply scanning the QR code placed outside the restaurant. The commerce and payments happen on the user’s mobile browser while the post-transaction communication, customer invoicing, feedback, etc. shifts to WhatsApp. The restaurant can directly interact and engage with its customer on WhatsApp, once the customer has placed the order and paid successfully through Dotpe,” explains Shailaz Nag, Co-Founder and CEO, DotPe.
COVID-19 has transformed everything, and foodservice players are chasing new challenges to understand and recognise consumer behavior as well as thinking of consumer safety.
“Many technologies, originally driven for the convenience and efficiency, help restaurant operators to create customized experiences to feed their guests, along with keeping them safe and healthy,” adds Shyam Thakur, Founder, RYU.
“These technological advancements will bring about the winds of change in how the industry operates in the post-pandemic era. Once operations resume to normal, customers will find more tech-enabled and far more efficient systems in place to serve their needs,” adds Singh.
Technology is assisting in maintaining a distance between guests and staff at any dining joint. From contactless digital menus and cashless payment options, the physical contact has reduced.
“AI is going to help us analyse a lot of data, to help resolve many issues. We have installed AI in CCTV cameras, where pics are taken automatically of anyone not working or serving as per the SOPs set by restaurant as it is detected. Also, technology is important for giving a contactless experience where customers can order simply using the QR code, and give the feedback, making the whole process contactless,” explains Amit Bagga, Co-Founder, Daryaganj.
How Technology Players Are Helping
The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for the contactless dining suite, which eliminates nonessential human interaction and replaces it with seamless technology. The pandemic has made diners skeptical about stepping out and wary of touching non sanitized surfaces. However, there are a multitude of touchpoints that a restaurant can modify and facilitate with the introduction of flawless technology.
Technology players are facilitating foodservice players with different technologies to ensure contactless dining at their restaurants.
“As India’s largest dining out and restaurant tech platform we have always believed in a restaurant first approach. Dineout is licensing products like Digital Reservation, Digital Valet, Digital Menu, Digital Payments, and Digital feedback,” says Mehrotra.
“Contactless technology ensures cleanliness, social distancing and well, gets the revenue rolling for our restaurant partners (something that they are craving for). Alongside this, it also helps restaurants to establish trust and build confidence in the minds of consumers and help them adjust to the new normal. We are also promoting contactless Takeaway and Drive Through for restaurants in India. Users can select their favourite dishes from multiple restaurants or pre-order contactless takeaways from certified restaurants for self-pick-up without any waiting time. This way they can relish their favourite dishes with complete peace of mind. Diners can also pick-up their food at specially created drive-thru windows or curb-side at partner restaurants and malls for a safer contactless experience,” he further adds.
Similarly, DotPe empowers users with end-to-end digital capabilities, while ensuring that customers are saved from the hassle of downloading apps.
“The USP of our offerings is that people can commence ordering easily from our platform by merely scanning a QR code. Additionally, our Scan-Order-Pay feature is benefiting thousands of people every day by localizing the service and allowing people to adhere to social distancing norms during these challenging times,” says Nag.
Automation in Foodservice
The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of automation by the foodservice industry, which has led to the introduction of a process of standardisation in the food preparation sector. Presently, the industry relies heavily on humans, but this is set to change in the next five years. From machines that can make a dish on their own to drone delivery, we are headed towards an exciting phase of the foodservice sector.
“Automation is particularly important because it helps to save costs. Today because of tough times, we are operating on tight margins. We need to save money by making sure that a proper inventory management system is in place, reducing spoilage, tracking work force management, and not wasting our resources. It will also help in saving our electricity bills by having automated cut offs. AI can track safety measures inside the kitchen and restaurant,” states Bagga.
“Automating foodservice industry can reap many benefits. The ability to replicate the appearance and quality of a product with the minimum use of ingredients not only improves line efficiencies leading to bottom-line profits, but also can potentially increase sales,” adds Akshay Anand, Co-Founder, Ophelia.
Exploring Food Delivery
The COVID outbreak has transformed everybody’s lives and is encouraging people to stay at their homes as they take safety precautions and follow social distancing.
Indeed, what we call home deliveries became one of the first activities which re-started just a few days after the initial lockdown and has continued strongly ever since. This is the reason why many foodservice players providing dine-in options are exploring delivery options.
“Food delivery has increased rapidly due to the pandemic. Patrons reluctant to step out of their homes started demanding their favourite restaurants to deliver food at their residences. This has given another revenue opportunity to food joints,” Anand states.
“Along with dine-in we are also looking for food delivery option for customers. We are also getting back to the pre-COVID stage in terms of orders,” says Thakur.
The pickings are so healthy in fact that Priyank Sukhija of First Fiddle is planning to introduce two new delivery brands – Pan-Asian and Burger – in November.
“Delivery – which has recovered 80 percent of the pre-COVID sales for the restaurant industry as a whole and now contributes about 35 percent to our sales – will play a noticeably big role in the future. We see this growing and are certain this will soon have a larger share in our sales. It will be unshakeable. Also, people are now aware, and have understood that Coronavirus is not transmitted through food which has been clarified by W.H.O. We at Daryaganj, are launching a new concept – Delivery Box – where we are recreating the brand experience for customers to enjoy in the comfort of their own home,” states Bagga.
“Presently, we are transacting a volume online which is almost 10X greater than what we did in the same period of last year,” adds Samamdari.