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  • Writer's pictureShraddha Umrao

How Coronavirus Could Affect Restaurants and the Culture of Eating Out?

Life will hardly remain the same once we get over from the COVID-19 pandemic. Economists and social scientists are predicting lasting changes in the way we live, work and eat.

Some of these were already within the making but are expected to be fast-tracked as people change their habits to fight the epidemic. It’s likely that “some of those habits will stick”, says Susan Athey, a professor of economics of technology at the Stanford School of Business, in The Washington Post. What changes will we see in India?

How will the pandemic affect restaurants and therefore the culture of eating out that had been steadily evolving within the last decade and a half, but was impacted by the economic slowdown for several months now? The one sector which was affected the most by Covid-19 is going to be food services, estimated at Rs 4,23,865 crore in India and employing over 7,00,000 people, according to the National Restaurant Association of India. As brick-and-mortar businesses are closed, restaurants are struggling, but small efforts are afoot to salvage whatever they can.

A restaurant in Gurgaon, for example, is offering tickets against a future five-course meal paired with cocktails, in line with efforts internationally to run businesses afloat. Others have taken to limited deliveries for people. However, with the growing fear of exposing the staff to infection, many are shutting these down, too. The human tragedy all this entails is nearly unbearable. Will there be light at the end of the tunnel? What sort of eating-out experiences will diners return to, and what trends will flourish as others die out? Here’s a glance at some ways in which dining as a business is probably going to vary within the post-COVID-19 world:

End of Social Dining

One of the best trends that were emerging in India was social dining, where shared tables in restaurants and bars attempted to form bonds between strangers over food and drink. After quarantine, this experiment is probably going to be nipped within the bud.

The world, politically and economically, may lean towards more barriers or mutual cooperation, but when it involves food in India, deep-seated cultural prejudices about dining with “others” are likely to become exacerbated.

Rise of Premium Deliveries

While the brick-and-mortar restaurant business was hurting even before the epidemic hit, delivery services were on an upswing. The millennial and Gen Z consumers were showing preferences not only for value for money meals but also enhanced “experiences” even in delivered food. The recent phenomenon was the emergence of chef-led delivery brands in Mumbai and Delhi, where top chefs and restaurateurs promised to give higher quality food cooked in cloud kitchens and delivered to the comfort of homes. This trend will probably go up when the novel coronavirus retreats. This entails lower costs and more business per square foot, and chefs and restaurateurs are going to be looking to capitalise on that.

Foreign Charms Wear Off

Pop-ups by various “Michelin-starred” chefs, as they were being lauded in India, could lose the sheen. Glamour events funded by liquor companies will see a hit not just by the economic downturn but the possible reluctance of consumers to visit in a crowd for any event.

Cooking at Home

Every disaster carries with it the seeds of opportunity. There could also be renewed interest in slow food, as something to be savoured and created in personalised ways. People are already showing huge interest in sharing recipes, cooking tips and pictures of homecooked meals on social media. This could be harnessed to form businesses.

Cleaner, Not Cheaper Food

The notoriously price-sensitive consumers may finally become more mindful of quality ingredients grown in safe and sustainable ways, cooked by well-trained staff and served in hygienic conditions. This suggests the value of food in a restaurant can go up, and restaurants may find it harder to compete on price alone. Many restaurants may of course shut as people tighten their belts, reduce discretionary spend and slow down on the frequency of eating out. However, after they do eat, they will crumble quality restaurants instead of cheap Chinese outlets.

Restaurants could also be forced to shut shop or shut down. In fact, this might be the shake-up waiting to happen within the Indian restaurant business. A silver lining in these dark days.

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