Laying the table from the cloud

Enterprising foodpreneurs are combining a love for cuisine and technology to cater to the experimental palate of urban Indians, with both regular fare and exotic meals. A meal is no longer confined to small establishments and expensive fine dining restaurants, but also arrives at your doorsteps via smartphones.
Food tech start-ups across the country—from the big-ticket ones to the mid-sized and small ventures—are walking on a cloud to stay in business and beat the competition. Take Cloud kitchen, a new online restaurant genre without brick and mortar. Unlike a traditional restaurant that offers dine-in or takeaway facility, it only delivers food.

The dish of choice is just a click or a swipe away, quite literally, as orders are placed via websites or apps and in some cases with phonecalls. These cloud kitchens either have an online medium to take the orders or accept requests via food delivery start-ups such as Zomato, Swiggy, etc.

Hotel management graduate Arvind Chaudhary of Noida-based Backstreet Kitchen, a cloud-only food operation service that serves Indian, Chinese and Mughlai, started two years ago. He says, “Cloud kitchen only provides delivery service, so the focus remains on food, its preparation, quality and packaging. Technology plays a major role. This revenue model is gaining a foothold as it cuts costs, time, and works well for both the owner and customer.”

It has been noted that the number of dine-in customers has decreased significantly over the last few years, with customers mostly opting for home delivery. Many are now shutting down outlets or moving towards cloud kitchens to cut down on the cost and maximise returns.

Stiff competition in the restaurant industry, along with reducing margins, made restaurateur Ashish Parashar of Mumbai-based Litti Express partially move to cloud kitchen. He opened Litti Express, his first restaurant serving authentic food from North India in Oshiwara, Mumbai, but slowly moved
to the cloud model when he decided to start operations in Bandra.

“After running my outlet for a couple of years, I realised that the restaurant space is highly competitive. The high rentals in a city like Mumbai coupled with the rising cost of infrastructure and manpower management only add to our woes. Cloud kitchen seems like the smarter way to run my business,” says Parashar.

Cloud kitchen restaurants try to maximise the number of orders per day, by decreasing the production and packaging time, and managing the logistics. With menu options galore in cloud kitchens, there is always one to suit every palate. As Bela Gupta of Herbivore says, “The younger generation doesn’t want dal chawal every day. They earn well but sadly don’t have the time and energy to cook an elaborate spread. Places like us cater to that segment and give them the best possible eating experience, delivering food to our clients irrespective of their location, whether they are at home or at work. We have a

15-member team to handle a variety of dishes from a wide vegetarian menu, comprising global and regional cuisines. We also offer meal subscription plans and tailored catering.”
One of the pioneers is Faasos—available across 140 locations in 13 cities—and has been operating profitably for years. Taking a cue from this e-model, food delivery start-ups such as Zomato and Swiggy too have jumped on to the bandwagon.

Where there is success, there is specialisation. Bengaluru-based online gourmet food service company Chefkraft aims to address the need of the consumer for fresh, wholesome and flavourful food in high-quality packaging on demand. “We plan to cover all of Bengaluru in 2018 and at the same time, build an offline presence that augments the brand. We will continue to have a centralised model that allows us to go to market quickly, maintain quality standards and to operate costs while continuously pushing the bar on the service element,” says Mohit Mital of Chefkraft.

However, the cloud kitchen model is not a sure shot recipe for success in the food tech business, since there are potential pitfalls too. The founders of Delhi-based cloud kitchen player Yumist that shut its operations in September 2017 said in its company blog, “Cloud kitchens are here to stay. It’s probably the case that the first one through the door gets shot. The problem we were trying to solve is a big one, and we are certain someone will pick up from where we left. Our wishes and support are with them.” Summing up the concept of cloud kitchen, Chaudhary says with a chuckle, “I would not be impressed with technology until I can download food.”

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