Trend Restauranteurs do more than serving a hearty meal these days, as customers get choosy. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo reports

Every other week, a new restaurant is added on to the city's cluttered food map. The more the merrier and hopefully, better choice of food. For chefs in both high-end restaurants and neighbourhood eateries, the job gets tougher by the day with patrons getting choosy over what goes into the meal.

Restaurant managers and chefs, at times, are summoned either while placing the order or soon after the food is served… ‘Is the sandwich made with wheat/multigrain bread?', ‘Is the salad tossed in olive oil?' The queries are many, necessitating the restaurants to mention ingredients in detail in the menu. The entry of new players means further stringent measures.

“It's an evolving process. Detailing is no mean task,” says Ram Misra, president, Hotels and Restaurants Association of AP. “A lot of thought goes into the menu, with a mention of key ingredients and the basic procedure. Restaurants do more than just conforming to guidelines by PFA (Prevention of Food Adulteration). We still have a lot of catching up to do compared to Mumbai and Delhi but we are getting there. The Westin group of hotels working on food compatibility (pairing of compatible foods in a delicacy) and ITC factoring in allergens is just the beginning,” he elaborates.

Compatible foods and allergens

At a lunch/dinner buffet, customers can alert the chef on allergic reactions to nuts/nutty oils/ sea food/mushroom and get custom-made delicacies. “In general, we avoid using mushroom in mixed vegetable preparations and ask diners before using prawns. We also avoid artificial colours. There is awareness today, no one wants MSG in their food. Detailing is an on-going process,” says executive chef Nambi Arooran of ITC Kakatiya.

Talk about finer details and restaurateurs point out diners getting choosy. Women who drop in for leisurely afternoon lunches and frequent business travellers more finicky than others, observes Nitin Bir, GM, Fortune Park Vallabha. “Women outnumber men in asking for healthy food. And frequent business travellers are particular about wheat/multi grain breads and eating light to stay alert in boardrooms and healthy during travel. An indication is the increase in orders for cut fruit platters for room service,” he adds. Ram Misra seconds this, “Women, by nature, have been more health conscious. There's been a change of late. In homes with working couples men are also adept in cooking and hence, becoming aware of food.”

This is not to say that there are fewer takers for a plate of pav bhaji with dollops of butter or greasy fried rice. “People here love biryani and haleem. But there's a growing section of clientele that is choosy,” says Nitin Bir.

Celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia recently remarked that pasta has almost become ‘dhaba' food, readily available in Indian metros. Slowly moving from a state where people were happy with ‘white' or ‘red pasta', they'd rather have pasta that's al dente with the ‘bite' in tact and the right sauces. High-end Italian restaurants get enquiries for whole wheat/buckwheat pastas and the kind of cheeses used in salads. At neighbourhood Italian eateries, the learning curve has just begun. “When I started this place, I wasn't sure how it would be received. Now I have customers eager to know which pasta can be paired with which sauce and so on. Once they try a few options and are happy, they come back for more,” says Santosh of Grab and Refresh, Vikrampuri.

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