It was lunch time, and students who finished revision exams, security guards from nearby apartments and curious marketing executives formed a serpentine queue outside the newly-opened Chennai Corporation budget restaurant off Poonamallee High Road.
Further away in Tiruvottiyur, Mariamma Dayalan, on her way back home after collecting her grandson from school, made a quick halt at the budget restaurant on Tiruvottiyur High Road.
Just a few days into their opening, the pocket-friendly eateries of the Chennai Corporation drew a motley crowd of customers.
“My bus ticket to Tiruvottiyur cost Rs. 8 but the curd rice here was for just Rs. 3,” she said.
On Friday, at the budget restaurant on Santhome High Road, the rush was so heavy that it had to close by 2 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. “We were prepared for 3,000 servings, but the crowds were so large, the food got over well ahead of closing time,” said a worker at the restaurant.
Curious to know how the cheapest meal in the city would fare, S. Anandan and Ashok Kumar, both retired professionals, braved the queue at the Poonamallee High Road oulet, and walked out satisfied. “I stood in the queue for about 10 minutes and for Rs. 5, the quantity of sambar rice was good,” he said, adding it would be worthwhile if the restaurant remained clean and efficient always.
Mr. Kumar, like several others, suggested a banana leaf be placed on the plates. “Now the plates are new, but over time placing a leaf would ensure hygiene,” he said.
Workers at the centres said they were grappling with teething issues. It was also difficult to estimate the number of customers and they would only learn as time passed, a worker said.
D. Krishnamurthy, an autorickshaw driver, who ate at the T. Nagar canteen was most excited that he was given clean drinking water without having to pay for it.
Another autorickshaw driver A. Ibrahim said he would make daily stops for lunch, and if possible, for breakfast at the budget canteens where idli is available for Re. 1 apiece with sambar. He said people like him who were on the move spent between Rs. 40 to Rs. 50 on lunch every day. The budget restaurants are open from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. for breakfast, and from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch.
An official at the T. Nagar outlet said the response had been overwhelming. “We sold close to 1,700 idlis in the morning, and close to 600 plates of sambar rice and 430 plates of curd rice an hour before closing time on Thursday afternoon,” he said.
If not for the serpentine queues and a pressing deadline, this reporter too would have liked to sample hearty portions of the fare.