We all have our favourite restaurants, that we walk into for the familiar comfort of it, for the ambience, for the DJ who gets it just right, for the waiter who knows our go-to order, or for memories shared with friends, families or dates.
And then we have our favourite order-at-home options, which may or may not be (and usually are not) the same as our walk-in haunts.
Often, the latter is not a full-fledged restaurant but a cloud kitchen — one that focusses on how to portion and package a meal for one, indulgent or guilt-free, ideal for solitary binge sessions at the end of a long, hard day that leaves us too drained to cook. Restaurants are increasingly aware of why at-home diners prefer cloud kitchens over them. A large part of it has to do with serving size. First movers in India’s cloud kitchen scene — like Rebel Foods, the Pune-based entity that owns Faasos, Lunch Box, Behrouz, The Good Bowl and Oven Story among others — tend to have menus featuring either single-person dishes and combos, or party sizes fit for at least four to five people. Both tailored for a night in, be it social or solitary.
Restaurants and cafés, on the other hand, serve items that are either meant to be shared by two people, or that come with their share of frills in terms of sides, sauces and platings. Attractive when eating out, cumbersome when dining in.
So a few of them have started changing things around. Take, for instance, the 11-year-old chain Smoke House Deli, which has branches in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata. The brand has started relaunching its restaurants as Smoke House Deli 2.0, the fourth and most recent one unveiled in Delhi this week.
In a company statement, Smoke House Deli 2.0 boasts healthier options in its menu, a “more airy, open, and modern” ambience, and more importantly, a grab-and-go counter which has its own, separate presence on food delivery platforms Swiggy and Zomato. The latter is called Goodness To Go by Smoke House Deli, and features a menu curated by brand head and head chef Jaydeep Mukherjee.
According to Jaydeep, the idea is to provide “a station where patrons can step in to grab quick meals, healthy smoothies, salads, sandwiches etc. Easy and convenient, it allows patrons to keep up with their busy lifestyle on-the-go, while still eating mindfully.” The packaging keeps that in mind, making the food easy to “grab” not only for rushing customers, but also for delivery personnel.
Meanwhile, Chennai-based Ciclo Cafe, which expanded its presence to Bengaluru and Delhi, has now scaled back into its hometown and is “working on regrouping,” says marketing head Amrutha Anandanathan. The café has launched a health-based delivery vertical called Ciclo Life, which features a salad bowl and meals, with plenty of quinoa, millets and cauliflower rice making their presence felt. Says Amrutha, “We don’t want to call it health food completely, but rather delicious food with a healthy leaning. The menu also includes popular staples that we have taken from Ciclo Cafe, and given healthier variations, including multigrain and keto-friendly options.” The service has three successfully running branches in Chennai alone — RA Puram, Anna Nagar and OMR — and is now confident of expanding well in other cities. “We have experienced chefs, and a team that knows how to run things. We are strengthening our home base first,” adds Amrutha.
In terms of operations, this system seems to be working out to the restaurants’ advantage, with the basic infrastructure already built in and a whole new clientèle to reach out to. With the same team and kitchen staff handling these new verticals, restaurants can retain the image and branding that provided them loyal customers over the years, instead of depending on the outsourced kitchens and infrastructure provided by delivery platforms, that many cloud-only kitchens tend to depend on.
Swiggy, for instance, is reportedly tying-up with Bengaluru-based restobar chain Gilly’s, for the operation of two new delivery-only brands. One is called Kitchens of Punjab, and the other is Kitchens of China. These outfits operate out of infrastructure that are already existent at Gilly’s outlets, and be run by the existing Gilly’s staff. Swiggy does not offer any infrastructure in this case; it only helps with delivery, according to Swiggy. Only the menu and the online presence will be separate from the motherbrand, and will be focussed entirely on delivery, according to Swiggy.
Similarly, Goodness To Go by Smoke House Deli operates out of a central kitchen that is otherwise used for coordination between its various Mumbai branches. While Goodness To Go is mainly present as a counter within each Smoke House Deli 2.0, a standalone outpost operates inside a Crossword bookstore in Mumbai’s Kemp’s Corner, and depends entirely on this central kitchen. On delivery apps, too, this vertical stands on its own with a full menu. More are to follow, in other bookstores and unexpected hangouts. The idea, as chef Jaydeep puts it, is for it to metamorphose “into an artfully imaginative, wholesome and evolved version of itself.”