Six feet from your doorstep

At Champaran restaurant at Netaji Subhash Place during the ongoing lockdown in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Under the shade of a flyover at Lajpat Nagar stand about a dozen young men dressed in bright orange or red t-shirts, leaning against their modified motorcycles, the seat for the pillion rider replaced by a large, insulated case. Glued to their phones, the young riders maintain distance from each other, chatting about the number of deliveries they completed the previous day and the pandemic. Soon, as lunchtime begins to loom, they scurry to the numerous restaurants in the vicinity to pick up orders, navigating the somewhat empty roads of the Capital.

“We are out at work while everybody is at home. These days, we don’t even see the face of the people who have ordered as most customers opt for contact-less delivery and ask us to leave the order on a stool outside their house,” says Rajesh Kumar, who works for an app-based food delivery service.

Wearing a double mask and carrying a bottle of sanitiser in his pocket, Mr. Kumar says he prefers not to remove his helmet while making deliveries. He feels safer wearing it when entering residential spaces, he says. “During the initial phase of the lockdown last year, people were apprehensive of ordering from outside. It has changed this time and many are relying on us to deliver meals, as entire families are sometimes infected,” says Mr. Kumar.

Mandeera Bora, a teacher, says when her entire family was down with COVID and nobody could step out, delivery apps came to their rescue. “Be it ordering food since we were not feeling good enough to cook or medicines, the entire process was so easy, convenient and stress-free,” says Ms. Mandeera.

Demand for home food

The pandemic has also witnessed a demand for home-cooked food due to diet regulations as well as pocket-friendliness. Sakshi Seth, a teacher, says courier service apps that pick up food from home chefs and deliver have been a blessing. “More than half my family, including cook and house help, were down with COVID together. When we craved for home food, courier services came as a blessing as they were reliable and made life so much easier by letting us focus on recovery instead of exerting ourselves in the kitchen,” she says.

Many Delhiites with no experience in the food delivery space have started opening up their kitchens to help those in need.

Kavita Dawar, who started Mother and Daughter’s Co along with her mother, says as a family, they were frustrated listening to news about people suffering so much due to the pandemic. But instead of feeling helpless, they started a venture to provide “maa ke haath ka khaana” and be a family to the ones staying away from their homes and those that have lost their near and dear ones.

Food for needy

“On the very first day, we provided 10 meals and now we are providing about 100 to 150 meals every day at a minimal pricing. We use the proceedings to provide free meals to needy and unprivileged people,” Ms. Dawar says. She adds that the handwritten post-it notes they send with their deliveries have been appreciated and they have received feedback that the notes have helped several people stay positive, as they know there is someone to take care of them.

Kavita’s husband Pranay used to run a wedding planning company and has employed workers who are out of work as delivery boys. “We have created an opportunity for these workers who were struggling without pay and have trained them to make contactless deliveries,” says Mr. Dawar.

Changing dynamics

While the home delivery ecosystem has stepped in, the restaurant industry that has been hampered by the shutting down of dine-in services has been relying on the duopoly of the app-based delivery services for business. Restaurant owners admit the dynamics of the business have changed drastically during the pandemic and home delivery has become far more important than what it was in the pre-pandemic days.

The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) says that with massive dollar-dumping, tech aggregators are trying to become digital landlords that control the entire ecosystem. To ensure that restaurants get a larger share of the profit, the association has partnered with tech providers to come up with an “order direct” platform so that alternate platforms can be explored for home delivery, giving restaurants a larger share of the profit as well as help them cater to loyal customers directly.

Speaking on the initiatives the NRAI has taken, President of the association Anurag Katriar says: “We are committed to take better control of our business and our customer data and become digitally more self-reliant as an industry. Ordering directly from restaurants will benefit lakhs of small restaurants across the country and will give them an alternative from the current digital landlords.”

He added that the NRAI will unveil industry-friendly tech solutions, “which will hopefully change the contours of this trade and benefit lakhs of business owners rather than a handful of digital giants”.

Rahul Singh, founder and CEO of Beer Café, observes: “While we believe the aggregators need to be more business-friendly, one can’t deny the role they have played in creating a robust distribution channel, driving up volumes for the restaurants. We therefore will continue to coexist in the typical love-hate relationship. Tech, after all, has to be an enabler and not a distorter.”

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 1:02:20 AM |

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