Evolving tastes have not only brought about a shift in trends, but have also affected the process of establishing restaurants. While it may seem like a simple enough formula, it is much more complicated than that dish in front of you with a fancy name.

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In an effort to paint a clear picture, we sat down with food critic Marryam H Reshii to identify the changes in dining trends, the role of reviews, lifestyle and many other things affecting the food culture. You might also find hints of what Marryam looks at when she reviews a restaurant.

She started writing about food in 1998, and recalls restaurants that would focus on North Indian, Chinese, and Italian – all at the same time. “And then there was McDonald’s”, she adds. But now, every cuisine has a restaurant dedicated to it. There are many factors that define the dining trends, and have caused shifts in the restaurant business.

She started writing about food in 1998, and recalls restaurants that would focus on North Indian, Chinese, and Italian – all at the same time. “And then there was McDonald’s”, she adds.

Marryam states some of the factors that have influenced changes the most in restaurants and the dynamics of dining out.

Health is wealth:

For the restaurants with a fine salad selection on their menu! “Today no one can boast about eating traditional Indian food. With dietitians in the picture, people are drifting more towards healthy eating. High cholesterol count is a genetic disposition which not a secret. Hence, you have cold pressed juices and salad lunches that are gaining momentum. Places like Salad Days and Raw Leaf are in business because the people are now opting for a healthy lifestyle,” says Marryam.

She adds that it is nearly impossible to focus at work after a heavy Indian meal because lethargy sets in. So if you want to be more productive, healthy – not heavy – food is a preferred choice. 

Work culture:

There is employment but not office space. On any given weekday, if we visit a cafe, we find most of the customers occupying seats on day-dates with their laptops. “I often get bored of sitting at home and writing my stories, so I step out for a change and sit at a cafe to complete it. My basic need is a cup of coffee or tea, a sandwich if I feel hungry, and Wi-Fi. If all these facilities help me get my work done, I am happy. This is exactly why you find cafes like Barista, Cafe Coffee Day and Starbucks always occupied.”

More than that, they also serve as suitable locations for team-building activities, brainstorming, interviews, and even tuitions.

Sharing an example, “Perch in Khan Market is a coffee and wine bar with a selection of eats. It’s a quiet set up that could be an ideal place to work. A calm ambience and a glass of good cold coffee would be enough for me, since eating or drinking is not the focus. Such things bring the suggestive selling aspect into the picture, where the chef can offer something off the menu to a regular customer and help build a relationship.”

No tech, no logic:

There are many things that restaurants need to focus on but being up to date with tech systems is an integral part as well, says Marryam. “A lot of restaurateurs now focus on every small detail – be it ambience, the mood, the food, or services – and have tried to make up where they can. Apart from that, technology has caught on in a big way. From free Wi-Fi to KOTs (Kitchen Order Ticket), everything is quick, savvy and leaves minimal room for error. I once visited a place in Noida, placed my order, and the waiter returned after 10 minutes to confirm it because he had written it and could not recollect the order, for whatever reasons. I was shocked.”

CCTV surveillance is as important, she says. “A lady once visited a restaurant and when she was leaving, her bag was gone. So the restaurant owners reviewed the footage and identified the culprits. Such things bring reassurance and a necessary safety factor into consideration. It might seem fancy, but in reality, is quite basic.”

The Spark:

Sitting with one of the most renowned food critics, it was impossible to not ask what she looks for in a restaurant when she goes to review it. “I look for that spark. It could be from the moment you walk in, or could even be the hospitality. It is difficult to put a finger on it. If we talk about Big Chill Cafe, it is the posters. If we talk about Perch, it is the big Cyprus tree, the wooden floors and the white walls. It could also be the first dish presented, or a small yet interesting menu.”

Result of reviews:

Marryam feels that reviews may or may not affect a restaurant’s image and its business. “It mostly depends on who is writing it. Sometimes, people use platforms to unnecessarily defame the restaurant owner/competitors, which is a bit disheartening. Anyone who is writing or reading a review to form an opinion must keep in mind its tonality and identify if it is justified or personal. A lady once wrote a really negative review of Monkey Bar, and when I asked Manu (Chandra), he told me the real reason behind it: her tantrums were not being entertained. I felt it was unfair to the restaurant.”

“Another time, I visited Carnatic Cafe in New Friends Colony, and the food there was brilliant. But when he asked me to check the reviews written, people had complained about things like service being refused or delayed while the staff was taking a break to eat food. We need to understand that even servers and restaurant owners are allowed to have a lunch time. I agree this is not Germany, but if the customer is refused, they take out their frustration on open platforms and defame these places.”

Starting tip for start-ups:

“Honesty is the best policy, even in the restaurant business” says Marryam. “If you have decided to open a restaurant in Delhi in areas like Kamla Nagar, North Campus or Satya Niketan, you should be prepared to work to your maximum advantage. Given the student crowd, one has to focus on the pricing of the menu to match the affordability and the purchasing power, but not compromise on the quality.

One needs to keep the health and creativity aspects in mind as well. For example, Diggin in Anand Lok serves these zucchini chips that are absolutely delicious. The portions are generous, and it also happens to be one of the few restaurants that is pet-friendly, which helps cater to a newer niche of patrons. You need to have some kind of integrity towards your business and the customer as well because they will figure it out and that will help you build loyalty with them.”