For Devavrath Kamath, proprietor of Café Madras at King’s Circle, patience is part of the job. Not just in the kitchen, where the soft butter idlis take 20 minutes; or at the entrance, where people wait for an hour for a table on a weeknight.
But behind the counter, where every day he has to calmly smile while some 40 customers try to pay with credit or debit cards and say, “Sorry sir. We do not like plastic.” What typically follows are looks of surprise, annoyed mutterings and several IOUs as diners realise they’ll have to return later with cash. But return they do. Again and again.
Kamath is one of several dozen city restaurateurs who’ve held out against the swipe machine but still draw hordes of customers. Office-goers cough up cash for The New Martin’s Goa sausage chilli fry in Colaba.
Seafood lovers drop by the ATM before they dig into masala clams at Highway Gomantak in Bandra (E). Shoppers leave cash after ordering seekh kababs at Crawford Market’s Radio Restaurant, and families of eight make sure their wallets are bulging before they dive into thalis at Kalbadevi’s Shree Thaker Bhojanalaya.
The places are old fashioned too: last-century decor matches last-century prices, home-style food comes in steel plates or on banana leaves, diners and waiters often know each other by name, and, in the city where families rarely eat together, people happily share tables with strangers.
At Mani’s Lunch Home in Matunga, regulars drop in with sweets to celebrate their kids’ exam results. At Hotel Prakash near Shivaji Park, cola is off the menu. Instead, customers can order piyush, a milky drink rarely found outside Maharastrian homes.
“Whoever comes here has known me and this restaurant for ages, they are all like my family,” says K Narayanswamy, owner of Mani’s Lunch Home, which has been around since 1937. “So, I serve them food of the same quality that I feed my family.” This means diners feast on avial, rasam and thick payasam.
Cashing it in
Narayanswamy’s aversion to plastic cards stems from his lack of faith in the credit system. He believes that people who pay via cards tend not to realise the value of their meal, but forking out cash reminds them of how much they are spending.
Nilesh Joglekar, part owner of Hotel Prakash, says that the prices for their sabudana vada, misal and puri bhaji are too low for digital transactions. “There is too much rush and the costs of our dishes are affordable. Why waste time on credit cards?”
Plastic costs more than time and formality. Banks typically levy a two per cent charge on each transaction, a cost that restaurateurs often pay or sneak into prices. But for places that accept only cash, these fees are done away with.
“There was a family whose bill came to Rs 1,500, but they just had Rs 1,250,” recounts Ronak Mehta, owner of Dadar’s Oven Fresh, which sells baked goods, snacks and Continental food. Mehta waived the balance because he believes that, “I’d rather keep customers happy than disappoint them over plastic money.”
Bill this to me
For many of these restaurants, forgoing plastic is part of a bigger philosophy – to provide healthy, authentic food at prices everyone can afford. “Three of us recently went for lunch to Highway Gomantak and ate till we were satisfied. But our bill was Rs 900,” says food and wine writer Antoine Lewis.
But low prices don’t stop fans from running up a huge bill and still settling it with cash. Rohit Shettigar, a 24-year-old MBA student recently pulled Rs 1,900 for a meal with friends at Colaba’s Bagdadi. “I went to an ATM before I stepped in,” he says. “I don’t mind compromising on anything when it comes to good food.”
And with those who’ve found out that they’re short of cash after the meal, Gautam Purohit of Shree Thaker Bhojanalaya happily tells them, “Pay me the next time you’re in Kalbadevi”. Has he ever been cheated? “Not once,” he says.
Dish of the Day
New Martin: Goan sausage chili fry.
Highway Gomantak: Tisrya masala.
Cafe Madra: Butter idlis.
Mani's Lunch Home: Thali and potato bondas.
Oven Fresh: Three-grain risotto.
Hotel Prakash: Misal and watana pattice.
Cafe Goodluck, Bandra (W): Pattice.
Radio Restaurant: Seekh kebabs.
Britannia & Co: Mutton dhansak.
Bagdadi, Colaba: Biryani and Chicken Fry Masala.
Gostana: Lamb burger.
Maroosh, Bandra (W): Khara naan and kebabs.
From HT Brunch, June 24
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