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Eating out comes of age in India

Your regular scramble for a restaurant table is just one sign of India?s eating out boom, writes Colleen Braganza.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2006 12:58 IST

So, it is the weekend. You have had a long week. You have been worked to the bone, your nose still hurts from being stuck at the grindstone and your house is a mess. You feel you have earned the right to have a relaxed dinner with friends at your favourite restaurant.

Only, when you get there, it seems everyone else has had the same idea. How often in the recent past have you turned up at a restaurant only to be told that you will have to wait for around 45 minutes to even enter, forget about being served?

Whether it is Mahesh Lunch Home or Urban Tadka in Mumbai, Big Chill or Swagat in Delhi, posh restobars like Seijo and the SoulDish (Mumbai) or Shalom (Delhi), or the snazziest, most hip places, like A D Singh’s Olive and Rahul Akerkar’s Indigo, we are eating out like there is no tomorrow.

“A few years ago, when I wanted to go out with my wife for a meal, I didn’t have to make a reservation,” says Bikram Sandhu, a Mumbai based marine surveyor who dines out three or four times a week.

“Now, I must because I do not want to wait indefinitely for a table.” He speaks from experience. Sandhu once waited two hours for a table at Urban Tadka, a restaurant in Andheri that is popular with Bollywood’s swish set as well as the hordes of middle class professionals who inhabit the surrounding areas.

Sheena Singh and her husband Jaywant, a marketing professional, also learnt the hard way. Fed up of having to wait whenever they went out dining in Delhi, the couple now do not venture out without a reservation. “I never go anywhere without a reservation even if it’s just the two of us,” says Sheena, who dines out about four times a month.

Food court frency

We have always been fond of eating, says Ananda Solomon, executive chef at the Taj President, Mumbai. “Earlier, people carried food from home to work, but they started eating out after they got tired of the repetitive home-cooked meals.”

But like this? Look at the food courts at popular malls around India. On most weekends they are definitely not for those who like their space. There is no place to walk, let alone sit.

At Inorbit Mall, Mumbai, couples balancing plates loaded with giant bhaturas or pav bhaji or chicken hakka noodles negotiate an obstacle race in the form of hordes of people like them, all with a single-minded aim – to bag a table.

“Weekends are madness at the Infiniti Mall food court,” says Dema Mittal who moved to Mumbai from Jaipur and, like many other singletons living away from home, grabs a bite outside at least once a week, not counting takeaways. “There is no place to sit. I have to stand and eat.”

But she is not complaining. Food courts offer value for money and do not take forever, unlike a meal at a restaurant, leaving her and her friends time for other things.

Like Mittal, many young professionals in the country’s booming towns live alone and work ghastly hours. They order takeaways through the week and at the end of the week, just want to unwind over a meal or two before the next week’s madness starts.

“I eat out a lot because it’s the only way I get to meet my friends,” says media professional Vaishali Sood, who often lunches at Bandra’s Thai Ban or Pot Pourri or has dinner at China White or Zenzi with friends.

While Sood does not entertain at home because she lives as a paying guest, many others do not because they just cannot be bothered to call people over and clean up later.

Others like Noida-based trained pilot Puneet Nagi eat out because it is convenient. Nagi catches up with friends over a meal every other weekend but since, like him, his friends live in the satellite towns of Noida and Gurgaon, it is extremely inconvenient to meet at each other’s places. The compromise is usually delhi. “We choose a convenient place where everyone finds it easy to get to on weekends,” says Nagi.

First Published: Nov 05, 2006 12:45 IST