How dining experiences have changed dramatically during lockdown

Picture this: A birthday party going on in a plush home on Nepean Sea Road in South Mumbai during the current lockdown with a well laid-out table with food and wine. No, there are no crowds and no social distancing rules are being violated. The 30-something host celebrates his birthday virtually with his group of friends, simultaneously eating a meal together ordered by him for everyone to enjoy his special day. The restaurant ensures the same menu is delivered to everyone’s homes in time. Everyone is online courtesy a digital platform and except for the physical presence, the bonhomie and excitement are palpable. Dining experiences are perhaps never going to be the same post-COVID and stepping into restaurants, especially a packed indoor space buzzing with people, is already a distant memory. Indeed, the pandemic has redefined the way we eat and even celebrate special occasions. While the first three months were almost spent by everyone following You Tube recipes, including Instagram-friendly banana breads and whipping up Dalogna coffee, it has now become relatively easy, as home deliveries abound and acceptance of this way of life is higher. Over the past five months, chefs and across the country have faced their biggest challenge of how to keep their business going. Standalone restaurants and Five Star hotels, may not be open for dining-in currently, but their kitchens are operating with skeletal staff and safety protocols for home deliveries. They are sparing no efforts to ensure that your favourite food is hygienically prepared, packaged and delivered in a contactless manner to the guests, who are understandably anxious. Both Gourmet Couch and Flavours, are responsible dining initiatives from ITC Grand Central and ITC Maratha in Mumbai that bring back the taste of familiar flavours. Gourmet Couch, brings home the culinary legacy of ITC Hotels' finest cuisine from their award-winning Italian, Pan Asian and North West Frontier kitchens. Amit Kumar, General Manager, ITC Grand Central, Mumbai, opines, "In a world where change is the order of the day, it is important for brands to keep innovating, exploring and identifying new business opportunities. ITC Hotel’s unique gourmet experiences – ‘Gourmet Couch’ & ‘Flavours’ have received an overwhelming feedback from diners across the city. With the backing of the brand’s ‘We Assure’ programme, our diners are assured of stringent hygiene and safety protocols for enabling home delivery of food across the city. The demand for luxury culinary experiences comes from high net-worth households and celebrities who are frequent visitors to fine-dining establishments and are increasingly conscious about hygiene practices.” What’s more both Gourmet Couch and Flavours by ITC Hotels, are not only home-delivered but also available on online platforms. An exclusive ITC Hotels F&B App has also been launched in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, to cater to the rising demand of home delivery of gourmet offerings. Ashwin Mathur, Hotel Manager, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, informs, “One can celebrate life’s small and big moments at home with an unforgettable meal, featuring specials from the extensive Gourmet Delivery and Takeaway menu from San:Qi or Café Prato. From til wala jhinga, San:Qi’s dal khaas, sushis, signature Chinese preparations to Café Prato selections, such as Bombay toastie, Four Seasons club sandwich, wild mushroom risotto, one can order any of these.” They have also introduced an array of dips, sauces and condiments that serve as an ideal accompaniment for pastas, sandwiches, breads, and sweet boxes for special occasions, which one can enjoy in the safe precincts of one’s home. Saptami at Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport, with Executive Chef Suresh Thampy at the helm, has curated a varied multi-cuisine menu and ensures you enjoy a Chinese meal or a Pasta or Mutton Rogan Josh, at home with familiar flavours minus the ambience. Vegetarians too can look forward to their favourite dishes from Soam, Babulnath which offers a limited menu, safely delivered. And if it is fast food you are after, the likes of McDonalds and Mojo Pizza, come to your rescue. And if the lockdown is getting monotonous, fret not. Hotels are not merely sending you food safely, but keeping you engaged too. Grand Hyatt Mumbai offers Chef’s Table, a self-cook and assemble, DIY experience, where the Hotel sends all the ingredients with recipe cards to your home. Their Chef personally assists you virtually to cook and relish the dishes. This meal covers soup, salad, mains and a dessert and one can choose from host of options as per the cuisine of your choice. Hand-sanitising stations at the restaurant entrance, service staff in PPE, gloves, masks, serving food on long wooden planks slid onto the table, paperless menus and self-service from the kitchen counter, well might become the new normal in dining once restaurants re-open. So, for the time being, diners are making the most of this safe home-dining experience. What lies in store for diners in reality, only time will tell. Mini Ribeiro is a writer based in Mumbai.