Dining out to Delivery: surviving the Pandemic with Goa’s restaurant industry
By Aishwarya Shah
The Goascape has always been littered with vignettes of rosy people gathered around pitchers of beer and piles of food. After Sunday mass, Catholic families step out for bhaji-pav in breakfast joints where the air is rife with the smell of pungent spices. In the evening, as the sun descends beyond the horizon to survey the other side of the world, the waiters in beach shacks scramble to rearrange the seating on the sand. Specials boards are rolled out, candles are lit and the soft twang of an acoustic guitar cuts into the sound of crashing waves, all to lure willing tourists into seats where they may feast upon delicacies galore.
It is safe to say that the current state of affairs is a far cry from this one. The pandemic has forced every industry to adapt overnight to the myriad restrictions and measures in novel ways.
In Goa, where the ritual of dining out is of great importance to locals and tourists alike, restaurants have had to reshuffle their entire food concept in order to survive the pandemic. Most restaurants have adopted a home delivery model in order to stay in business. People remain fearful of exploring this option and several restaurants are on the brink of closure.
Our systems are fragile, our economies even more so and without a spike in support for the restaurant industry, there is a chance that many will go under in the weeks to come. Perhaps, if we take a closer look at how the restaurant industry supports the community, we can try to do our bit in supporting the restaurants we love!
The happy days of dining out at Prana Cafe, Ashvem
Photo by Gemtrack
How restaurants support the community
As we bear witness to the fragility of a tourism dependent economy, all those who call Goa home are privy to the multitude of ways in which their ‘normal’ has collapsed. It is worth noting that the domino effect of destruction stretches on beyond what you can see at first glance. One of the hardest hit in this diversion from normality is the restaurant industry, which relies on social gatherings of all scales in order to flourish.
When we dine out, we are usually oblivious to the smoothly run orchestra of actions that puts a steaming biryani on our plates. Beyond the trifecta of chef-server-manager, there is a whole chain of actors that plays a role in the process.
There are farmers from the state and just over the borders who nurture the land for months to be able to reap the harvest and send it away to our coastal state. There are truck drivers who transport mammoth proportions of produce to wholesale markets in the state. There are fishermen who take to the sea in search of catch and fish markets where ladies fan themselves with newspapers as they try to beat the heat while they sell the fresh catch.
In the restaurant kitchen, day after day, the chef plays the role of a conductor, twirling her spatula like a baton to ensure that a steady flow is maintained. A consortium of cooks works together to clean, prep and store the food. In the bustle of the kitchen, there is not a moment of respite until the shift is done. A smiling waiter will bring the dish over to you, where you pause mid conversation to appreciate your meal for a split second before digging in and continuing the chatter.
Empty beach shacks in Goa - a rare sight!
Photo by Aditya Rathod on Unsplash
The benefits of dining out go beyond lining the coffers of the restaurant owner. The meals you eat pay for the wages of a whole team of workers whose families rely on them to survive.
Much of the revenue goes towards keeping a steady stock of ingredients so that the farmers and fishermen are never out of business. The local economy benefits from this artful, meticulous process as workers purchase their necessities from local stores and pay rent in accommodations that are locally owned. Restaurants, when integrated well into a community are like an ecosystem wherein the needs and desires of the participants create a balanced give and take of resources.
To support a restaurant in this perilous time is to support all the small players in the supply chain who remain invisible.
The importance of embracing home delivery
Most restaurants have been able to convert to a home delivery and takeaway model fairly successfully, however there are other factors that are hampering the full blown exploration of this model from the consumer’s end.
At a practical level, there is a moment of hesitation as the fear of catching the virus from delivery personnel surfaces remains a concern. Safe home delivery protocol like contactless delivery can be practiced as the food itself is not going to be contaminated with the virus.
Further, with a sudden surge of spare time, much of Goa’s privileged citizenry has reclaimed the sphere of the kitchen as a creative release. In the banging of pots and pans, a greater appreciation for the art of cooking has burgeoned, making home delivery feel somewhat vestigial at this time. Goa also has more than its fair share of artists, freelancers and creatives whose income stream has been compromised due to the pandemic. It is understandably harder for affected individuals to stick their necks out for others, however if you do have the means, ordering food from your favourite restaurants once or twice a week can go a long way.
This is not to suggest that our sparkling endeavours in the kitchen need to be abandoned in favour of an influx of outside food.
It is merely to say that a couple of times a week, for those who have the means, it would be a great service to the community to steer clear of the kitchen, dial your favourite independent pizzeria and limit your creativity to choosing your own toppings! Something to keep in mind is the unseemly cut that Swiggy, Zomato and such delivery services take from restaurants. Most restaurants have their own delivery service, all you have to do is dial their number to avail to it. This way, you can also customize your dish to be extra spicy or outline the specific delivery protocol you would like the personnel to follow. As the number of cases in Goa remains low, it is time to take baby steps into a revival of an industry that has served us all our lives.
Presently, the aim of most restaurants is not to make a profit but merely to survive. There are wages to be paid, families to be fed and bills to be cleared.
Dining out might yet be a distant dream, but there is an easy way to help your favourite restaurants: support their conversation to home delivery!
A vegan spread at Bean Me Up, Vagator
Photo by Gemtrack
Our merriest moments and coziest days have been spent lounging in comfy chairs, flipping through menus, satisfying cravings and allowing the medley of flavours to lull us into a stupor of contentment. A pizza once a week with your family, a delicious mountain of fish curry and rice with your flatmates or your favourite Middle Eastern sharing platter with your partner can go a long way in enabling a restaurant to do the bare minimum and support the many people that are reliant on them.
At some point in the future, we will be able to leave our homes again and sit on beachfront loungers.
The air will never have tasted sweeter and the words ‘are you ready to order?’ will sound like music. Until then however, we have to requisition some more of that community spirit and keep our restaurants alive!