Sunday, December 18, 2005

Indian buffets

Most Indian restaurants in the US offer Indian buffet lunches in the afternoon where you can eat as much as you want as long as you do it within the premises of the establishment. The buffet is exactly similar to buffet lunches or dinners in India, with one difference which is key to the point I am about to make here. In India, the process of eating at a buffet is as follows. You take an empty dish, fill it with food, consume all the food, then go back to the buffet and refill the same dish with food and repeat till you feel you have had your money's worth. Or till your stomach is full, whichever has a higher priority in your mental outlook.

In the US, things are slightly different. You take an empty dish, fill it with food. Then, when you feel the need for obtaining more food, you leave your previous dish at the table, take a fresh dish and then fill it with food. So you may not use the same dish to get a refill, for whatever reasons. Probably to ensure that regurgitated food does not have a chance to fall off a used dish and contaminate the stash of fresh food.

Now, Indian restaurants here follow two different lines of thinking with respect to bread, most commonly parathas or naans. Many restaurants have a single stash of parathas, which is a part of the buffet, from which everyone has to take whatever they need and come back for more. Restaurants that follow a different line of thinking actually bring freshly made hot parathas to every table. The advantage of this method is that everyone gets fresh parathas since they are made and brought to the table according to it's need. The disadvantage of this method is that the parathas that are not consumed by the people eating at the table get wasted, since they cannot be used by anyone else.

Now my point is this. The second method of distributing parathas, which appears to be less cost efficient to the restaurant owner, is usually followed by more upscale restaurants, while most restaurants stick to the first method. But if you ponder a bit more about the logistics of the entire thing, you realize something very strange. That the second method is actually more cost friendly. And it's due to the following reason. What people do is that they fill their plates with food and add, say one or two parathas, since there is no more space in the plate. And once the paratha is done, then the rest of the food in the plate becomes useless. The person then discards that uneaten food on his plate and goes back to the buffet to get a new plate and refill it with a fresh batch of food and parathas.

In the second method, since the parathas are at the table itself, discarding of food does not happen. Hence, even though some parathas might be wasted, costlier food such as fish or meat is conserved. So, if you really think about it, upscale restaurants are actually saving money on their more expensive food items while wasting money on relatively cheaper parathas. Strange innit? In addition to these direct benefits, there are also the indirect benefits of customers being happy to receive personalized hot parathas, which add to their satisfaction with the service. And this also makes them consume more parathas compared to other dishes, thus basically filling themselves up with flour instead of meat.

That will be one observation to file into the deepest recesses of my brain in case I ever decide to go into the hospitality business.


Anonymous said...

i think the concept of nto changing plates in India is gone. The last time around a couple of years back i partook buffets at jewel of India and a couple of other similar places and we had to leave the plate behind and get a new one.

The only place where the same plate rule applies, is in wedding buffets.

There caterers charge per the number of plates used. That is the only way they get a head count.

Anonymous said...

Erm, what's the significanceof the photo in the title bar of your blog ?

Sunil said...

you're right about the cost part.....but i'm not sure if the hotel owners all thought it out. one or two of them might have, but most just ape the rest.

Also....been meaning to say it....i like the template you're using here. Looks quite snazzy.

nupur said...

I thought that the concept of bringing parathas to the table was for getting a Tip. Otherwise there is no interaction between a waiter and a customer, apart from the pouring water.
One thing i have noticed in buffets is the menu in EVERY restaurent has palak paneer (easy to make) and gobi aloo. Im sick of the usuals!

Anonymous said...

the Pizza-Hut one-trip-to-the salad bar was quite a smart move by the eatery but some consumers outdo them by making the most of that 8 inch saucer. The circumference of the plate gets dotted by standing cucumber chunks. Next with a solid base intact they add on layers of Hawaiian chicken and give a royal ignore to the fiber-laden fodder. Dats mastery!