CMO, Max New York Life
As a young girl, I clearly recall the family eating out sessions. They were occasions that you would dress up for. In fact I still clearly recall the kind of anticipation that surrounded “the event”.
Ajmer at that time had only one restaurant called ‘Honeydew’. What is interesting is that I vaguely recall what we ate but what I most certainly recall is the kind of time we, a family of four siblings and our parents, spent with each other. A good three hours is what our ‘eating out’ experience was. We would go out early evening. Starters in the lawn and then we’d move indoors. Easy conversation flowed, jokes floated around and sometimes it was plain ice-breaking (after sibling quarrels). But yes, we had great times, times that each of us still cherish.
Somehow, the eating out experience seems to have changed a great deal in India. Over the years, I think we all have become very task-oriented about most things and sadly, eating out is also a part of it. Indians have most certainly changed. Our lifestyles are better, we go to fancier restaurants, know what to order, know what dress codes should be followed but what we seem to be missing is the entire experience of eating out. We all seem to have evolved a very tick-and-go kind of an approach.
Eating out today is big entertainment. You ask most people what they like doing and eating out, more often than not, figures in the list. It’s almost like a hobby to a lot of people. In fact, numbers only substantiate what I thought was a trend I’d been noticing.
Visiting restaurants is now one of the top three leisure activities for most Indians, according to the Indian Leisure and Entertainment Report 2008-9 (Knowledge Company).
The Food Franchising Report 2009 said, “The concept of eating out is surely catching up in India. Compared to 2.7 times a month in 2003, urban Indians now have a repast outdoor six times in a month.” And the figures are for 2008, which most certainly must have gone up. In fact, the report goes on to say that the retail food sector in India is likely to grow to $150 billion by 2025. Today when we go out, the frequency has increased, we book the best restaurants, but then the eating out experience seems to have shrunk by quality if you look in the real sense. People go to restaurants, take a nice table, and look impatient if the waiter hasn’t arrived. And when he does, they will quickly order, wait for the meal. The time in between which was earlier a great window to catch up on family things seems to have been gobbled up by our precision type attitude. Another conversation killer seems to be mobile phones. Either the husband or the wife or sometimes the children are on the phone. If they are not talking, they are showing pictures or videos on the phone to friends, if they are accompanying the eating out entourage. Once the food arrives, it’s a quick meal and we are off. We seem to have evolved a very result-oriented approach to most things. And I’m all for result-oriented approach but not everywhere. Family lunch/dinner for example I think is absolutely not the place for being result-oriented.
The idea should be savouring the experience, enjoying conversation, catching up on the small but important things in life that we might have missed out on. For example what your daughter’s teacher had to say about the girl’s fancy dress or how your son is enjoying his cricket lessons... Or simply telling your children about experiences from your childhood. Sometimes it can be inane family jokes. But the idea should be to bond. In fact, thanks to our approach, even restaurants seem to have caught up with our 'eat and leave ways'. I’m sure you have noticed impatient waiters hovering over your table if you haven’t ordered a few minutes after you’ve sat down. Compare that to restaurants and cafes abroad where it is considered rude to have a waiter hovering around.
Let’s get the beauty of family outings back, I say. A simple thing to do, for example, would be to order a starter or drinks that help you enjoy longer conversations. Have a relaxed meal and yes, don’t forget to share a sinful dessert together. Life, like they say, is in little moments.