With COVID-19 restrictions still on in Kerala, in-car dining is the new eating-out experience
Layers of flaky Kerala porotta soaked in spicy gravy served in a thooku paathram (a traditional steel container with a handle, easy to carry) is Kaasa Kitchen’s USP. The restaurant, serving fusion food in Fort Kochi, is not willing to let the pandemic beat its business.
A week ago, it launched an in-car dining service, which has customers pulling up in front of the restaurant, ordering thookkuporotta and eating it without stepping out of their cars. Kaasa is just one of the restaurants in Kochi that has started in-car dining. Not just thookkuporotta, any dish that is served in the restaurant can now be had in the comfort of one’s car.
Kaasa has designed an entire ceremony around it – offering finger bowls and a temporary car fumigator that would prevent the smell of food lingering in the car. The food is served on specially-designed elongated trays that fit in the car in such a way that would allow passengers to roll up the windows and switch on the AC. “They can vibe to the music of their choice as they dig into their favourite meal,” says Sharon Gafoor, owner of Kaasa Kitchen.
With restrictions on dining-in still in effect, Kerala has revived the age-old concept of the classic drive-in. With the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) launching in-car dining services in restaurants operating under it across the State on June 30, the trend has caught on.
Meanwhile in other cities
- While most cities have started dining in, this could be a model to follow even in a post COVID scenario, says Gunasekharan M, senior manager of TTDC Hotel on Azhagar Kovil Road, Madurai. One of the first restaurants in Madurai to adapt to the COVID situation by offering in-car dining and al fresco, Gunasekharan says the idea it eliminates fear of the disease spreading in a closed, air-conditioned space. “Even after COVID passes, people may prefer to be cautious,” he adds.
- With dining in set to restart in Tamil Nadu, the restaurant would offer both regular dine-in along with in-car dining. Here, instead of one elongated tray, each passenger is given a tray that is fixed to the door. A large screen placed in the out-door dining area provides entertainment too.
- Radhika Jalan, owner of La Macario Cafein St. Mullik Bazaar, Kolkata, tried the in-car dining experiment after the second wave of COVID-19. Even as restrictions have been lifted, people see to be wary and prefer to eat in their cars. Since the cafe serves Mediterranean and Italian fare, Radhika says it is not difficult to eat in the car. She gives packaged food with free disposable cutlery.
While KTDC’s move is aimed at reviving the ailing tourism sector, it also offers respite to people who are looking for options to eat while travelling. Since some of the KTDC restaurants are in scenic locations like Alappuzha, Kuttippuram and Kannur, travellers can enjoy a good meal and the experience could feel like a micro-vacation, says an official in KTDC. Especially those travelling with elderly people and children feel safer not to step out, he adds. The service is currently operational in KTDC’s restaurants at Kottarakkara, Kayamkulam, Alappuzha, Kuttippuram and Kannur. From breakfast to lunch, dinner, beverages and snacks, the food is served on long trays that can be fitted across the front and back seats of the car.
While restaurateurs maintain that in-car dining has its challenges, it has been a great way to tide over the tough phase, keeping jobs and livelihoods. Zaatar in Kochi, which serves typically Arabian fare, tweaked its menu to suit the car-dining experience. “We cut down a bit on our gravy-heavy Indian dishes and are focussing more on our traditional Arabic fare and Chinese,” says Mohammed Moosa, one of the founding members of the restaurant. “We cannot say that business is great, but it certainly has helped us stay afloat,” he adds.
Al fahm and Arabic rice are the most ordered dishes, Moosa adds. Business is from 12.30 pm to 9 pm on weekdays. Zamzam in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode has also begun serving its biryani and chicken dishes in the car.
For those serving continental food, however, the shift to in-car dining has been easiest. Cafe 17 on the canopied Old Thevara Road in Kochi serves burgers, steaks, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas.
The availability of parking space has been a huge factor in deciding the trend, say restaurateurs. Most of the places offering in-car dining has the provision to park at least 10 to 15 cars at a time.
The experiment, says Gafoor, has worked well with cars queuing up, outside Kaasa Kitchen every evening. “It helps that we have a view of the Santa Cruz grounds and the trees in the area that are over 300 years old,” he adds, “The idea is to give the customer the exact same experience of food as he or she would get inside the restaurant, without having to step out of the safety of their cars.”