Log on to dig in

Published: Oct 28, 2012, 07:37 IST | Ayesha Nair |

A new array of websites don't just let you book a table at your favourite restaurant, they also help you reserve an experience, learn how to cook, or customise your meal

If Orson Welles is to be believed, “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch”. And there’s a lot of possibility on the plate right now, if you know the right websites to log on to.

Mumbai has a sizeable population of foodies and fine dining digs to rival any city, but there was a missing link between the two. This has now been bridged by websites such as tablewalla (.com), Book My Restaurant (.com) and PoshVine (.com). These sites let you book tables at your favourite restaurants in Mumbai and other metros. What’s so great about that, a sceptic might wonder. Why not pick up the phone and speak to the person at the reception desk yourself? Well, if you do ,that you might miss out on an exclusive, customised fine dining experience that these sites offer.

Chandrika Batra and a friend enjoy a banana split she learnt to make at the workshop organised by Häagen-Dazs in association with PoshVine. Pic/ Dutta Kumbhar

Last week, tablewalla, was launched by Nisha Khanna. The real-time bookings site hopes to cut through the noise and ensure a great eating out experience. She says, “People will come to us for the convenience of making bookings at any time (not just during restaurants’ opening hours), rewards, and a great user experience. We’ll also keep users informed about the latest restaurant news and updates. We’re partnering with and featuring the restaurants we love and would recommend to our friends.”

Their Facebook page is inundated with queries like which restaurant serves pasta in pink sauce, while their site suggests places for high end sugar-free desserts.

More than reservations
Such sites not only make a diner’s experience pleasurable but also new and exciting. PoshVine, launched by Richik Nandi and Garima Satija last year, partnered with premium ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs to have an ice cream appreciation and know-all workshop called Discover Indulgence by Chef Anthony David and hosted by Maria Goretti at their Lower Parel outlet.

Public Relations executive Chandrika Batra attended the workshop even though ice creams are not her thing. She says, “I met Garima through a friend and thought the concept was very interesting. I saw the process of making ice cream, how to present and eat them and to pair them with different flavours. I even got to eat a banana split at the end of it,” laughs the 24 year-old.

Satija says, “We help people discover and book awesome food experiences. In this process, we partner with experts, industry heavyweights and brands to make these experiences come alive. One of our promises is the experience. You can request for it and it will be arranged for you.” Some of the foodie experiences include tea tasting (Coonoor), baking Christmas cakes (Bangalore) and a traditional Maharashtrian meal during Ganesh Chaturthi (Mumbai).

Specialised eating out
Joining the fray is Gourmet It Up, launched in August by food connoisseur Deepa Jain and e-commerce website entrepreneur, Kunal Jain, that claims to be all about the tailor-made experience. Kunal says, “We realised that the fine dining experience in India lacks structure. After visiting over 50 fine dining restaurants while doing our survey, we noticed that they either do too little or too much, because they have to cater to a large audience. It’s tough to find the right audience for something specialised, such as a sushi- making class we offer at Fenix, The Oberoi.

To give bloggers and foodies the experience they desire, Gourmet It Up organises mixology sessions, classes with renowned chefs, arranges for off-the-menu set meals and also entertains special requests.

Meeting demands
Book My Restaurant, launched in 2011, was one of the first few to notice and do something about the anguished look on diners’ faces when they had to wait forever to be seated at restaurants and then endure the disappointment of an unsatisfactory meal. As founder Wribhu Tyagi puts it, “People are experimenting when it comes to dining out. They don’t have easy access to numbers, and it takes time to source one. Add to that the possibility that the table may still not be reserved. We saw that there was a need for a service which will take care of all that.”

He adds, “On one hand, there were restaurants which had a huge variation in their footfalls and occupancy rates during the week, and almost no forecast or pre-committed sales. On the other hand were consumers, who were now Internet-savvy, willing to eat out more often, and looking for pre-booked tables and some neat offers and discounts.” So, they have coupon booklets that offer discounts for over Rs 5,000 and reward points for reviewing a restaurant.

With all their culinary commands met, customers have free rein over what they would like served. Twenty-two year old entrepreneur Aakash Kejriwal had a unique request to make of Gourmet It Up for a family meal at Neel at Tote on the Turf last month — he wanted Indian cuisine with no spice because his grandmother is allergic to spices.

It was adhered to. He says, “We had a three-course meal and requested that the food be prepared without spices. We always make a this request while eating out, but we still have to send the dish back, because all they do is reduce the spice. When we booked through the site, they prepared the meal just as we wanted.”  

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