'Fine-dining' at home: ITC, Marriott, Taj plot their way out of pandemic

Taj Hotels, ITC and Marriott are looking to extend their brands through their food take-away services
Just a few months ago, Gourmet Couch, Flavours, Qmin may well have made up a list of swanky restaurants, overlooking the sea or a pool, inside the five-star properties that have just launched them. However, in a contact-less world where direct-to-customer is the universal mantra of success, these are gourmet labels that help the hospitality chains navigate the new world of ‘fine-dining’ at home. Launched by ITC, Indian Hotels and (Taj Hotels) respectively, the newly minted food and food delivery services are meant to extend the exceptional dining experience promised in these restaurants to a home-delivery set up, thereby keeping the brand and business humming through the pandemic.

ITC Hotels has launched Flavours (local flavours) and Gourmet Couch (signature dishes offered at all its properties) and Marriott has Marriott on Wheels; both use the delivery networks of Zomato and Swiggy. Qmin is an Indian Hotels-owned food and delivery platform. All three promise to keep the brand experience intact even when it is being packaged in a box and delivered by a masked rider. While this is the need of the hour, experts ask if this could induce a long-term shift in the way the brands leverage their star power in the long run.

The first lines of friction between the five-star promise and the new labels is with respect to pricing. While a home delivered meal for two from Marriott and ITC will cost Rs 1,000-1,500 and Rs 5,000, respectively, Taj has kept the rates the same as it is for dining in, at its restaurants. Since this is a completely new territory, either model could yield dividends. However for an extension to be truly successful, pricing must capture the legacy of the brand, which is a challenge.

The online food delivery market is a discount-driven business, says Nandivardhan Jain, CEO Noesis Capital Advisors, a hotel advisory firm. He sees the entry of five-star hotels into the space as a tactical move, to keep the brands from slipping out of reckoning altogether. But this cannot substitute for the real five-star promise, he believes. “The strength of fine dining especially for standalone restaurants or five-star properties is that it means more than food. It’s a sum total of the ambience, the service and the warmth,” said Jain. Also given the cut-throat discount-heavy nature of the food delivery business, he does not see five-star restaurants taking this on in the long run. 

 

Khushnooma Kapadia, area director marketing at Marriott International. Marriott International says “We are completely in sync with the external environment and have priced our home delivery affordably.” She says that the response has been enthusiastic from all the cities that they have ventured into and they plan to expand the network soon.

Apart from price, the move to take the five-star value out of its locational boundaries into the delivery chain could also end up pitting the subsidiary brands against the parent. The new labels could outgrow their parent brands, thereby presenting another point of potential conflict. Take IHCL’s QMin for instance. It is looking to expand its food delivery network from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru to Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad over the next few weeks. Similarly, Marriot plans to strengthen its entry into the food delivery space by adding more verticals to “Marriott on Wheels” by getting into corporate outdoor catering services, Bento Boxes and Grab & Go meal options.
A standalone Qmin store in August, is also in the works. “The outlet will offer gourmet specialities and authentic artisanal products. Among other services we will soon include initiatives like themed dinners, celebration parties at home and kitchen studios with master chefs hosting online classes and demos,” said  Akshay Tripathi, general manager, IHCL. While these are early days yet, IHCL will soon need to explore ways to reconcile the luxury legacy of the Taj brand with these new services, if the brand promise is to remain undiluted.

One way to do that is through crafting a halo that carries over the five-star tag to the new businesses, through choice and design of the menu and brand communication. It would also mean promising a very different dining experience from the one offered before the pandemic. Anil Chaddha, chief operating officer at ITC Hotels said, “We are looking at enabling responsible dining experiences that induce well-being for guests who want freedom with personal controls.” 


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