Restaurants turning to tech-aided food delivery to minimise health risks

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Sagar Daryani co-founded fast-food chain Wow! Momo with an investment of just Rs 30,000 in 2008. In the last 11 years, his Kolkata-headquartered firm — famous for its steamed dumplings and sizzlers, and now operating 345 outlets across the country — never faced any losses. But then the lockdown happened. This April, Wow! Momo’s  losses were to the tune of Rs 7 crore.

“It is really painful. You see whatever you earned in the last three years getting drained in three to six months,” says Daryani. “The going has been really tough, but we have to be brave and make experiments.”

And Daryani is doing just that. His company, which is backed by marquee investment firm, Tiger Global, is working on an innovation in which it will have a unique WhatsApp number where a customer can place an order by just typing “hi”. With the help of geo-tagging, the person gets the location of the nearest outlet, while the menu pops up on the screen. The customer can opt for home-delivery, takeaway or dining.

At a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted the restaurant business, Wow! Momo and other restaurant chains are adopting new technologies to earn their clients’ trust regarding food safety and hygiene. And many of them are developing their own food delivery platforms to see them through the crisis. 

Others innovations include offering personalised diet plans and DIY (do-it-yourself) meal kits and providing customers with a live feed of the body temperature of people handling their orders such as cooks and delivery persons.

Wow! Momo is also collaborating with third party on-demand logistics service providers such as Flipkart-backed Shadowfax and Google-backed Dunzo. With consumers coming on its WhatsApp platform and ordering the food directly, the startup aims to use analytics to mine the vast amounts of data to get better insights into its customers. For this, Wow! Momo has tied up with DotPe, a technology firm that provides commerce and payments platforms to offline enterprises. 

It’s not just Wow! Momo. About 500,000 restaurants under the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) are now deploying the DotPe’s QR-based digital commerce and payments solution. According to Anurag Katriar, president of NRAI, the health risks during the pandemic can be mitigated by measures like digital ordering and billing solutions, which reduce the number of touch points for customers. NRAI has also decided to undertake an industry-wide shared loyalty programme.

“This lockdown gave us an opportunity to reflect on our dependency on a handful of aggregators for everything ranging from home delivery to customer relationship management,” says Katriar who is also CEO at deGustibus Hospitality.

Massive Restaurants, which runs brands such as Farzi Café, Masala Library and Rivers to Ocean, is planning to use high-tech instruments and ultraviolet-enabled technology to ensure cleanliness. “The pandemic has created an existential crisis for the industry, so all companies have to change the rules of engagement in the post-Covid era, says Zorawar Kalra, founder of Massive Restaurants. “Eating in a restaurant is going to have be safer than eating at home. A lot of new technologies will have to be incorporated.”

For traditional restaurants, delivery and cloud kitchens will become an important part of the business, says Kalra. He expects the delivery model of Massive Restaurants to go up from the current 10 per cent to about 35 per cent in the next few years.

Delhi-based internet of things (IoT) company IoTfy has come up with an innovative  safety feature for home deliveries. It is using ultraviolet light (UVC) to disinfect food packages fitted with IoT devices, before they are opened by the users. After the delivery person executes a contactless delivery at the customer’s place and leaves the bag on the floor, the customer can open his food delivery app and click on the “start UV disinfection” button, launching the UV disinfection process. Here, the IoT hardware affixed to the packet receives a message to start the UVC sterilisation cycle. A single beep indicates the start of the process and double beep signals end of it.

Similarly, food tech firm Rebel Foods is using QR codes to provide customers with a live feed of the body temperatures of those handling their orders. The Mumbai-based company, known for brands like Faasos and Behrouz Biryani, sends the temperature logs to customers, along with the invoices. Said to be the first in the delivery industry, the tracker is already operational in 350 locations across India, UAE and South East Asia. The firm is also providing daily medical certifications for its kitchens and staff.

“The strategy of all food delivery chains now is to reassure the client and restore faith that they are following every single hygiene protocol and that their food is absolutely safe for consumption,” says Dr Siddhant Bhargava, a fitness and nutritional scientist and co-founder of Food Darzee. The health and nutrition company, which personalises orders as per the exact nutritional requirements of the customers, counts Bollywood actors Alia Bhatt, Sara Ali Khan and Jacqueline Fernandez among its top clients.

Food Darzee, which has a team of 40-50 people in each of the cities it operates in, is rigorous about maintaining hygiene. The temperature of every employee is checked twice a day, the kitchen premises are cleaned three times a day and fogging is done at the end of each shift to prevent droplet infections.

Dehumidifiers have also been installed to prevent the growth of the virus. Food packages are placed in a special room which is fumigated before and after a team has entered that room, and delivery persons who are out and about the city are never in contact with the people who pack or cook the food. 

The company is also working on an update in its app where the consumer will be able to see the time period for which a member of the Food Darzee team came in contact with his food and the person’s body temperature. “Be it the cook or the packaging person or the delivery, the client will have full information about it,” says Bhargava.

Food delivery giants such as Swiggy and Zomato are also aggressively coming up with new technologies and innovations to address the huge disruption in their business models. Alibaba-backed Zomato, which has launched contactless delivery, has added more safety features to its service, including rider temperature checks, regular self-declaration from riders and restaurant partners. Besides creating hand sanitisation stations, it has also mandated the use of Covid-19 tracking app, Aarogya Setu.

Swiggy, one of the first to launch a no-contact delivery option, has introduced a new feature on its app to highlight restaurants that follow best hygiene practices. It has also added a new “Safety gear audit” feature on the “delivery partner” app which checks for “mask usage”. The in-app feature mandates every delivery partner to click a selfie wearing his mask and upload it to complete the login in order to be able to receive order requests. “If the artificial intelligence-driven system detects an upload without a mask, the delivery partner will not be allowed to log in,” says a Swiggy spokesperson.


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