When Chef Manish Mehrotra introduced an experimental Tasting Menu at Indian Accent in order to entice food lovers back to his restaurant, it was quite a hit. In order to bring back the food lovers to their much-loved dining space, Mehrotra’s ingenious idea was to introduce a chaat menu, as an experimental Tasting Menu available only for lunch at their restaurant in Delhi. Later it expanded with now having four to five tasting menus on the list simultaneously.
Comforting, elegant and chic, all at once. Tasting menus are designed to show off a chef’s skill and imagination and are a gourmet’s delight. More popularly known as a ‘dégustation menu’ globally, a tasting menu is designed to serve anywhere between five to over 20 courses per person (each dish is considered as a course), depending on the cuisine served by the restaurant.
Tasting menus have become trendy as a mark of exclusivity and luxury dining the world over. Expensive restaurants such as those on the World’s 50 Best List usually offer these to show the chef’s philosophy of cuisine and food which could have not been possible through a single order.
At Masque, chef Prateek Sadhu has been offering frequently changing tasting menus without any physical menu for two years. However, it was recently when the guests have started getting accustomed to the idea of having a Tasting Menu.
“Like most hallmarks of contemporary fine dining the tasting menu is French in origin. Tasting menus are great to understand the world of the chef - the vision, the philosophy and the cuisine, this connect with the chef keeps bringing the customer back for more,” Ishan Yadav Culinary Head Reve, Aerocity Delhi said informing that Reve occasionally serves tasting menu which is quite a crowd puller. “It is clearly evident on those days that the customers don’t just come to eat instead they come for an experience and education,” he further added.
Given how little Tasting Menus are understood in India and how scant the demand for them has been till now, it is not an easy business decision. However, these new menus underscore how serious certain chefs are about placing creativity over the business. While Mehrotra was among the first to introduce tasting menus in India, he continues to have a la carte options too.
So can it be a great marketing technique for the restaurants to flaunts much of their food and special cuisine? Yadav feels that having a tasting menu helps in regulating the cost as the chef can organise well in advance and thus easier to plan logistically.
“The beauty of tasting menu is that it gives the chef a certain ‘creative license’ by experimenting and tweaking the menu seasonally. Buying local and seasonal produce not only manages cost it also helps us in supporting local partners and promote sustainability at Reve,” he further commented.
According to Gauri Devidayal, Founder and CEO at Food Matters India Pvt. Ltd, diners today are looking for value, whether it’s a casual format or fine dining. They want good quality at the right price. “In India, fine dining tends to be occasion driven and considering tourism is seasonal, it can be a difficult business model to sustain,” she strongly feels.
It’s true that tasting menus tend to fit certain restaurants’ business plans over others. It generally makes more sense for fine dining establishments than family restaurants. If it fits the brand and the business objectives, tasting menus can be a worthy investment to improve the restaurant margins. But the higher price tag of a tasting menu means that adding one requires careful planning and strategy.
While fine-dining restaurants are shut due to the pandemic and most of them have altered their menu to squeeze into the space of home delivery, having a tasting menu can be a great way to bounce back once the world gets back to pre-pandemic days. Especially for the fine-dine ones, offering a tasting menu can help to re-engage with their old loyal guests by rejuvenating their taste buds.
Although one cannot consider this as the only business model, keeping it as a part of the whole operations can bring in more numbers. Revisiting the Indian Accent in pre-Covid times, 75 percent of the sales used to come from Tasting Menus. This gives a much-needed hint!