This is a very unique time in the history of Delhi. We all recently witnessed the overthrow of the incumbent government and the installation of the Aam Aadmi Party to the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Through the many rallies organized by the public for the public, Delhi began to declare overtly its desire for a party that connected with it on a personal level. No longer was Delhi taking the false promises of the indifferent, impersonal ruling party mute-mouthed. This, Delhi proved, when it thronged to the voting booths to cast its vote on the ‘broom’ symbol. What is so momentous about this occasion is that this time around people were eager to give their votes to anindependent party. Could this independent spirit have filtered to the common everyday events of our life, indeed to the very way we eat our food? Intrigued, I set off to investigate.
If one were to explore the North Campus area of New Delhi, teeming with students from all walks of life, one can’t help but notice the various independent restaurants that have come up in this area. Indeed, if common observation is anything to go by, it seems that places such as ‘Big Yellow Door’, ‘Rico’s’, ‘Jack ‘n’ Chill’, etc. have begun to hijack a market previously dominated by huge multi-billion dollar chain outlets of McDonald’s, Subway and the like. This is by no means a recent phenomenon. In fact, places like Hauz Khas have plenty of such independent restaurants worthy of exploration. What’s new is that these places are, as AAP is for the common public, a daring endeavor to change the game.
The political is personal. Whoever said that knew what he was talking about! Suddenly, it seems the need of the hour, for the student crowd at any rate, is for a place that provides decently priced food, but more importantly, where the ambience is imbued with a feeling of personal ownership. To be sure, never has such a great premium been placed on personal service. If the AAP is distinctly a Dilliwallah’s political party, then the independently owned restaurant is a testament to the public’s desire for a personal connect with the place where they eat. How many people can truly say that any McDonald’s outlet has an ambience that feels like home, where food looks as good as in the posters and where the cashier behind the counter smiles every time h/she sees you? These fast food outlets, much like the long-established ruling parties, are too impersonal, too quick to pass you on to really have a lasting impression. No true Indian could ever say that McDonald’s is more intimate than a dhhaba. Won’t you agree that these fast food joints are rather too clinical in the way they sell and pack our food? The only thing distinguishing me from another customer is the word ‘Next!’ – like I’m part of the assembly line from whence the food came.
What one discovers in places like ‘Rico’s’ (and the like) is the fact that not only is the food at par with, if not better than at the fast food outlets, but also that the ambience, with its warm textures, shelves decked with books and Parisian style art, is reminiscent of home comforts and lazy Sunday brunches. The modus operandi? Make it personal; the customer must go home with a feeling of ownership towards the restaurant, the pride of patronage an important survival technique for these restaurants.
This is not to say that McDonald’s, Subway and KFC are not flourishing in the campus area. Indeed, one must concede that the prices at these fast food chains are admittedly lower. But the point to be noted, however is that their monopoly is being steadily broken as more and more students are choosing the smaller, cozier restaurants for the bigger fast food outlets. Indeed, the trend is so: people are choosing originality over establishment, personalized service over cold impersonality.
It seems that now more than ever the Dilliwallahs are ready to experiment, explore, and try something original. Who would have thought twenty, even ten years back that a merely 8-months old party could overthrow one of the two biggest established national parties in the capital of the country? It seems that in those aspects of the lives of the public that are intensely personal, like the food they eat and the party they support, the people of Delhi are proving more daring to destroy monopoly and give a winning chance to the underdog. On the whole, these independently owned restaurants beat the bigger chain outlets on two accounts: personalized service and originality i.e. to break the monopoly of the formulaic, tried-and-tested establishments with a daring and inventive spirit.
To be sure, the freedom of choice has always been in our hands, especially the youth; the ball always in our court. The one political party we extend our patronage to, will inevitably come out the winner on the other side. So it is with our restaurants. To eat or not to eat (at fast food chains), that is precisely the question.