INDIA, August 18, 2012 (virsanghvi.com): Few restaurateurs understand the taste of the Indian consumer as well as Jairam Banan, owner of the new Rajastani restaurant in Delhi’s Ashok hotel, does. His view is that more and more vegetarians are joining the restaurant-going classes. Many of them are conservative and do not like sitting in restaurants where the guests at the next table are eating tandoori chicken. Some of them are apprehensive about eating food cooked in kitchens where meat dishes are also being prepared. And all vegetarians resent the fact that there are so few options open to them on many restaurant menus.
There will be more purely vegetarian Rajasthani restaurants if the Delhi venture succeeds. But Jairam is also betting big on south Indian vegetarian food. His family is starting a second chain of Sagar-like restaurants and the first phase should see the roll-out of 40 or more outlets.
Jairam is not the only one betting big on the emergence of the vegetarian diner. At the top end of the market, ITC is rolling out several pure vegetarian restaurants to be called Royal Vega. The first one will open in Madras at the new ITC hotel. And the chain will clone the concept at its other properties.
Why are vegetarian restaurants going to be the growth area in the coming years? I can see three broad reasons. The first one is self-evident: a high proportion of Indians are vegetarians. Secondly, as the economy grows many vegetarians whose conservative parents rarely went to restaurants are now eating out more often. They want places that cater to their needs. But there is also a third reason. In my view, most Hindus (and Hindus constitute the vast majority of restaurant goers in India) are non-vegetarian only up to a point. At some deep and primal level, even those Hindus who have been brought up as nonvegetarians are not entirely comfortable with the idea of eating animals.