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The fast food industry in India has evolved with the changing lifestyles of the young Indian population. The variety of gastronomic preferences across the regions, hereditary or acquired, has brought about different modules across the country.
Many of the traditional dishes have been adapted to suit the emerging fast food outlets. The basic adaptation is to decrease the processing and serving time. For example, the typical meal which called for being served by an ever-alert attendant is now offered as a Mini-Meal across the counter. In its traditional version, a plate or a banana leaf was first laid down on the floor or table. Several helpers then waited on the diner, doling out different dishes and refilling as they got over in the plate.
In the fast-food version, a plate already arranged with a variety of cooked vegetables and curries along with a fixed quantity of rice and Indian flatbreads is handed out across the counter against a prepaid coupon. The curries and breads vary depending on the region and local preferences. The higher priced ones may add a sweet to the combination. Refills are generally not offered.
It is common to serve different cuisines at different counters within the same premises. Presence of a large vegetarian population, who eschew non-vegetarian food, has given rise to outlets which exclusively serve vegetarian fast food. Also, different variety of food may be served depending on the times of the day. Beverages such coffee, tea, soft drinks and fruit juices may also be served in such outlets. Some outlets may additionally have specially designed counters for ice-cream, chaats etc.
Popular formats of fast food business in India have the following features in common:
Most of the fast food outlets in India are stand alone establishment, few of them having more than one branch.
One of Bangalore's restaurateurs, Mr Prabhakar, opened an outlet called Upahara Darshini in mid-1980s. The novelty was that the food is cooked just behind the serving counter, visible to the customers, and one has to eat while standing by placing the food on tall tables. It is a self-service place where one has to buy a coupon before eating. It offered typical south Indian snacks at highly affordable prices resulting in an instant hit with the office goers as well as students. The size and the enclosed design of the eating space and consequent spilling over of the eaters onto the footpath during the busy hours indicates that he did not anticipate the level of success. This issue is addressed by those who copied the module by keeping the entire face of the outlet open the road. Many believe that this was a trendsetter and its format, described earlier, is even to this day replicated by other across south India. The popularity of this business module can be gauged from the fact that many restaurants which adopt this format have "Darshini" as suffix in their names.
Another concept of fast food that is becoming popular is that of Food Courts. Here also one has to purchase coupons and collect the food from one of the several counters. Each one of these counters serves specific variety of food and may be owned by different individuals or caterers. Food Courts are normally located on much bigger premises and may provide seating facility in addition to the stand and eat arrangement. Typically one entrepreneur owns or takes on lease the entire premises and promotes the place under one name. They then let out individual counters to different independent operators to offer different menu. Internal competition is avoided by not allowing more than one counter to offer similar food.
Several international fast-food chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, and Barista Coffee have their outlets in major cities. Café Coffee Day, again a brainchild of Bangalore-based businessman, is the only Indian chain which boasts of hundreds of outlets and is present across India. But then it is classified more as a coffee shop than a fast food place.
Now local chains coupled with numerous foreign fast foods have sprung up in India, leading to many websites not only catering to the curated list of foods, restaurants and reviews but also giving option to book and get it delivered at your doorsteps.
The kind of fare they offer as of date could be just anything and everything. Preference of the local population and the location of the outlet influence the menu more than anything else. Some of the popular dishes offered at Indian fast food outlets are: