How cloud kitchens thrived during the Covid pandemic

Two UAE restaurateurs talk about growing popularity of the concept and what it entails.



A selection from Art of Dum (Photos/Supplied)
A selection from Art of Dum (Photos/Supplied)

By Husain Rizvi

Published: Sun 31 Oct 2021, 9:39 AM

Last updated: Sun 31 Oct 2021, 9:40 AM

The Covid-19 pandemic affected many business ventures adversely, with outlets that relied on personal interactions, like restaurants and other small businesses forced to adapt to the ‘new normal’ to stay in the game.

During this time the world witnessed an unprecedented economic decline which forced thousands of establishments to shut down in the United States alone. Restaurants tried their best to fight the crisis, focusing on takeaway and delivery options that proved to be lifelines.

Another emerging trend during the pandemic was the concept of the cloud kitchen which follows the usual drill of a restaurant minus the option for the public to enter the premises. This service in the UAE is poised for growth as cloud kitchens become the go-to options for new as well as existing restaurants.

Operating Cloud Kitchens

But what is it like operating a cloud kitchen? In a conversation with City Times, Sanjay Vazirani, Chief Managing Director of Foodlink Global Restaurant & Catering Services states that cloud kitchens face the usual challenges. Foodlink created the Art of Dum cloud kitchen concept. “It’s a fast-paced environment and needs people who are experts at setting up processes and continuously monitoring and fine-tuning them,” Vazirani said.

Sanjay Vazirani of Foodlink Global Restaurant & Catering Services
Sanjay Vazirani of Foodlink Global Restaurant & Catering Services

“We engage chefs with diverse skills, delivery managers who can handle orders with clinical precision and store managers who are extremely digitally savvy to effectively handle menu engineering, ratings and customer feedback.”

Kunwal Safdar, founder of Moreish by K, points out that there is no room for complacency. “Cloud kitchens are centrally run on stringent rules & regulations and the businesses renting in these spaces have no choice but to adhere,” Safdar said.

“Our common community feeling actually allows for businesses to operate better. We learnt a lot from fellow cloud kitchen tenants and the cloud kitchen management, as there is an open dialogue for sharing knowledge and an innate need to be up to date with rules and regulations to avoid fines as well as falling behind. Running a cloud kitchen during Covid makes you feel like you are on the better side of the uproar of change.”

Kunwal Safdar of Moreish by K
Kunwal Safdar of Moreish by K

One fierce change brought about by the pandemic is the need to follow safety protocols to keep the virus in check. Eateries, be they dine-in or just kitchens, have to be sanitized on a regular basis. “All common contact areas are sanitized and disinfected every single hour. All the prep is done in common areas which are then sanitized and disinfected after each use (which in our case is every meal prep). All staff must wear face masks,” Safdar informed us of the Covid protocols that are in place at Moreish by K.

“If a member of staff tests positive, they can only return to work after a clearance from the Department of Health. All our staff are fully vaccinated and are acutely aware of the symptoms of Covid as they are part of a shared space and feel that sense of responsibility.”

Similarly, at Art of Dum, daily temperature checks, sanitizers at all entries, compulsory masks, and regular sanitization of all surfaces are in place. “It’s an exhaustive Food Safety Management System covering all touchpoints relevant for the food industry,” Vazirani said.

Changes in food consumption

Another change induced in our lives by the pandemic is a drastic shift in our eating habits. “I have seen that the pandemic has worsened diets for some,” Safdar pointed out. “From stress eating to skipping meals. Many people who have struggled economically through the pandemic have struggled to keep on top of the nutritional value of the food put on the table. The topic of healthy food being much more unattainable than unhealthy fare is evident and needs to be tackled too.”

Food preparation at Moreish by K
Food preparation at Moreish by K

Moreish by K is also Dubai’s first zero-waste kitchen. “By adopting this strategy in business we are able to play a huge role in waste elimination from the environment,” Safdar opined. “It felt like a natural way forward as we became increasingly aware of food wastage in the region and had a keen interest in making a change in the normal order of business.”

Art of Dum, meanwhile, offers traditional Dum Pukht cuisine in a delivery format. Of course, eating out options have been limited in many places across the world; however, people, as Vazirani points out, want to recreate the experience of going out, at home. “For a consumer, food along with the presentation and ambience make up a restaurant experience,” he said.

“Our packaging, with our glass jars, steel cutlery, eco-friendly boxes, is thoughtful and part of the whole experience of enjoying food. One need not transfer the food to another set of crockery to make it presentable. At the same time, we understand that the customer of a cloud kitchen has expectations such as timely delivery, a menu that tastes great when delivered, food that is well packaged to retain flavours, nutrition and aromas. So we have created an offering that takes all this into consideration. We call it ‘experience’ delivery rather than ‘food’ delivery.”

The usage of glass jars, however, has proved to be a costlier method for Art of Dum. “But the advantage is, it’s reusable and recyclable for the consumer and doesn’t end up in landfills,” Vazirani points out. “Art of Dum packaging is a conscious effort to reduce plastic waste and many clients appreciate the eco-friendly packaging and use the jars for multiple things. Some have created art projects with them. For us, as a brand, it’s exciting to see our clients supporting this philosophy.”

Future of cloud kitchens

More and more restaurateurs are moving towards cloud kitchens, indicating an expansion of the trend.

“Cloud kitchens save on major costs like house staff and larger square footage of rent. Some countries have allowed restaurants to be open to the public, but with limited seating, whilst other countries have struggled with many restaurants being shut down completely - this naturally paves the way for a more cost-effective business model to allow people to be fed,” Safdar said. “I would go as far as saying that the one industry that thrived in the chaos of Covid, was the business of cloud kitchens.”

Vazirani, on the other hand, concludes by saying, “Our objective is to provide the same quality, hygiene and variety that one would expect from a premium restaurant in a delivery format.”

husain@khaleejtimes.com


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