Compared to western population Indians generally do not go out for eating as frequently as the former, probably due to traditional culture of eating home cooked foods, prepared and served lovingly by the mother. But this trend is slowly changing with the advent of fast food culture dominated by reputed MNCs, who offer a variety of "taste good" foods with empty calories such as french fries, pizzas, fried chickens, coffee and allied products, pop sodas besides providing ambiance and social environment. Younger generation who seem to have been bowled over by this new experience does not realize how unhealthy these foods can be! Thinking for a moment they should see for themselves how Americans have been made to be addicts of these foods and consequent obesity epidemic spreading there like a wild fire! The fast spreading life style disorders like diabetes, CVD, blood pressure, kidney ailments, intestinal afflictions etc have their origin traced to fast foods and similar unhealthy and imbalanced food products available at relatively low costs across the country with easy accessibility.
One of the grave consequences of proliferation of nuclear families, because of fragmentation of once redoubtable joint family system, is the slow disappearance of cooking skills among young house wives, most of whom are professionals having very little time to spend in the kitchen or for engaging with their kids. Progress in technology also played a role in accelerating this trend, consciously or unconsciously, by developing life style products like instant mixes and a whole range of ready to eat foods etc, aided and abetted by house hold gadgets like blenders, grinders, toasters, refrigerators, freezers, microwave ovens, induction stoves all available at affordable prices and deferred payment system. How many house wives to day can make a decent curry, southern or western style, similar to what their mom and grandma used to make? Very few! This is one of the reasons why cookery shows are becoming the staple of all TV channels irrespective of the language in which they are presented. This is also the reason why eating out practices are becoming more and more common these days.
Catering ready made food preparations can take different formats ranging from home messes to star hotels supposed to fit the pockets of different income populations.To day street vendors dominate the market because of the affordable prices, fast service, excellent taste and informal environment offered by them. Small hotels with specialized menus are an omnipotent part of many towns and cities while many high end restaurants cater to those looking for a relaxed eating session with family members. Having stated the current scenario vis-a-vis eateries in the country, a valid question that arises is whether this industry is really behaving in a responsible fashion without taking recourse to arbitrarily high prices not related to the cost of preparation of various foods offered by them? It is very difficult to answer this rational question without indicting a sizable section of the industry for their "customer fleecing' attitude by charging abnormally high prices through collective collusion and conspiracy in fixing high prices which cannot be justified under any norms of real time costing.
Expanding a little bit further regarding the prices prevalent to day in most of the established restaurants, how can any one justify paying Rs 20-25 for a cup of coffee served in a "not- so-clean" cup, that too three fourth full, or for that matter Rs 15-20 for an idli or vada or Rs 30-40 for a plate of poori and bhaji or a dosa, with his hard earned money? It still rankles in the minds of many customers, who do not go to restaurants regularly that on an average one has to shell out at least Rs 80-100 per person to get a reasonable satiety. It is mind boggling that there is a mark up of prices for the items doled out by most of the caterers which often works out to 200-1000% when calculated based on the raw material cost incurred by the vendor! Such exploitation was earlier noticed only with multinational companies like breakfast products which cost about Rs 300-400 per kg though the basic raw material maize can be bought for less than Rs 20 per kg! The catering sector should not be allowed to get away with impunity for perpetuating such perfidy on the hapless citizens in this country. No wonder street vendors, home messes and self service "darshinis" are flourishing, providing succor to the low and middle income population.
It is to e admitted that in spite of the government claim of low inflation, practically every food item costs almost 10%-20% more than what they were 2 years ago. Naturally this inflation has to be built into the pricing regimen and consumers know this fact fully. "Reasonable" price escalation is understandable but irrational hike up cannot be condoned as it amounts to consumer "fleecing" and fraudulence. A country like India where free enterprise concept has been embraced, any government control will amount to violation of the economic fundamentals.But government also has a responsibility to protect the citizen from fraud and exploitation. Those in power cannot wash off their hands saying that under the free marketing system each player has the right to fix the price for his product or service. What can the consumer do if these players all gang up and "fix" prices and who will protect them? A vexed question indeed!
the established restaurants, how can any one justify paying Rs 20-25 for a cup of coffee served in a not so clean cup, that too three fourth full, or for that matter Rs 15-20 for an idli or vada or Rs 30-40 for a plate of poori and bhaji, with his hard earned money? It still rankles in the minds of many customers, who do not go to restaurants regularly that on average one has to shell out at least Rs 80-100 to get a reasonable satiety. It is mind boggling that there is a mark up of prices for the items doled out by these caterers which often works out to 200-1000% when calculated based on the raw material cost incurred by the vendor! Such exploitation was earlier noticed only with multinational companies like breakfast products which cost about Rs 300-400 per kg though the basic raw material maize can be bought for less than Rs 20 per kg! The catering sector should not be allowed to get away with impunity for perpetuating such perfidy on the hapless citizens in this country. No wonder street vendors, home messes and self service "darshinis" are flourishing, providing succor to the low income population. Here is an example of such a low cost vending service reported from a village near Surat in Gujarat where a home mess is doing a yeoman service by offering reasonably priced food preparations which appears to be a roaring success as measured by their popularity and increasing demands from their customers.
The helpless citizen can always go back to the road side vendor or to the darshini type of small eateries where food is still affordable but how many families can go to such places with their children expecting some relaxation from their routine and dreary chores? It is where government has to step in to provide succor to its citizens through regulatory policies. In a free enterprise country like India, competition is supposed to decide the prices in the market but catering services in the organized sector is proving the opposite by collective "muscling" of the consumers through unholy nexus among themselves to manipulate the prices! No wonder the Amma Canteen chains promoted by Tamil Nadu government has been wholeheartedly welcomed by citizens belonging to the low income category and there is a pressure on the government to expand the reach of this canteen chain from the public. If established caterers do not relent in reducing their prices to reasonable levels, government must encourage families and small entrepreneurs to start catering business by providing them required facilities and financial support. There must be a pro active policy to encourage mobile canteens all over the country and such a national endeavor requires designing of low cost mobile vans with minimum necessary facilities to cook and serve hot foods in designated places with over sight from the civic authorities regarding safety of food they serve.