Hari's Corner

Humour, comics, tech, law, software, reviews, essays, articles and HOWTOs intermingled with random philosophy now and then

Middle class family restaurants - a dying breed?

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Mon, Sep 17, 2007 at 09:18 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:12 IST)

We were dining out last evening at one of my favourite restaurants and it struck me that it was the kind of restaurants we usually frequent as a family. I don't know whether they can be described as anything other than "middle class family restaurants" and I think certain aspects are unique to India and particularly South India.

To explain better, I have to mention that there are several kinds of restaurants to suit every budget and every taste where I live. At the lowest end you have the roadside eateries which usually attract large crowds of people all through the day and particularly lower income groups and working men looking for a quick bite to still the pangs of hunger. They vary a lot but are generally characterized by a lack of ambience and a beehive-like activity at most times of the day which means that you generally share tables with total strangers almost at any time you eat at these places. Service is usually lightning quick and you focus most of your attention on eating the food placed before you and leaving to make room for the next customer.

At the highest end of course you have the fancy, high class restaurants which are usually attached to Five Star hotels. Most of them charge the moon, are generally multi-cuisine, attract a select clientele including foriegners and usually serve continental food and alcoholic beverages. Even breathing the air of such restaurants feels expensive.

In between you have everything from speciality restaurants to multi-cuisine restaurants, ethnic restaurants to fast-food joints of every description. But I don't think the kind of eating place I like fits into any of the above categories.

The middle class family restaurants I am talking about are usually stand-alone (not attached to any hotel), generally do not specialize in any particular kind of cuisine, but usually avoid non-vegetarian food and alcoholic drinks. There is a fairly wide range of food available at reasonable prices in these places and are generally not too crowded so you get tables without having to make advance reservations. You get a familiar, comforting choice of food unlike speciality cuisine or ethnic restaurants where even reading the menu can be a challenge. Then again, unlike roadside eateries, they do have a quiet ambience without being opulent and the hygiene usually stands up to close scrutiny. The service is ponderously efficient without being spectacular and you usually get good value for money as far as quality of food is concerned. They are not too noisy because they don't attract the young college-going set (who usually haunt the glitzier fast food joints and shopping malls). The best part is that you can walk into these places without feeling self-conscious about your clothes or general appearance. There is no air of high-class snobbery around these places and the people who come to eat in these kinds of restaurants are typically quiet, shy and retiring middle-class folk. They are perfect for a quiet Saturday or Sunday night dinner for a family looking for a budget treat. I like eating occasionally in five-star luxury no doubt, but we always come back to this type of place because it suits us in every possible way.

Indeed, such restaurants have been the mainstay of middle class India for a long time, but I get the feeling that the mushrooming of hep and modern fast-food joints and rising income levels have led a section of the middle class to abandon these places. People who can afford it usually walk into the higher range and more glamourous restaurants or prefer speciality restaurants. Younger folk tend to go to the fast-food joints or pizzerias for a quick bite. Greater global awareness has also led to an increase in the number of speciality and authentic ethnic restaurants. And of course, roadside eateries continue to do brisk every-day business in spite of everything because of their low prices and quick service. So these middle-of-the-road options are getting crunched on all sides by increasing competition. Already I've seen a few of these places, which were famous institutions in the 80s and early 90s gradually go downhill and fade into obscurity.

Are such eat-outs a dying breed? I certainly hope not.

7 comment(s)

  1. I too dont think they will vanish.

    Comment by Shrinidhi Hande (visitor) on Mon, Sep 17, 2007 @ 12:52 IST #
  2. Shrinidhi, these "middle class family restaurants" have their origins in the famous region in your state: Udupi. We used to call most of these restaurants "Udupi restaurants" in an earlier decade. Now I think the best description is "middle class family restaurants".I think they will adapt with the times so long as they hold on to their basics: good food, affordable, hygienic. :smile:

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Mon, Sep 17, 2007 @ 13:02 IST #
  3. Hari, this is unfair --- this post should be allowed to be on top for a longer time! Too many posts coming together!!About the post: lovely write-up, and I think what these "middle class restaurants" need is a little marketing and publicity sometimes.On a related note, I remember a little news snippet about the "breathing the air of such restaurants feels expensive" factor. A guy wanted to change his shoe shop a bit and he installed glass doors and ACs and all. The sales actually drooped. He kept wondering why, and then when the ACs were removed, the sales resumed as normal and even went up a bit. :)

    Comment by Sudipta Chatterjee (visitor) on Tue, Sep 18, 2007 @ 02:41 IST #
  4. Good story, Sudipta. Another factor to consider is whether he wore dirty socks. That would make any AC room unbearable. :twisted:Thanks for the compliment. Yes, I wanted to keep this post on top for longer, but sometimes I just get a new idea and I want to post in a rush.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Tue, Sep 18, 2007 @ 05:53 IST #
  5. Thought provoking article.
    Sounds like my kind of place. A sit - down, unrushed meal where you don't have to be dressed up. These restaurants are a dying breed here in Alberta, Canada as well. It seems like they are being replaced with themed chain restaurants,and you can't find a 'regular' one anymore. Of course, there are a lot of fast food joints.

    Comment by Tim (visitor) on Wed, Nov 21, 2007 @ 07:47 IST #
  6. Tim, I think the "middle class" family restaurants pass the barriers of culture. All of us like to occasionally eat out in an unfussy, quiet atmosphere without being too bothered about dressing up or being worried about the bill.

    Fast food restaurants simply don't provide that ambience.

    Comment by hari (blog owner) on Wed, Nov 21, 2007 @ 09:01 IST #
  7. Middle class restaurants is nice thinking idea. They provide the variety of food in the affordable budget. They act as five star restaurants for the middle class families.

    Comment by food (visitor) on Wed, Feb 18, 2009 @ 11:58 IST #

Comments closed

The blog owner has closed further commenting on this entry.