Do you really know where your food is coming from?
Have you ever opened a delivery app with a very specific craving, navigated to the search page and clicked through the first few options only to find that they’re offering almost the same items? By the fourth or fifth one perhaps, your will to keep searching falters and you just give in and place an order. If so, you may have just fallen prey to one of the most prevalent and surprisingly legal dupes being run by Cloud Kitchen owners online.
The concept of the Cloud Kitchen has been around for a while but rose to prominence during the pandemic. A Cloud Kitchen is a commercial kitchen that exists solely for the purpose of delivery and never hosts any dine-in customers. A lot of companies use this concept to deliver under the name of multiple brands thus saving them a lot of resources while also diversifying their customer base.
Many entrepreneurs favour this method of opening a restaurant because it's relatively easy to obtain an FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) license and there’s no cap on the number of food activities that can be run under the same license once it’s approved. This means that you could have a biryani joint, pizza parlour and South Indian snack brand all operating from one kitchen. But the catch is that to the consumer, they appear to be completely different brands.
While this choice seems like a morally grey area, it is completely legal and a lot of restauranteurs make this work positively, bringing down costs and delivery times for their customers. It’s not a flawed concept, but it is one that can easily be misused. There is a breed of restauranteurs actively looking to crowd the marketplace by registering one menu under multiple different restaurant names.
One dedicated netizen who goes by the Substack name of Peabee recently uncovered an operation like this in Bangalore. They put their coding skills to work uncovering the FSSAI license number and backtracking from there to the geographical location to which it was registered only to discover a shocking truth. There were over 400 restaurants registered in Ramjani Khan. 189 affiliates appeared on Swiggy and 127 on Zomato with one FSSAI number and then they found another 161 options later associated with a different FSSAI number also owned by Ramjani Khan.
This dupe works so well because the names of many listings were deceptively similar to popular joints in the area, and often names were duplicated too – one lowercase and one in block capitals – to appear as two separate listings. All the kitchens offered similar cuisines only with different menu structures and photos. This means that you as a customer are being very subtly manipulated into choosing to order from one of these kitchens. After all, if those are the first 200 odd results you see, why would you look any further? According to Peabee, none of these restaurants was particularly highly rated or, in their opinion, of very good quality. But despite that, this operation must be earning them massive success.
The internet age is one of misinformation, and there are always going to be new and surprising ways for people to game the system in their favour. But with a little attention and some due diligence, we can stay informed and avoid being entangled in a web of lies just by the simple act of ordering dinner.