Food Or Fad: Of Pink And Robot Themed Cafés
Image Credit: Pet friendly cafes

Recently, Instagram feeds of food influencers in Hyderabad went buzzing with reels about robot servers at a newly opened restaurant called (imaginatively) Robo Headquarters in Kukatpally, the metro’s new emerging retail hub. While the food (Indian and Chindian or Chinese Indian, for the uninitiated) was nothing to write home about, by all accounts, the restaurant got talked about for its unique way of serving food. Or, rather, bringing the food to the table, while the waiters served the customers. I mean, there is that much AI (artificial intelligence) can do, really! Though in some places, the robots are even programmed to act like the hotel d maître and usher you to your table. 

Will robots be able to proffer menu reccos, based upon diner preferences in the near future? Maybe yes, who knows? The mind boggles… But will robots be able to transfer the emotive intelligence quotient, brought about by a familiar and friendly waiter who will bring for you from the kitchen, some ingredient such as a lemon wedge or chillies, which you might need to enhance your dish? Will a robot be able to bring a smile on your face and in your hearts for feeing wanted as a diner with great service, such an essential ingredient of a memorable dining experience? The answer is a firm no, personally speaking. 

Robot-themed restaurants have been around in India since 2017 when Chennai opened its first such restaurant called simply Robot. Next to follow was Bengaluru in 2019, which opened Robot Restaurant in Indiranagar, and Hyderabad got its first robot restaurants Robo Kitchen in 2019 and Chitti in Town last year. 

Of the checkboxes which restaurants provide about themselves on dining apps, one particular one which I am frankly not so enthused about is the pet-friendly tag, much in vogue these days. While in earlier times restaurant owners would crow about their beautiful interiors or lip-smacking cuisines or even Michelin-star-worthy chefs, now they are in a hurry to update you about their warm reception awaiting your furry friends, if you so desire as your dining companions. There are news features about how xyz restaurants are so “with-it” for allowing you to bring in your pets inside their plush interiors. As if that can compensate for bad food! 

Also, while some of them provide a separate pet-friendly zone for dining in, there are other establishments who make no distinction. I completely get it that pets are an integral part of nuclear and lonely human lives. I am also empathetic about the need for pet parents to take their furry friends along to Sunday brunches and sometimes weekend staycations, for the simple reason that they do not want to leave them alone at home over long periods of time, though kennel rental services exist in every city now. 

But what about considering the other side too, the diners who are petrified of dogs? There might also be other diners who are perhaps allergic to fur, such as asthmatic diners. 

I remember, many moons ago, my experience of interviewing a celebrity at her café in Ahmedabad, not in the context of her entry into the F&B domain, but as a danseuse cum social activist, who had won an important national government-instituted award. In fact, the café mostly catered to dancers and artists and the intelligentsia around town. So, while I was there out with my notebook and recorder in hand for a long interview, out bounded two canines, both of different breeds. 

I stopped in my tracks, because a formidable-looking Doberman was sniffing away at me in the most suspicious manner. The lady tried to make light of the situation, asking me not to worry as her dogs only bit bad singers and dancers. Needless to say, I was not enthused and refused to budge. I am happy to report that she got them moved outside the café and the rest of my interview went off well, without any distractions. 

There are, however, animal lovers who have improvised on the need for pet parents and their babies to enjoy some quality me-time at designated pet cafes. The Pet Café Hyderabad, run by the young Deven Baheti, addresses this need with a special menu devised for dogs and cats, which is comprehensive including nachos, sandwiches, pastas, hot chocolate, green tea and noodles for humans to chicken balls, fish paste etc for their furry dining companions. 

Of course, the Pet Café Hyderabad goes beyond ensuring the perfect dinner outing for pets and their parents. It also does rescue and rehab of abandoned and sick dogs and cats, through its sister concern called Deven’s Hope, as well as eventually finding a home for the animals. May their tribe grow and may many more such restaurants catering to a niche segment of pets and their owners, come up! 

There is no end to restaurateurs trying every rule in the book to lure diners and now Instagram-reels-worthy looks are top of the list. Perhaps that’s the raison d’etre of La Vie En Rose Café in Sainikpuri Hyderabad which calls itself a pink-themed restaurant. So there are pink walls (or perhaps wallpaper) there is an abundant use of pink candy floss as topping on mocktails and desserts. It calls itself Hyderabad’s first instagrammable café. There you go, the ambience first and then the food might follow a close second?  

But once the novelty factor of such inane tags wears off, it’s the food which will do the talking finally. The first-ever Indian robot-themed restaurant in Chennai has downed its shutters, so has the one in Bengaluru. Ironically, the co-founder of the Chennai robot-themed restaurant had himself conceded less than a year after they opened, that footfalls were going down as the novelty factor was wearing off.

One doesn’t know the reasons for why the robot-themed restaurants did not work out. Costing 5 lakh a robot, they could be labour and cost-saving, considering their maintenance doesn’t come with a huge price tag. 

It doesn’t harm any diner, surely, to have his meal in an aesthetically-pleasing ambience, and with polite service adding to the dining experience. But surely, candy floss is just a thing and so are tags like pet-friendly which might just pull in a few more diners, but will they come back if its not a great meal assured for their money? Time will tell.