The 24-hour diner has emerged as the star of experiential dining

The quiet transformation of all-day dining from a classic coffee shop, which belonged to the 1970s, to a culinary theatre of sensory dining and how it redefined indulgence

Last month, the twin Westin properties in Delhi NCR — The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi and The Westin Sohna Resort and Spa — played host to ‘Marvels of Culinaire Sunday’ brunch. Curated by their multi-property executive chef Anurudh Khanna, it was an extravagant showcase by the hotel’s six culinary maestros, who exhibited their selective signature dishes from five different cuisines and their speciality restaurants, EEST and Prego, all under one roof. Each of the five master chefs was given their own kitchen hub to display their food philosophy through dishes that could easily rival the menu of any specially curated bespoke dining experience. For those who attended, it was the best showcase of the food philosophy (and offerings) of brand Westin in India. For Chef Khanna, however, it was the next phase of what is to become of the all-day diners. It was, says the curator, “my interpretation of what all-day dining, once a glamourised version of 24/7 coffee shops”, have finally transformed into — a platform that not only showcases the evolving world of dining, but also the ever-transforming culinary philosophy of the chefs who run it.

The Marvels of Culinaire Sunday Brunch redefined the all-day dining space from another F&B outlet to a destination within the hotel.” Chef Khanna, in his brief eventful stint at the Westin Hotel, has not only managed to infuse Seasonal Tastes, the group’s all-day diner, with a lot of character through his various initiatives that include the ‘Sleep Well Menu’ targeted at corporates, and a ‘Eat Well Menu’ for kids which encourages them to relish a balanced meal, but helped shape attitudes towards responsible dining with Westin Fresh — a dedicated station for thoughtfully curated wellness menu. He calls the all-day diner “his culinary pitch where I score and grow”.

He isn’t alone in hailing the evolution of the all-day diner. Chef Neeraj Tyagi, Culinary Director, Pullman Aerocity, New Delhi, has added his heft behind the all-day diner. Considered amongst India’s culinary game-changers, Chef Tyagi is one of the few to re-engineer the humble F&B concept into a food theatre. Tamra, a traditional 185 covers all-day diner at Pullman is considered a gourmet destination because of its five culinary stations, an elaborate cake corner, and a bar that serves healthy juices and smoothies in the morning and brilliant cocktails at night.

Another chef who believes that the time has come for all-day diners taking centre-stage on the hotel culinary stage is Chef Ajay Anand, who created a themed version in Pluck at Pullman Aerocity, where he serves native Indian cuisine in French-style. He has access to an in-property garden to support his philosophy of ‘farm-to-table’ and was the first to introduce the concept of small plates into the buffet system. Says Tyagi, “It was revolutionary; unlike the buffet system Indian diners were used to, here we cranked it up by offering them the main course from the menu. It was elevated experiential dining that was further enhanced with live, interactive kitchens.”

Creating gourmet destinations

Interestingly, Chef Anand wasn’t the only one to explore the idea of experiential dining. Culinary thinkers such as Chef Neeraj Rawoot of Sofitel BKC and Chef Prasad Metrani of Fairmont Jaipur had already aced the game with their respective all-day diners, creating a new level of gourmet experience. While Pondicherry Café at Sofitel BKC introduced and popularised the concept of food festivals intertwined with initiatives such as health menus and DIY meals for corporates, at Fairmont Jaipur, Chef Metrani, an ace player of the all-day dining space who has worked with famous hospitality brands such as Taj and Oberoi, transformed the concept by introducing Royal Breakfast, which included local seasonal cuisine and creating food hubs that catered to specialised cuisines. “The idea,” says Chef Metrani, “was to broad-base our F&B offerings. So, a guest has the choice of not just the local cuisine but that of Oriental and European cuisines; they can also choose a cuisine from the past era, like that of India during the Raj.” Also, the space showcases offerings from other outlets in the hotel, such as Aza, the regal library bar. “As a luxe Accor property, royal food fiesta had to be part of the menu and adding such hubs helps to do that.”

At the Marriott Group hotels, says Chef Himanshu Taneja, Culinary Director, South Asia, “in keeping with the Marriott food philosophy of being local yet experiential, we have begun making changes in some of our properties. Take the case of Renaissance Mumbai, where we have introduced the concept of large and small plates, which have not just helped us reduce food costs and control wastage but also aided in increasing sale as diners have more options to indulge in — and order several dishes instead of one large portion of a salad or a sandwich.”

All-day diners have also introduced specialist chef-run counters. “In our new properties, the all-day dining would have Chinese and Thai counters run like popup restaurants helmed by master chefs. We have also added a vegan breakfast with allergen segments that can take care of the special needs among diners. Local flavour-based menus are a vital part of our all-day dining transformation.

Like W Goa has a Burrata Pizza with Chicken Xacuti and a set menu lunch present in Bento Box style. In the coming years, we will work with many social communities to impart a local feel to the all-day diners. A special counter will be dedicated to them. Like in Amritsar, our all-day dining will have a counter of Pind Ka Khana and include chole kulche, barra and such.” So, what gives all-day diners such an edge over regular restaurants?

According to Vijayan Gangadharan, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott Bhopal, “They register the maximum footfalls thanks to their Sunday brunches and the lunch and dinner buffets. Not only do they attract a good ROI but such initiatives have, over the years, transformed all-day diners into an informal family space and business lunch venues. They attract a large segment of diners who can be turned into patrons with clever marketing.”

Additionally, says Michael Butler, Director of Food & Beverage, Europe and India, Hyatt Group, “All-day dining venues typically have large multiple kitchens, which are a perfect platform for hotels to experiment and involve local communities through interactive brunches and live interactive cooking.

They offer local and international food and drink experiences and also promote well-being. Such partnerships with local communities have led to the creation of immersive culinary, drink and service experiences and have bridged the generational gap. They are social hubs for many people across India, much like the old cafes once were.”

Chef Metrani sees the refocussing on all-day dining as an excellent way to bring down food cost while upping the experience. “By upping the game, we are using the main kitchen instead of running kitchens of all other outlets. And the food cost, even if on a little higher side, can be effectively managed in the long run.”

Case Study: The all-day diner as a showcase for the hotel’s other culinary offerings

That the all- diner can be used to showcase the offerings at other restaurants within the hotel was an idea initially implemented by The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, with Shamiana. The menu had these clever additions from different dining outlets within the palatial hotel. According to consultant chef Amey Marathe, who runs JSAmey Biotech, a company that helps design all-day dining for hotels across Tier-2 cities and manage food waste, “All-day diners was a clever way of nudging guests — both in-house and walk-ins — to try the speciality restaurants as well. At The Bridge at The Park Kolkata, a special menu is created to promote a few dishes from the other F&B outlets every three months. It is a similar case at ITC Hotels, where the expertise of the speciality outlet chef is utilised to create a preview menu.”

The ingenuity of the chef, says brand specialist Zamir Khan, “lies in the way such initiatives are played out and what aspect of all-day dining segment the focus should be on. This is often determined by the kind of clientele the hotel has to cater to — and expects to attract.” In Conrad Bengaluru’s Caraway, a major segment is dedicated to the South Indian cuisine — and this includes the breakfast and lunch offered as a pre-set thali. In Taj Palace Delhi’s Capital Kitchen, the ‘All-Day Breakfast’ is pure comfort food. At Leela Palace Bengaluru, says Avijit Ghosh, Corporate Chef, The Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts, “the bread shop next to Citrus, and in Leela Ambience Gurugram, the regional cuisine and the dessert island are both trendsetters and an indulgence corner”.

According to Chef Amey Marathe, who runs JSAmey Biotech, “The playout zones often help a brand to pick the one specialisation that it would be known for. Like The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai’s Shamiana was often known for its Autograph menu which had signature dishes from Taj master chefs from across the world. Or Café Espresso, The Oberoi Delhi’s first coffee house which served as the blueprint for many an all-day dining.”

The future of all-day dining

Newer properties or hotels now focus on the all-day dining rather than speciality restaurants. As Gangadharan puts it, “After all, it is the one outlet that best showcases a brand’s culinary talent and philosophy.” Chef Taneja says that in the coming years, hotels would see less and less of speciality heavy brands such as St Regis. “They would be hard to sustain. Instead, the focus would shift to all day dining, which today is number three in the profit-earnings ratio. In fact, it would be the single big culinary playfield in all Marriott brands in India (and South Asia). Our up and coming properties in Hyderabad and Amritsar, for instance, will have far more interesting dining concepts at the coffee shop or the all-day diners that will be based on the ideas of sustainability, GM-free, healthy organic offerings, a local connect and authenticity of culinary traditions.” Marriott’s focus in the future would be on food reinvention. The Marriott Culinary Chef Workshop, an annual event that sees all Marriott property chefs gather for a 15-day intense programme, is, in fact, a way that Chef Taneja ensures these transformations are standardised across all brands in India.

“We even have a dedicated day on all-day dining concept, establishment, design and innovation.” Innovation, then, will offer an edge to a hotel’s all-day dining in the increasingly competitive F&B segment.

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