Cultures in a Box

Ushering in the experience of eating in and with just a tap on the phone

It’s hard to miss the delivery boys from different delivery groups in Shillong. They can be seen in almost every locality, on their bikes and scooty.

Over the last few years, the city has seen a transformation where the food culture is concerned. Not only is there a booming café culture and fast-food joints, sprinkled around student zones in the city, but there is the choice to order from our homes.

All you need to do is download the app; with just one tap, food is right there without you stepping out.

Shillong Tiffins, Netfoodish and Swiggy are popular with the people here. Here’s Sunday Shillong with a story on how it all started.

Thinking outside the box

For Shillong-based hotelier, Yaree Nongbri, 2020 was a year of self-discovery. The proprietor of the Shillong Tiffins, she has studied Hotel Management from IHM, Guwahati.

“Entrepreneurial spirit requires one to think outside the box,” she said.

Shillong Tiffins came into existence on November 3, 2020, and is currently a small-scale industry, adding how the pandemic gave her the opportunity to explore her passion further. As of now, four people make up the team, with Yaree, a helper, a cleaner and a delivery boy.

We spoke about the ideation process. “Covid-19 brought out the entrepreneurial spirit of the people here. Mine is no different in that sense,” she said, adding how she had to keep in mind that there are already cafés and fast-food outlets in the city.

Their USP lies in the fact that they prepare their food from scratch and the home-made vibe remains an integral aspect of their brand. Besides this, their pricing, Yaree believes, gives them an edge. Unlike most delivery groups, they cater to every locality in Shillong – a reason why Shillong Tiffins is popular for those looking for home inside a tiffin box.

One day, her aunt’s tenant said that he is willing to pay Rs. 5,000 per month for lunch and dinner. That struck her as the right time to venture into being her own boss. “Why don’t I start something like the Dabbawalahs of Mumbai?” she asked herself.

Research went into understanding the need of the hour. Yaree realised that they can bring home inside boxes for students living in the hostels, businessmen and office-goers. Following discussions with her family, they brought 10 insulated Milton tiffin boxes. In addition, they built a social media presence with pages on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, where they uploaded the menu online. The response was immediate. They had to buy another 10 tiffins.

Her education in hotel management has given Yaree the chance to serve culture in a plate. Shillong Tiffins specialises in Indian food. While they also prepare Khasi and Chinese cuisine, she believes that food is a great equaliser.

Yaree said old couples, government officials and students form the bulk of her customer base and her team is a hit with them.

Cooking in a big kitchen for large orders was initially a challenge for her. She and her team had to “adapt every step of the way” because of the business of sustaining the ‘expressing’ through culinary art.

Wastage of perishable ingredients remains a major challenge, though. The number of orders fluctuate from a low of five to a high of 20, making the estimation of raw materials difficult at times.

The other challenge is delivery. Since they have one van for large orders, there are days when they work together to overcome delays in this regard. “We make it a point to reach on time,” Yaree said.

Fortunately for Shillong Tiffins, the customers have been loyal and understanding.

Yaree’s team is now focussing on their marketing.

Beyond Identity

Pynmanbait Nongtdu, owner of Netfoodish, gave us a taste of the other local brand.

He wanted to use his MBA background in an “appetising” venture for Shillong. Studying at Lovely Professional University had exposed him to different ideas. The course was practice-oriented, not just limited to theory. Back home, he met some friends and the ideation process “started from my bedroom, in fact”. Netfoodish is located in Nongthymmai with a staff of 25-26 people and is actively hiring for delivery.

Initially, small restaurants worked with them. Gradually, big ones such as Déjà vu and Lamee came on board. Around 150 restaurants are registered with them, with nearly 80 food joints active on their app and website. Sweet and snack shops have also tied up with them. “Only the best restaurants are being added and the number is increasing,” he said.

They have teamed up with bike owners who help with the delivery.

Our conversation shifted to their brand. Pynman said the ‘local’ tag is their USP, appealing to non-local customers too. He believes that the people should have easy access to good food – both in terms of quality and hygiene.

Apart from this, they are customer-friendly. In case orders get late, they inform and update their customers. Additionally, the status can be tracked on the app. “Giving constant assurance to the customer is as important as the food. We make the customer our first priority,” he said.

The pandemic made them extra-cautious about maintaining hygiene. The delivery bags and office premises are always sanitised.

We spoke about Khasi food. Netfoodish has teamed up with restaurants such as JADOH and Red Rice. Khasi food, he feels, has a disadvantage. “They end soon and by 2 pm, they run out of stock,” he said.

Unlike the Shillong Tiffins, they do not deliver everywhere within Shillong. For now, they don’t go to Laitkor because of the distance. “Food may get cold by the time we reach there. Plus, we also don’t want our delivery boys to travel too much with the Covid-19 situation at the moment.”

They do go to NEIGHRIMS, but deliver till 6 pm. Active delivery is till Mawblei, beyond which they do not venture.

Pynman said their customer base is interesting. “Most of our customers are parents who usually order for dinner in the evening, while students living in hostels usually order in the afternoon,” he added.

Netfoodish has a presence on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

While Shillong Tiffins accepts the last order at 7:30 pm, Netfoodish delivers from 10:30 am till 9 pm during winter and till 9:30 pm during summer.

National flavour

With a quirky tagline, “Swiggy karo, phir jo chahe karo!” as its armour, the Bengaluru-headquartered Swiggy commenced its operations in Shillong in March 2019. Their motto is simple, “ No customer goes hungry.”

“We are backed by machine learning, itself based on people’s orders, searches and interactions. We match diners with restaurants, helping them choose their favourite food in a jiffy,” a spokesperson for Swiggy said.

The popularity of Swiggy is on the rise. Its success lies in “the granular understanding of Indian food preferences, customers, restaurants, and logistics, marrying them with superior technology and consumer experience.”

No wonder then, that it has emerged as the platform of choice across all age groups in the city. When it comes to locational challenges, given the hilly terrain, Swiggy has been consistent with time management. Their delivery partners have chosen to deliver on foot to ensure timely and hassle-free delivery.

They deliver in key areas of Shillong and constantly working on deepening their reach. They are hopeful that with time, they will be able to reach in every neighbourhood in the city.

With the pandemic at its peak in 2020, areas in Shillong were declared as containment zones and night curfews were imposed. The team was quick to address this through strict hygiene and safety measures – no-contact delivery and the mandatory use of masks and sanitisers. They ensured that their delivery and restaurant partners adhered to the guidelines, with respect to hygiene. Maintaining hygiene is something they are still focused on.

Swiggy delivers till 10 pm.

Why go online for a few bites? Why not – for a break from cooking!

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