Govt proposal to fix food portion served in hotels is absurd and defies logic, says industry

The hotel and restaurant industry is confused over minister Ram Vilas Paswan's proposal to fix the portion of food served in the hotels in order to curb food wastage as they feel the government may be overstepping its responsibility as a facilitator of business if it implements the decision.

Justifying his proposal, Paswan, Union minister consumer affairs, food and public distribution, had asked, “If a person can eat only two prawns, why should he or she be served six? If a person eats two idlis, why serve four?”

The proposal comes after PM Modi in his Mann Ki Baat programme sought to increase the awareness about food wastage. However, Paswan's comments had kicked up a storm.

On Wednesday, Paswan denied that the government was trying to 'regularise' food portions in restaurants, the Mumbai Mirror reported. “One of the ideas is to provide complete information to the consumer. For instance, eateries can specify the number of prawns per plate,” he clarified.

Representative image. Getty

Representative image. Getty

From wanting to ration food portion to changing the stance to counting the number of items of a dish, entrepreneurs in the sector are unenthused. “What next? Should I count the number of onions and potatoes that are sliced in a vegetarian dish? Why pick out non-vegetarian items only?,” asked a restaurateur.

Unable to decipher the government’s intention, restaurateur Rahul Akerkar put out a tweet giving some suggestions to the Centre on all the items that it could restrict, constrict in a bid to singe the industry. Like ban tips to staff, ban all non-vegetarian food, ban ingredients not Made in India, ban plastic and so on.

Speaking to Firstpost, Akerkar said the government’s suggestion on food portion was tantamount to suggesting how much paint an artist could use on the canvas. “This is absurd and defies logic,” said Akerkar of the government’s intention. “How does restricting, limiting portion size of a dish in a restaurant have any bearing or control on food wastage which is the argument the government is using.”

What should a restaurant to do if a customer was willing to pay for a thimble amount of food and order six plates of it, asks Akrekar.

Any customer who visits a restaurant is primarily there to satiate his hunger, to relax and soak in the ambience while enjoying a meal. And he is aware of the price he/she has to pay for that.

What is baffling is the government’s argument that eateries can specify the number of prawns per plate. Each restaurant decides what it deems fit to be portion size. And this is arrived at after innumerable trials and experience of what works for the restaurant depending on its clientele. So if a restaurant considers two idlis at Rs 50 to be ideal as its portion size, there are restaurants that serve 3 as its portion size. “Who is to argue that that is right or wrong,” asks a restaurateur.

When PM Modi spoke of wastage of food, he probably was more concerned with the government godowns where food is rotting or fresh fruits and vegetables in the sabzi mandis that have no buyers, says Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and MD, Impressario Entertainment and Hospitality Pvt Ltd, who operates a chain of 48 fine dining restaurants across the country. “Restaurants don’t waste food. Customers pay for what they order and eat. Mostly, they take back food in doggie bags,” he said.

Amlani is confused over the portion size suggestion of the government. “Yes, you can count three prawns off a plate but what about rice grains or the number of channas in channa bhatura? I am very confused,” he says.

A sector expert points out that the government is inadvertently shining a light on areas where it is incompetent. Food wastage in godowns, for instance, which the government hasn’t been able to do anything for years. Or wastage in fruit and vegetable markets. “Or street food vendors for instance. I am curious why they have not been brought into the government’s conversation on food sold for the public. They make food in an unhygienic manner, pay no taxes, use the street to cook and sell food, dump all the waste on the street and there are rodents as big as cats crawling over these places some of which are located in prime localities in streets across the country. Are they not included as they are a potent vote bank for the politicians,” he asks.

A restaurateur feels that the issue is when politicians visit five star restaurants as elected representatives and find a cup of tea costing Rs 400 or Rs 500 to be ‘elitist’, ‘exorbitant’ and should be changed pronto. “The politician fails to factor in the price of real estate, taxes the five star hotel pays, and the ambience in which the tea is sold all of which is included in the price. Also, five stars are just 5-10 percent of food outlets that cater to a select clientele. They cannot be a benchmark for food and restaurant industry,” he pointed out.

Restaurateurs repeatedly say that food wastage is next to none at their outlets simply because they are in the business to encash their food creations. “We are loathe to waste our food as that eats into our bottomlines,” points out Akerkar.

Bharat Malkani, president, HRAWI & Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) points out that usually restaurant food that is unsold is stored in the refrigerators as it is good to eat or eaten by the staff. “Most restaurants give food to underprivileged in the area. There is no food wastage in restaurants. We continually upgrade our systems. Food that is jhoota, which are leftovers is turned into compost in most restaurants that have the space for it. Else, it is trashed as it cannot be eaten. What is usually left over is dal and rice. No customer pays for a paneer dish or chicken and mutton and leaves it on his plate,” says Malkani.

The industry is in talks with the Indian Institute of Technology and other experts who can solve the issue of how to dispose of food that can't be consumed at all. "We have been at it for a long time," says Malkani.

What next from the government, ask restaurateurs. “Ban alcohol in restaurants completely or fork and knives as they are not part of our culture?”

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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2017 18:27:56 IST

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