UD and the Masala Dosa

A few months back, before went on exchange, we thought of doing a survey of “delivery systems in south indian fast food (read darshini) restaurants in Bangalore”. And maybe publishing a paper on it. However, thanks to our combined laziness, it’s never happened. Nevertheless thought of writing what I’ve been observing in a few restaurants I’ve been visiting.

Upahara Darshini (UD) heralded a new paradigm in dining in Bangalore. Set up in the early 90’s, it was perhaps the first darshini in Bangalore, which till then had mostly sit-down type restaurants. During the initial few years, there was hardly any standing space there and we used to go there only to collect takeaways. Of course, I must also mention here that UD also started a new packaging funda for takeaways (using cardboard boxes) and even started charging for the packaging. And people willingly paid.

Business has always been brisk at UD. Till about a couple of years ago, they used to sell a Masala Dosa at around Rs. 10 (while it was at least 20-30% higher in other darshinis). In a survey done by the Times of India in 1998, it was found to be the restaurant with the highest daily turnover in Bangalore. It also diversified quickly, opening Roti Ghar in 98 and then the UD residency and the UD Jayanagar in the last one and a half years.

After the whole lot of dilly-dallying, let me finally come to the point I wanted to make. It is regarding the masala dosa manufacturing process at UD. In most fast food restaurants, the masala dosa is a “made to order” item. Given the fact that the dosa has to be consumed really hot for it to be tasty, and the fact that it doesn’t take too long to make, the strategy makes perfect sense.

UD, however, has totally turned the paradigm on its head and makes to stock masala dosas. The clincher here is the demand. Though UD is known more for its idlis and kadubus and the shavige bath, the masala dosa there seems so immensely popular that they can afford to make it to stock!

While waiting for my dosa the other day I noticed how the system works. There are two huge tawas at UD, one of which is dedicated for making Masala Dosa, which is the “vanilla product” while there is a used for the non-standard products such as rava dosa, set dosa, etc. And the tawa is large enough to make 24 dosas at a time (6×4). And every 5 minutes 24 dosas are churned out and quickly lapped up by hungry customers.

One process change on the customer side that the restaurant has made is the point at which the coupons are collected. Typically, in most darshinis, you hand over the coupon to the “waiter” and then wait for the dosa to be made. Here, due to the huge crowd and the continuous manufacture, the coupon is collected at the time of delivery of the dosa. Another thing is that they usually don’t accede to “special requests” such as “extra roast” or “roast only on one side” or “no red chutney” (though the last time we went my dad managed to get a dosa without the red chutney). Once again, helps in faster manufacture and delivery.

Really interesting to see such a beautiful system that these guys have evolved, all because the demand characteristics of the restaurant are so different from that of the others. Think it would be a good idea to ask an operations prof to write a case study on it.

By the way, what I described above is for the UD in Jayanagar 3rd Block. However, the same process is also followed in the UD on DVG Road (the original UD). And I must also add that the coffee at both places also rocks. At 3 bucks for the extra-large glass of strong filter coffee, it’s definitely worth more than a few visits.

PS: Some day in the next one month, I want to do a vegetarian food tour of Bangalore, and come up with a “vegetarian food tour guide to Bangalore”, similar to what Dibyo has done for not-necessarily-vegetarian food.

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