Dhaba, a word that comes to our mind when we talk about tasty and spicy food. A vast network of roads connects India. It forms the economic backbone of our great nation as passenger and commercial traffic moves along the well laid tarmac tracks. Like civilizations have evolved over time along the banks of great rivers; along the highways buzzing with traffic activity, dhabas have mushroomed. They have influenced and added a dimension to the socio-economic status and the culture of our society.
There were times when dhabas were run in isolation by a single family with a couple of servants on the roadside with nothing but a small shed but still used to be the most sought out stop for the travellers who preferred these dhabas over fancy restaurants. The reason being the tasty food offered at much lower price and a traditional blend suiting the Indian culture. These small family owned dhabas have now evolved into a much fancied business by transforming them into huge cultural parks and functioning banquets with the help of huge investments by diverse businessmen as the business opportunity is flying high as compared to times 30 years back.
With making this sector a highly organised one, this Dhaba industry has flourished in leaps and bounds.
Whether we consider Haveli of Jalandhar, Lucky Dhaba of Jalandhar, Haveli of Karnal, Bharawa da Dhaba of Amritsar or Bobby Dhaba of Bangalore all these have earned huge reputation in restaurant industry both in the terms of revenues and in terms of quality preference.
All of them started with a small wooden shed and now have transformed into huge entities and are looked upon by travellers in every tourist guide related to India. Their evolution form family sustaining entity to multi-million dollar industry is the purpose of this case study. So this case study is based upon this ever growing evolution of these dhabas.
Why are dhabas so special:- The first dhabas came into being on the fields and farms that touched the highway. Large chunks of land were levelled by some farsighted farmers who recognised the commercial worth of their properties. Also to mention the fact that the truck drivers in road transportation in Punjab are mostly Punjabis. So during freight carriage between cities or states, dhabas served as heaven for them.
1) One of the main reasons for drivers rushing to dhabas is because of the food quality in terms of spice, oil etc. 2) These roadside dhabas are open 24*7and as truck drivers’ journey can vary in the whole gamut of 24 hours a day, so there is no deadline that the drivers have to follow. 3) Also, not to forget, the open kitchen and open atmosphere that makes us forget all our problems, works as a stress buster for the drivers. 4) The cost as compared to other restaurants is also less. Moreover, you don’t have to follow any rules as how to sit, how to talk so that your presence should not make other people feel awkward. 5) In Punjab, the dhabas are mostly run by the Punjabi community, so there is this brotherhood kind of feeling that attracts every driver to the dhaba.
The dhaba owners created basic open kitchens with clay ovens and brass utensils; lanterns for light and hand fans for the summer heat were available as electrical connections were a rarity back then; hand pumps to quench the thirst, wash clothes, trucks and bathe were additional perks that attracted the weary travellers. These open eateries served close to home food with no frills attached. The menus evolved with time. Delicacies and specialties were developed. Add to it, the Punjabi songs playing on FM radio sets up the mood.
Success of Dhabas’ in other states:
As dhabas were gaining popularity in Punjab, people from other states also felt a rising want to taste dhaba food. Especially in Maharashtra, where spicy food is also listed under tasty cuisines. The Saoji community is very famous for spicy food. In Maharashtra, this community has its restaurants named as “Saoji bhojanalaya”. But considering the present scenario, these restaurants are slowly dying, and the number is decreasing rapidly. Now, people who were regular customers of Saoji bhojanalaya, were missing spicy thaalis.
This pointed to the expansion of dhabas in Maharashtra. Moreover, there were some people who wanted to move from Saoji food to some other kind for the sake of change. Also, the transport from Punjab to other states is also an important reason of expansion of dhabas. Many times, the truck drivers used to make barbecue dishes in other states, which made others wonder about the love that Punjabis had towards food. This prompted other state people to open dhabas on roadsides (especially highways, because of the high traffic of trucks). And there were also truck drivers from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, who had their transport destination as Punjab. This is how information flow took place. This was a vital reason in dhabas being set up in other states.
Well on our way to study the evolution of the business model of dhabas we studied a few famous dhabas in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Maharashtra and Delhi. As per study we tried to sort out the cuisines, ambience, cost, menu, quality, place and business model of these dhabas. What we found out was all these dhabas were Punjabi in nature will a blend of local flavours. Our observation had the following salient features- On quality basis and offerings-
1. All these dhabas serve Punjabi food as a compulsion but also offer a nice blend of local food and flavours. 2. All these were highly cost effective and cheaper than a lot of similar quality restaurants. 3. The service depends on metric basis, with most of dhabas offering quick service. 4. Some of them had trained staff in service and cooking. 5. They offer wide range of food items with mineral water and liquor. 6. Non-veg is a speciality of most of them with some totally veg. 7. Some offer free night stay on chaarpai and some charge for fancy rooms. 8. Most of the dhabas serve as restaurants but are evolving fast.
On the basis of business model- 1. Most of them are run as a family owned business and others in partnerships. 2. It was interesting to find out that most of the rich industrialists are investing heavily in these dhabas. 3. Politicians also investing positively in these dhabas. 4. The big dhabas are no more a family owned business but more of a corporate entities. 5. They appoint educated employees and have an organisational hierarchy like post of MD, Directors, Line managers and waiters. 6. They purchase supplies in bulk directly from nearby agricultural farms which makes it cheaper and cost effective. 7. Some of the dhabas own their own farms.
8. They have efficient cold storage and storage capacity. 9. Offer good quality with being cost effective. 10. Most of them have evolved to multimillion businesses. 11. They have partnerships with major transportation systems including Govt. and private sectors. 12. Major multinational conglomerates tie up with them for promotion. 13. A major chunk of their revenues come from advertisements, hoardings and other promotional measures by big companies. 14. Daimler India tie-up with dhabas is the part of official strategy of Bharat Benz for Mercedes trucks promotion. 15. Maggie tie up along with Vodafone was also in news.
16. Most of the dhabas have adapted to banquet culture and offer banquet service for weddings. 17. Some of them offer a large variety of traditional and cultural textiles and other artefacts and handicrafts as side sales. 18. Some also offer amusement parks for family picnics like lake boating.
Some of the dhabas we visited-
Chandigarh is a concept-based modern city, the capital of two north Indian states, Haryana and Punjab. What you will find, however, are the urban version of Punjab’s greatest gift to the world, the dhaba. Over time, though, they have moved into cities in and around Punjab – and some of the best are right here in Chandigarh. A caveat before you step in: Dhabas are basic eateries, with rudimentary hygiene, simple seating, boisterous atmospheres, plenty of warmth and some of the hottest, freshest food you’ll find in India. Don’t expect five-star service or air-conditioning or even alcohol.
No dhaba serves bad food, but do watch out for generous quantities of oil in the dishes. (A simple trick is to tilt the plate and drain out any fat that floats on the surface. You’ll attract a few strange looks, but your tummy will thank you for it.) And don’t miss the fennel seeds-and-sugar combination that ends every dhaba meal: The digestive will help the food go down easier. Vegetarian dishes at most of these dhabas cost less than Rs100; non-vegetarian dishes will be priced over Rs 200. The dhabas are generally open between 12.30pm and 3.30 pm for lunch and from 7 pm to 11 pm (and in some cases till midnight) for dinner.
The traditional concept of the ‘dhaba’ has unparalleled importance in the life of every trucker — nay, every traveller. It dates back to time the Grand Trunk Road came into existence, as a place where wayfarers would settle for a night’s shelter, piping hot food and a break from exhausting driving. This same rustic ‘bed and breakfast’ has now evolved, flocked to not just by travellers but also sundry customers. Who wouldn’t like to have a good time lazing around on a charpai, gulping down beer or lassi and enjoying roasted, deliciously-charred, juicy red tandoori chicken? The dhaba-themed restaurant Tim Luck Luck is strategically located in the city’s IT hub, close to the main highway.
A massive open space, its exteriors are full of props — from mini trucks to walls painted with whacky one-liners from the bumpers of our nation’s trucks. An AC section, a machaan and seating huts add to the ambience. Plentiful options on the food menu contribute to their tagline — ‘Happy restaurant for happy people’. The cuisine is predominantly Punjabi, but there are variations like Jalepeno-Mint Paneer Tikka, Kukkad Tipsy (chicken sautéed in tequila), Achaari Lobster and Brownie Malai Maarke. I settled for their Gulchan Galouti (Rs 180), Bhatti da Murgh (Rs 230), Rang de Paneer (Rs 220) and TLL Rasse Wala Meat (Rs 250) for the night.
The Gulchan Galouti is definitely a treat for vegetarians — a blend of chickpeas and an enticing masalas. The mushy texture gives it a galouti-type taste and woody-sweet nutmeg and delicate mace powder adds freshness. The Bhatti da Murgh was surprisingly cooked in foil and served on a sizzler plate — a bit of a disappointment. The portrait and description on the menu didn’t match expectations and the boneless chicken’s marinade was sour and spicy.
Amchur powder or chaat masala added pungency, and the chicken was too chewy. Their Rang De Paneer is a combination of three gravies — chutney, achari masala and red chilly masala, with typical restaurant-Punjabi flavours. If one has a craving for something succulent go for their TLL Rasse Wala Meat. There’s no thick gravy, or exorbitant overdose of whole spices but real rassewali gravy. The lamb was juicy, with bone, and every morsel of the tomato-onion curry was mildly spiced. The Lachcha paratha (Rs 35) and Jeera Chawal (Rs 130) are not really worth more than a mention. There is definitely a snag in service here that needs immediate attention.
In spite of being technically equipped to take down orders, mismanagement is evident, with only a selected few staff actually doing the rounds. I was looking for real dhaba food with rustic, homely preparations, but something was missing. Ambience and atmosphere took over over taste at some point. English sound tracks played between bhangra tracks, sure signs of a compromise — as I see it. Cosmetic efforts put in to make a luxury dhaba do attract customers and time spent here is memorable and happy. But from a food critic’s point of view, the innocence of an authentic dhaba and its real taste lies on the highway.
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