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‘Foodscapes’ in Bengaluru—Changing Patterns of Family Eating Out and Waste Generation

G. K. Karanth


The objective of this paper is to reflect upon the changing culture of eating out among middle-class households in Bengaluru. While exploring the increasing differentiation of foodscapes in the city, this study examines the notion of food waste and other waste that is generated in the course of food preparation and consumption in public places. It relates the novel patterns of food consumption outside the home with the emerging patterns of family organisation and changing food tastes. With more and more Bengalureans eating out as a way of life, as entertainment and as a means of escaping the pressures of running a kitchen in a dual/multiple-income family, food waste shifts from the home to restaurants. Using observations and interviews with consumers as well as with restaurateurs, the paper reflects on the implications of these processes in terms of waste generation and waste management.

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Several of the ideas in this case study owe their origins to several long discussions held, or field visits made, in the company of Christine Lutringer, Shalini Randeria, Suren Erkman and Marlyne Sahakian. I wish to express my sincere thanks for that collaboration. My sincere thanks also go to all the respondents. Grateful thanks are due also to many friends and colleagues: Sunayana Ganguly, Megha Shenoi, Uma Rani, and a few others preferring to remain anonymous, but who responded to a questionnaire sent through e-mails. Thanks are due also to Messrs Radhakrishna Adiga, Rajaram Maiya, Krishnamurthy, Vijay Shetty, Srikanth Karkada, Manohar Nayar, and Manoj Kumar. I take this opportunity also to thank the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) for funding the research project ‘Changing patterns, practices and policies among “new consumers” in India and the Philippines’, which gave me the opportunity to be a part of this exciting example of teamwork.

1. Introduction

  • 1 E.g. ‘Dude, I just got Bangalored! Now I'm gonna have to train on flipping burgers at McDonalds.’ O (...)

1Bangalore, or Bengaluru—as the capital city of the province of Karnataka in southern India is known today—has since the mid-1990s been referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’, the hub for business processing offices (BPOs) and/or call centres following India’s economic reforms. This expansion of business was marked by the use of a new colloquial expression—being ‘Bangalored!’1 Expanding new opportunities in the booming city initially attracted skilled migrants from within the province and neighbouring areas, but gradually also from different parts of the country. The Bengaluru urban agglomeration ranked third among India’s cities in terms of the share of migrants in the city’s population during 2011, at 13.4 per cent, topped only by the urban agglomerations of Mumbai (15.1 per cent) and Delhi (16.4 per cent) (Aritra, 2014). Among the fastest growing cities in the country, Bengaluru has also come to be known as the city of India’s middle classes, and more recently as a city experiencing significant problems in waste management. Here I examine the changing composition of the new middle class in the city, with its novel patterns of food consumption outside the home, in relation to its impact on solid waste disposal and management. How have emerging patterns of family organisation and changing food tastes influenced Bengaluru’s ‘eating-out scene’? The objective of this paper is to reflect upon the changing culture of eating out in Bengaluru, especially among middle-class households. While exploring the increasing differentiation of ‘foodscapes’ in the city, this study explores the notion of food waste and other waste that is generated in the course of food preparation and consumption in public places.

  • 2 Idli is a popular breakfast delicacy in southern India, made up of lentils and rice ground and ferm (...)

2Scholarly and popular accounts of the changing nature of food consumption patterns and the culture of eating out in Bengaluru refer to certain features of life in the city: the tech-savvy young population, the nature of work and changing lifestyles, heavy advertising of food and by the food industry, the growing number of migrants, and above all changing family and gender relationships. Multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism have radically transformed both eating and cooking habits (see Srinivas, 2006). Almost anyone interviewed in the course of this research noted that there has been an increase in the number of people claiming to be ‘foodies’, or wanting to experiment with food and be adventurous in exploring new kinds of food, while at the same time retaining a strong sense of ‘gastro-nostalgia’ for food the way it used to be cooked by one’s mother (Srinivas, 2006, 209). Thus, while exploring new places to eat and try out novel cuisines, most people also wish to return—at least once a month or fortnight, if not more frequently—for idlis in Chamarajpet, dosa in Gandhi Bazar, Mavalli or Malleswaram, or an appam with stew on a Sunday for breakfast at the Koshy’s on St. Mark’s Road.2 Maintaining a gastronomic balance between the old and the new is perhaps what drives the eating-out culture of the Silicon Valley of India.

  • 3 Since the author was born into a family that for three generations has been engaged in the business (...)
  • 4 The meeting was held on October 14, 2014 in a prominent restaurant on Richmond Road, Bengaluru. My (...)
  • 5 It was hoped that such a snowballing for potential respondents would result in a sample of over 200 (...)

3During the course of the study, all opportunities for formal and informal discussions on questions relating to food consumption in restaurants were used.3 Informal and formal interviews and focus group discussions were used to supplement my observations and notes taken in a field dairy. As part of this study, a focus group discussion was organised in a restaurant on a weekday,4 in which 14 restaurateurs took part. A short questionnaire was prepared in December 2014 and passed on to friends in the IT industry, with a request for them to share it with their friends and associates in turn.5 A total of 61 responses, largely qualitative in nature, were coded and data were entered into a worksheet of a SPSS software package. Where necessary, the responses were grouped based on their similarities and treated without prejudice to the views expressed. Where required, return e-mails were sent to the respondents for clarifications and in nearly all the cases clarifying responses were obtained. Initial e-mails had been sent to inform participants that their identities were being kept anonymous and that the data were being gathered for academic and not-for-profit purposes.

4My analysis is based on inferences drawn from the answers given in the survey and in the interviews, as well as on the results of the focus group discussions. It highlights three main factors in Bengaluru’s changing foodscapes. As suggested in the first part of this paper, food consumption practices among Bengaluru’s middle classes are not merely a reflection of changing food preferences but also correlate with changes in family patterns. While catering to an increasingly diversified clientele, the restaurant industry, which is described in greater length in the second part of this paper, has been both adapting to and shaping these new patterns of dining out. Finally, as discussed in the last part of the paper, these emerging patterns have an ambiguous impact on the waste that is generated, both in terms of leftovers and packaging.

2. Changes in Food Consumption—In and Outside the Home

5Changing family structures and gender relationships contribute significantly to changes in how food is prepared and consumed. Among India’s urban middle classes, the hearth is no longer the centre for cooking food for all members of the household and for guests. Moreover, the kitchen is no longer the domain of women alone. Traditionally the ‘man of the house’ was perceived as the ‘breadwinner’ while the woman was seen as the ‘chief provider of food’—Annapurna in Sanskrit. Not only household composition but also discourses about family and gender roles have undergone a radical transformation. Indeed, the haste in getting a young man married soon after he succeeds in securing employment away from home is mainly driven by the need to have someone ‘look after him’—meaning ‘cook for him’. The eminent Indian sociologist Professor M. N. Srinivas was perhaps one of the first to coin the expression during the early 1990s when he observed that the modern (urban) man was often now a ‘househusband’. The journey of this concept from one of shameful reference to a housebound male to the sharing or taking over of household tasks—from child rearing and cleaning to cooking—speaks volumes about social change in the urban Indian middle-class family. Today, apart from paid employment, parents and especially mothers have the added responsibility of being the informal tutor of children at home, helping them with the ‘homework’ assigned at school each day, and of transporting them back and forth from school and special coaching centres. This is especially true in cities like Bengaluru, in which the ‘aspiration’ to social mobility of the children of middle-class parents is a compelling priority (e.g. Aradhaya, 2008). In Bengaluru, one observes that with the increasing numbers of dual-working couples, the responsibility of cooking is no longer that of the woman alone. Cooking at home has turned into a joint venture, with a changing division of labour in the household. Women are not considered solely responsible for the kitchen, shopping and cooking anymore. As one father pointed out, ‘it is not just the changed roles that keep me in the kitchen. The children insist that I prepare their breakfast or dinner!’

  • 6 A glimpse of the attractive booklets on the counters of Karnataka Tourism at the airport or train s (...)

6A key reason for cooking less at home is the time constraints experienced by parents. This is due not only to children’s tight school schedules and the timing of extra-curricular activities, but also to the need to synchronise these with the parents’ demanding work routines, the long distances involved, and the extended travelling times due to heavy traffic in the city—hence the need to depend upon restaurants for a quick breakfast or a varied evening meal. Eating out is no longer a weekend or holiday event, as couples or young families begin to frequent restaurants regularly or order food in. Eating out is much more common in middle-class dual-income families during the working week. While eating out used to be the prerogative of urban men, going to restaurants or cafés has thus become a family matter. Instead of the pattern of eating out at weekends and holidays, which was the case in the past, families today often prefer to eat at home on those days as these are among the few occasions when everyone is at home and can enjoy a meal together. According to my respondents, the age composition of the family also informs the choice of where to eat out. The culture of eating out reflects a changing gendered division of labour in middle-class households. Changes in gender relations are also visible at restaurants—be it at one of the outlets in the ‘food streets’ of Bengaluru that are now becoming important tourist attractions6 or in the absence of sign-boards in restaurants that in the past demarcated segregated spaces ‘for women only’ or ‘families only’.

7Changes both in household practices and in working patterns influence the frequency of eating out. In particular, the frequency of eating out is positively correlated with income and distance to work. Overall, the changes in the composition of the city’s population and in households lead to more eating out. Three main phenomena observed in my sample can be related to the significance of the IT and service industry in Bengaluru: the availability of more disposable income, the increasing numbers of single-person households unable or unwilling to cook (e.g. those renting rooms with a family as paying guests (PG) and thus often without kitchen access), and migrants looking for regional cuisines. Caste, region or religion are no longer good predictors of culinary tastes and food preferences or taboos. A major change in food practices in the city is the growing demand for food from other regions of India or cuisine from abroad. My survey data indicate the nature and extent of some of these changes.

Table 1. Length of migration and reported change in food habits (in %)

Migrant since

Extent of change in food habits

Total (no.)

Little or no change

(No change,


Moderate change


Substantial change

(Over 75%)





Less than 2 years




2 to 5 years




5.01 to 10 years





Over 10 years








Total (no.)





Note: Respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they perceived their food habits had changed. Response categories were: No change, 10-25%, 25.1-50%, 50-75%, and over 75%. These categories have been combined and categorised above. Figures in parentheses are numbers; the remainder are percentages.

Source: Author.

8Out of the 61 respondents, the majority had migrated to the city: 39 per cent from within Karnataka but outside Bengaluru and 46 per cent from outside the state. A quarter of local respondents reported no changes in their food habits, which is contrary to the reputation that Bengalureans have come to enjoy. Length of migration does indeed seem to affect food habits, as more and more migrants report changes corresponding to the length of their stay in the city (Table 1).

Table 2: Accounting for change in food habits (in %)

Per cent reporting a change in food habits


Of which, change due to:


Influence of the workplace


Health considerations


Children’s food demands*


Spouse’s food tastes*


Neighbours’ influence




International exposure


Availability in shops/stores




Patterns of eating out


Note: * corresponds only to applicable cases, omitting single persons and couples without children.

Source: Author.

  • 7 On the question of how migration affects food consumption see Codesal (2010).

9 Migration into the city by people from different parts of the country has not only facilitated the ‘diversity’ of the cuisine, it has also contributed to what may be labelled as ‘rediscovery of the territoriality of food’a return to food items the way mother made them, with the difference that these are now being made away from home.7 At the same time, the population at large is not merely ‘going out to eat’; it brings home food from elsewhere too. With Table 2, an attempt has been made to highlight how the respondents account for changes in their dietary habits. Two factors are significant in this respect: the influence of the workplace (85 per cent) and patterns of eating out (84 per cent). One could argue that people’s changed culinary preferences motivate dining out at a variety of restaurants. But one may also interpret it as showing the reverse causality: eating out leading to a greater diversity in food tastes. To substantiate this interpretation, I have data that point to these practices:

Decreasing frequency of cooking food in the house:

Not applicable

20.0 per cent

Once for the whole day

33.0 per cent

Two times

31.0 per cent

Three times

16.0 per cent

Eating out more frequently:

1072 per cent of respondents do not take any food from home to the workplace, but visit restaurants for lunch.

1171 per cent reported that their spouse also does not take any food to the workplace.

Willingness to explore and be adventurous with food:

1285 per cent describe themselves as ‘foodies’.

1382 per cent as being adventurous with food.

14An important aspect that emerges from my study is that the changing food culture of Bengaluru seems to be as much marked by nostalgia for tradition as by a desire for culinary adventure (see also Ganguly, 2017, this issue). Scholarship has begun to focus increasingly on this attachment to the local, while people are also being drawn to ‘global cuisines’ (cf. De La Peña and Lawrance, 2011 and the different essays in this issue). Madsen and Gardella (2012, 98) quote Iversen and Raghavendra (2006), who point to the pride with which the proprietor of the famed restaurant Udipi Krishna Bhavan claims that his customers praise him for maintaining the taste of the dishes unchanged over decades. ‘Most of us thus return to our gastronomic homes at these restaurants, while also exploring the new and varied in other restaurants’, remarked one respondent who claims to be an ‘incorrigible foodie’, and an ‘inquisitive gastronomic explorer’.

15Merely 7 per cent of respondents said that they eat out at the same place and hardly patronise new restaurants. And 36 per cent claim to visit favourite restaurants ‘quite frequently’ as opposed to about 28 per cent who do so at least ‘once a month’, and another 21 per cent who go back to the same restaurant at least every two to three months.

Table 3: How often the same restaurant is visited (in %)

Not applicable


Once a month


Once every two to three months


Usually eat in the same place


Cannot say


Quite frequently


Total (no.)


Note: Figure in parentheses is a number; the remainder are percentages of the total sample.

Source: Author.

16Over 90 per cent of respondents are keen to explore new eating places and please the various members of the household. Spouses and children dictate the choice of venue as much as individuals’ own preferences or those of colleagues, friends or relatives. Middle-class Bengalureans regularly eat at restaurants and try out new cuisines. At the famous ‘food streets’ in Bengaluru, many of the ‘foodies’ are busy explaining the ingredients and modes of preparation of various dishes, while others eagerly seek such information. Eating out seems to have become a status symbol for many. The city is full of young people eager to explore and discover new types of cuisine and novel dishes, and immediately post their culinary adventures on social media—Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc.

17Another interesting change that propels more frequent restaurant dining is a new taste for a variety of food and the demand to cook different things for various family members. This pressure often leads to a family eating out or ordering food home delivery. My data show that the size of the household correlates to the extent to which respondents regularly avail themselves of home delivery or takeaway food.

Table 4: Size of household and practice of ordering food for home delivery (in %)


Size of household

Order food home


Total (no.)









PG accommodation





Two persons










5 or more









Total (no.)





Note: Figures in parentheses are numbers; the remainder are percentages.

Source: Author.

18 Single- or dual-member households (and those renting rooms with a family as paying guests) are much more likely to order food home. Two-person households or childless couples (14 respondents) do not bring packed food home but eat out in a restaurant or ‘order’ food to be delivered at home. Six respondents (10 per cent) reported that they do not order food home or bring food home from restaurants. However, considering the growth of e-commerce in the food service industry and the expanding numbers of those buying home-delivered and takeaway food, there is a gradual decline in the numbers of those who insist on eating out rather than bringing restaurant food home. Speaking to a few restaurateurs in Bengaluru—especially owners of ‘quick-service’ vegetarian restaurants—revealed the extent to which the ‘parcel order segment’ is a growing part of their business. Some had a dedicated workforce, reinforced during peak hours, to manage the increasing volume of ‘takeaway’ orders, which they refer to as ‘parcel orders’.

  • 8 In southern India a tiffin is usually consumed as a snack between meals, and can for example be dos (...)

19Traditionally, many Bengaluru households had a weekend and holiday breakfast ritual of bringing a ‘tiffin parcel’8 from a couple of well-known restaurants in their own neighbourhood or even from further afield in the city. Customary takeaway orders in such restaurants are so invariant there is hardly a change in the menu, the orders or the numbers. Spoken orders at these restaurants take the form of: ‘The usual for our old plastic containers!’ or ‘Two dosas and vada extra for Jayanagar 4th Block Express; daughter and son-in-law must have come home for the festival tomorrow!’ Often special groups of friends form through so repeatedly being sit-in customers, but also while placing takeaway food orders. Sunday mornings at Veena Stores or CTR in Malleswaram, Udupi Krishna Bhavan in Old Town Balepet, at the Hotel Janardhan near the race course in Bengaluru, or Koshy’s on St. Mark’s Road are meeting points and places at which to catch up with each other’s news. Since some food is only cooked and sold at certain times, it is not uncommon for the restaurateurs to receive a phone call from regular customers requesting it be packed and set aside if they are held up in the heavy Sunday traffic. Boards display messages like ‘No telephone orders to book tables or food items!’

20Social class and status obviously play a key role in determining not only what one eats, but where. Unless eating from pushcarts or roadside eateries has become a status symbol, most ‘well-to-do’ foodies in Bengaluru avoid patronising them. The common perception of such eating places is that they are meant for ‘workers’ and the poor. They are also seen as being patronised more by certain occupational groups: auto-rickshaw (three-wheeler passenger vehicles) and taxi drivers, menial and construction labourers, and roadside and mobile fruit and vegetable vendors. Over 90 per cent of respondents in my study reported that they placed orders for home deliveries of food from restaurants of their choice, by phone or online. About 16 per cent not only placed such orders, they also brought back packed food for other family members from the restaurants that they frequented for their own dining. Referring to the new variety of ways of ordering online and ‘à la carte’, one of the respondents in the study beamed with joy, saying:

I can sit at home and eat out. I can enjoy food from an assortment of restaurants. This way, I gain by avoiding the worsening traffic, the hassle of reserving a table and/or queuing up before finding a table at the restaurant, but above all, happily get a cocktail of Bengaluru’s best on one plate in one go.

21Her husband was quick to add:

‘This way, I can keep all the competing members of my family happy, rather than be a witness to bargain and counter bargain over the decision of which restaurant to go to on a particular occasion. One wants Chinese, the other wants chitranna or biryani, and the only place where all these are available is a pushcart. People would laugh if I was found going there to eat!’

3. The ‘Eating-Out’ Scene

  • 9 Local breeds of chicken, as opposed to the broiler variety.

22Today in Bengaluru, places to eat out range from ordinary pushcarts or mobile food vans (these serve biryani, dosa, Chinese noodles, rice and sambar or mudde (millet ball)-sambar) to individual restaurants of all kinds, as well as special lounges in expensive five-star hotels. One should also not forget exclusive food floors in multi-storey shopping malls, supermarkets and departmental stores, devoted to providing a range of outlets in ‘food courts’. While sophisticated ‘fine dining’ restaurants offer a wide choice of national and foreign cuisines, food courts house their cheaper, fast-food or self-service versions: Italian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese and Japanese foods jostle with cuisines from other regions of India (e.g. Rajasthani, Gujarati, Punjabi, Andhra, Bengali, Kashmiri, Goan or Maharastrian food). In addition, some outlets cater to the taste buds of people from within the province of Karnataka but from different regions: restaurants serving coastal food that boast of special fish or rice preparations; old Mysorean restaurants that invite customers to sample steaming ragi (millet) balls, country-chicken9 curry to dip the balls into and kaalu soup (lamb’s leg soup); along with northern Karnataka food points specialising in jowar rotis (sorghum bread) with aubergine stew and red-chilli chutney. A conversation with owners of ethnic food establishments indicates that their main customers are those from other regions or ethnic groups. Correspondingly, it is claimed that it is the migrants who have given new respectability to idli, dosa, vada and kharabhaths.

23A hallmark of modernity in contemporary India has been cosmopolitanism in food consumption (Appadurai, 1988). And there was ready agreement in this respect too among the participants in the focus group discussion, who reminded each other how, a couple of years ago, it was common to sneer at local delicacies, not merely among the migrants but also the then upwardly mobile educated young people of Bengaluru. Here is what one restaurateur had to say:

  • 10 In popular usage, the term ‘hotel’ is meant to refer to a restaurant. The terms ‘hotel’, ‘restauran (...)

The mid-1970s and early 1980s was when Bengaluru began to witness the widespread popularity of what people call ‘junk food’. Then there was the entry of KFC and the like, and of Chinese noodles and gobi manchuri, and the further popularity of chaat food items like bhel puri, pani puri, dahi puri, etc. Many of us began to introduce these and many northern Indian food items into our menus, and were even compelled to withdraw several typical southern Indian delicacies from the menu in the evenings. Many of us had to modify the layout of our business premises to accommodate a separate counter for these chaat and other junk food items. It took some years to bring back the southern Indian menu round the clock. Even today, every part of Bengaluru has a special hotel10 that has gained the reputation for being authentic southern Indian. Many of them compete to win the prize of being among the top ten at different food festivals.

24But one participant was quick to point out the shutting down of a branch of the historic restaurant Updupi Krishna Bhavan in the new commercial and residential hub of Bengaluru’s ‘glocal’ face, Koramangala. Today, the place has been rented out as a pub. Bengaluru’s foodies have demonstrated that they are at home with the new and the old, with the local and that from elsewhere. There has been a steady invention of new so-called global flavours and names in Bengaluru restaurants (e.g. ‘San Francisco’, ‘Cable Car’, ‘Fava’, ‘Chutney Chang’, or ‘Japanese Edo’), many of which are also parts of restaurant chains. At the same time, there is also a trend towards the ‘local’ that promises to serve patrons food the way mother cooked it—‘Amma’s Ice Creams’ (ice cream as mother made it), ‘Halli Mane’ (the village house), ‘Namma Ura Thindi’ (tiffin back from our place), ‘Ambur Donne Biryani’ (biryani from Ambur in a leaf cup), and ‘Village: The Soul of India’, to name but a few. The last few also offer the ambience of a typical northern Indian village, with a touch of irony: a cowshed, a tractor under repair, a pawn shop, etc. In some restaurants, menus now not only appeal to your palate, but also to your cultural moorings and emotional soft spots.

25During the focus group discussion, a third-generation restaurateur with a successful restaurant, presently in his late 50s, told how there is a recognition of the fact that tastes and preferences keep changing. This change is not necessarily only in respect of what people want to eat, but also of how each of food item should taste:

  • 11 Food is surrounded by many a ritualistic taboo. Many so-called high-caste Indians do not eat onions (...)

Take for example the blend of sweetness in our spicy dishes. Adding a little of sweet to pungent sambar was customary, but this was by adding a pinch of sweet and not by saturating the dish of sambar with jaggary or sugar! This applies to adding flavours of garlic. There are dishes that go well with garlic and dishes that simply cannot blend with it. But over the years, the profile of Bengaluru’s hotel-goers has transformed thanks to their travels, interaction with people from other regions and nations, inter-caste commensality, health consciousness and so on; their preferences have changed. They now demand sweetness in spicy sambar, dahi-vada to be sweet as in Maharastra or elsewhere in northern India, or garlic in rasam or dosa! Consequently, I lose quite a growing number of diabetics as customers for my idli sambar, and the persistently orthodox customers who refuse to have garlic in their diet, especially on days when it is taboo.11 In the process, by pleasing the new customers, I lose my old ones, or by pleasing the old ones, I will fail to attract the newer crowds to my restaurant.

26A key issue highlighted by the participants in the focus group discussion pertained to the challenge of maintaining standards and responding to change. For those restaurateurs who have entered or remained in the field with a passion for the profession, the future seems uncertain and alien to their traditions. By contrast, for those entering the field anew there is a sense of adventure and an enjoyment of the challenge of taking the eating-out industry into a new era. Bengaluru has recently also acquired the reputation for being a ‘paradise for eating out’ and a paradise for foodies as well as for food entrepreneurs (Kashi, 2015). The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) estimates the restaurant industry to be worth over USD 48 billion and to be growing due to the rapidly expanding ‘eating-out’ economy in India (Economic Times, 2016).

  • 12 According to National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), Government of I (...)

27An NRAI study released in October 2016, reports that families in Bengaluru dine out at least 7–8 times a month, spending an average equivalent of USD 85.24 to USD 89.11 every month (Times of India, 2016). The India Food Service Report 2016 presents interesting data (Times of India, 2016): Bengaluru is the fourth largest food services market after Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. The food service industry in Bengaluru provides employment to about 210,000 people. Compared to Delhi and Mumbai, Bengaluru has a larger organised, stand-alone eateries sector: its unorganised12 sector contributes only 32.9 per cent of food services market compared to more than 55 per cent in Delhi and Mumbai (Times of India, 2016).

  • 13 On the question of lunch boxes and Dabbawalas, a long-existing practice in Mumbai, see Patel and Ve (...)
  • 14 The delivery workers in food industry are all, to the best of my knowledge, males; hence the expres (...)

28The new culture of eating out in Bengaluru, as in India in general, includes an expansion of e-commerce in the food service industry. What was initially a home-delivery service offered by a range of modern and/or MNC pizza restaurants (e.g., Pizza Hut, Dominos) is gradually spreading to many other traditional restaurants. Today, Bengaluru has a whole range of restaurants that deliver food to the customer’s doorstep, having received orders on the phone or on-line. The expanding restaurant industry in Bengaluru is beginning to contemplate venturing into this as a ‘start-up’. The proprietor of Brahmin’s Tiffin Room in Chamarajpet shared his plans in the course of our interview. Having already successfully established a chain of restaurants in about nine different locations across the city with a centralised and mechanised kitchen to save on labour costs at each of his outlets, to minimise food waste, and above all to maintain uniformity of taste across all branches, he now plans to introduce what he calls ‘Hotel Dabba’, meaning the box from hotel. He has entered into a contract with a manufacturer to make large ‘lunch boxes’ for this purpose, boxes that will keep food warm.13 He now plans to begin serving lunch to employees in corporate offices, and in software and business processing offices (BPOs) across the city. Each customer will be able to pick his or her meal individually from a large menu to suit his or her own tastes. Delivery boys14 will be assigned to pick up the boxes too, and boxes will be centrally washed and waste (if any) will be gathered and recycled centrally. This well-thought-out plan keeps both business and waste management concerns in focus and adapts food delivery to changing family and work patterns in Bengaluru, where—according to the gentleman in question—the modern household is becoming a mere dwelling unit in which cooking food has the lowest priority. With wives and daughters now spending more time away from home in work or education (if not away from the home for other pursuits), the kitchen is deserted. Men who have increasingly taken to cooking do it more as a hobby than a daily routine. The lunch dabba from his restaurant will provide an alternative to men and women who would like to leave the home early for work in order to avoid traffic jams. The dabba can be ordered to arrive at the offices of the working couple, and to be delivered to the child(ren) in school too.

29Another recent development is the arrival of so-called ‘online exchanges’, from which one can order an assortment of food items picked from a range of participating restaurants. Each of these may be located at some distance from the next, and it may not be possible for a customer, or a group of customers, to go to each restaurant for a different dish of their choice for one given meal. A family or a group of customers can now order food by phone or online for home delivery from several restaurants, thus allowing for a combination of cuisines catering to various tastes at one sitting: a masala dosa from the famed MTR or Vidyarthi Bhavan at Basavanagudi, steaming idlis and vada from the Brahmin’s Tiffin Room in Chamarajpet, a rava vada and special khali dosa from the Dwaraka in Narasimharaja Colony or CTR in Malleswaram, kharabhath or chow chow bath from the crowded Veena Stores also in Malleswaram, and a coffee or tea from any of these if not from a ‘one-by-two’ chain of restaurants. Of course, one could include a non-vegetarian dish too from another restaurant included in this scheme.

  • 15 Leftover food as well as used plates and mugs were traditionally considered impure, and contact wit (...)

30 In at least one way, restaurants have come full circle over the past four or five decades. It was, in the past, not uncommon for most restaurants, especially the smaller ones with only four to six tables (each could seat about four to six customers), to recruit a worker first as a so-called parcel supplier. He, usually a male child labourer in those days, had to deliver food, coffee or tea to shops and offices nearby. In due course, that person would be ‘promoted’ to wait on customers visiting the restaurant. To be sent again to deliver a parcel order was considered a fall in status. Since the mid-1970s, there has been an acute labour shortage especially in the restaurant industry. This is largely due to a growing curb on child labour, improved educational opportunities and improved employment opportunities in other sectors, but also to the improved economic conditions in rural areas brought about by a variety of rural development initiatives, most notably land reforms. The low status associated with carrying food for delivery, and more importantly carrying back the used plates,15 was also once a major deterrent with regard to a restaurant accepting parcel orders. Consequently, restaurants began to make it a policy that ‘parcel orders shall not be entertained’. In most restaurants, the customer seeking parcelled food had to pay a deposit to the restaurateur and carry the utensils and food him- or herself, returning the used utensils later. This deposit would be refunded once plates and mugs were returned. Recently parcel orders have been revived, but with major changes. Those delivering now cover larger tracts of the city; they ride a motorcycle or drive a van to deliver food and beverages and are given fancy titles like ‘Delivery Officer’ or ‘Delivery Executive’. They may even receive a more generous tip than those waiting upon tables in restaurants. In fact, workers often prefer to be delivery personnel today.

4. Eating Out and the Question of Waste

31Whenever I presented my research project to restaurant owners or their customers, the question of waste came up repeatedly. Interestingly, as Evans et al. (2013, 5) note,

Despite a number of interesting developments in ‘waste scholarship’, these have yet to be extended to analyses of food. Concomitantly, although sociological engagement with food is now extensive, it has barely begun to attend to waste. Third, and more broadly, the issue of waste – and food waste in particular – is one that is rapidly gaining traction in the realms of policy and regulation, cultural politics and environmental debate.

32In the survey carried out among a sample of IT professionals, I had asked respondents about the reasons for wastage of food in restaurants. According to the respondents, food ordered there is wasted for a variety of reasons: uncoordinated group orders, an inability to assess quantities when ordering, etiquette requiring hosts to order more food than needed in order to appear generous in front of guests, avoiding to be rude by asking guests or fellow diners not to waste food by ordering in excess of what they can eat, and the fact that expressing environmental concerns is seen as being politically incorrect when ordering food. At buffets, customers tend to fill their plates far in excess of what they can and do consume. In most restaurants that propose a buffet, there are notices reminding diners of the importance of not wasting precious food.

Table 5: Food waste and eating out (in %)

In answer to the question: ‘Do you waste food when eating out?’

Yes, most of the time


Sometimes, yes




Brought home in a ‘doggy bag’


Total (no.)


Note: Figure in parentheses is a number; the remainder are percentages of the total sample.

Source: Author.

33In all, 53 per cent of respondents admitted to wasting food ordered in restaurants, though most of these thought this to be an exception rather than the rule. Only 10 per cent thought that ordered food was always likely to be wasted in restaurants. About 10 per cent brought home leftovers from restaurants in ‘doggy bags’, though often this meant that the food still went uneaten and was thrown away at home rather than at the restaurant itself.

Table 6: Extent of food waste reduction in the home due to eating out (in %)

Less than 10 per cent


About 25 per cent


Cannot say


Total (no.)


Note: Figure in parentheses is a number; the remainder are percentages of the total sample.

Source: Author.

34The second question that I posed asked respondents to assess the extent to which food waste was reduced due to eating out. The fact that nearly 38 per cent of respondents could not make an informed guess as to this figure is itself an indication of a lack of concern about waste generation in the home or in restaurants as well as an inability in general to quantify waste—food or other types—produced at home. About 56 per cent of respondents estimated waste reduction to be moderate, at less than 10 per cent.

  • 16 At the prevailing rate of exchange (26 Sept 2017) this is USD 7.70.

35 How do restaurateurs perceive the relationship between eating out and waste? Focus group discussions and individual interviews highlighted various aspects of the issue. In the past when Bengaluru was much less urban, far more cattle were living in the city than is the case now, and cattle breeders used to visit restaurants a couple of times a day to pick up baskets or buckets of food waste. This also included water leftover after cooking rice and vegetables, vegetable peel, and other waste. The Kannada word for this particular type of waste water is kalagacchu, a liquid that also contains food waste from the plates of customers and from the kitchen. Cowherds who supplied milk to a restaurant had a customary gratis right to this concoction. It was not uncommon for some of them to bring their milch cattle to the rear entrances of restaurants to feed them this water/food waste mix. With rapid urbanisation and a decline in the number of cattle situated in the city, this practice has all but disappeared. In some peripheral parts of the city that border on open spaces, restaurant food waste is collected by pig breeders. But as one woman food entrepreneur in Koramangala pointed out, she has to arrange to have the huge container ready at a pre-designated time and place in order for it to be loaded onto to a pickup. This means that she has to pay one of her employees extra to do this at 3 or 4 a.m. When this waste collection takes place. If waste containers are placed in public spaces prior to collection, they attract stray dogs that strew the waste around, and the neighbours tend to complain about dirt and noise pollution. Like other restaurants in the locality, she has to pay INR50016 every month to have one container, with a capacity of about 250 litres, collected every day.

36What is the situation regarding the removal and handling of waste by bulk wet waste producers such as restaurants, hotels and wedding halls in Bengaluru? First, it is burdened by the existence of multiple systems. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) (Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation) has made arrangements for private entrepreneurs to pick up the waste brought to several collection points throughout the city. Male and female workers hired for the purpose wheel garbage carts by hand, or drive little ‘luggage vans’, through the streets of Bengaluru collecting waste, in principle segregated as wet or dry. The waste generators consist of individual households and others, including restaurants. The aforementioned private entrepreneurs have a fleet of garbage trucks into which the waste is loaded from the assigned locations—all is taken to the outskirts of the city for dumping. These much-debated waste dumping sites have become another issue of conflict because people living around such sites have engaged in protests, but the civic authorities have not found a peaceful or acceptable alternative.

37Most restaurateurs, however, describe their feeling of helplessness. The Bruhat Bengaluru Hotels Association in Bengaluru, a registered body to promote their interests, has been given a plot of land for the purpose of waste processing. A well-known firm has been retained for this purpose, and the firm levies a nominal price to remove waste from the restaurants and transport it to the processing site. Once at its destination, the waste is treated so as to generate gas for cooking and lighting, and is sold in turn to bulk consumers. The residue is converted into manure and sold in packets to farmers through the firm’s own outlets. But there is a catch—the aforementioned private entrepreneurs (the transporters, especially) who are responsible for collecting wastes from other waste generators obstruct the collection and transportation of segregated waste carried out by the firm engaged by the Hotel Owners’ Association. The restaurateurs face the wrath of the private contractors, who have the support of the elected representatives of the BBMP (referred to as ‘corporators’) and their henchmen. It is often alleged that most corporators themselves are private contractors. Consequently, the firm hired by the association is facing supply problems while the private transport contractors continue to dump the segregated waste together. The civic administration has yet to wake up to the impending crisis. It now insists—in accordance with a new law—that waste is segregated. However, the most common complaint made by residents and restaurateurs alike is that even if they organise waste to be segregated into wet and dry and recyclable and decomposable waste, those handling the waste during subsequent stages do not follow the requisite procedures. Segregated waste is dumped together, and all the trouble taken to segregate it in the first place is wasted effort. Restaurateurs recall that their industry has faced many hardships over the years: the 1960s and 1970s were an era of food rationing and trade unionism; in the 1970s, during the national emergency (when most democratic rights were suspended), the state fixed the quantity of rice served per plate along with its price; from the 1980s onwards there was the rising cost of food, the non-availability of labour, changing food habits, etc. But, they warn, the biggest crisis of all is likely, in the coming years, to be around the handling of waste. The problem of the urban waste management system is that much waste goes into landfills instead of being assigned to other, more sustainable means of handling waste (see UNHSP, 2010, 52-53).

38 The group of restaurateurs interviewed were of the opinion that the solution to Bengaluru’s restaurant waste management problem lies in micro-management rather than in large-scale plans. Some were pessimistic about the success of programmes by which land is allotted by the state and local communities to be used for waste handling. Local resistance to such plants is driven by two main factors: on the one hand, the belief that waste processing plants will be unhygienic and that the waste will be dumped unprocessed, and on the other, the negative impact of such sites on property values in the area. There was a diffuse scepticism regarding the few organic waste processing and composting plants that operate on a public–private partnership (PPP) model. Most suspect a lack of waste segregation and an insufficient demand for compost.

39Given the tendency for municipally collected waste to remain unsegregated, or for wet and dry waste to be dumped together after collection, the restaurateurs believe that the culture of eating out, as it is emerging and spreading in Bengaluru (as well as in other urban areas), can contribute to the better management of wet waste. For restaurateurs are, by law, required to segregate waste and to be responsible for its appropriate removal. Some restaurants (apparently less than five per cent of all those in the business) have begun to make their own arrangements for waste handling. Within the limited spaces of their premises, they have started to install small units for recycling waste and processing it to generate biogas, compost and energy for lighting. Several NGOs and other civil society organisations (CSOs) promote simple and affordable technology along these lines (see Picture 1). As shown by Ganguly and Lutringer (2017, this issue) and Lutringer and Randeria (2017, this issue), the role of CSOs in providing decentralised solutions for waste handling has become increasingly important in the last ten years in Bengaluru, and has contributed to shaping the policy of Bengaluru’s municipal corporation with regard to waste handling.

Picture 1: Publicising affordable technology for waste management

Picture 1: Publicising affordable technology for waste management

Source: Author.

40 A reflection on the material implications of the abovementioned eating patterns for solid and wet waste seems important here. In particular, non-food waste has increased significantly in the form of plates or containers used both on the premises of the restaurants and to take ordered food away (see Pictures 2 and 3). Two or three decades ago most restaurants in southern India—including in Karnataka and Bengaluru—used old newspapers and fresh or dry plantain leaves or the leaf of bastard teak (muttuga) to pack food. In fact, it was not uncommon for restaurants to serve food on plates made of stitched-together layers of small pieces of plantain or other leaves. Such plates also met ritual requirements for many an upper-caste customer for whom a plate used by others, even once washed using detergent, did not qualify as ritually pure or non-polluting. A plantain or muttuga leaf plate was seen as pure and was thrown away after the meal. Given the aforementioned labour shortage and time constraints and the extra waste created by these plates, the practice of using leaf plates is almost extinct. Instead, rectangular plastic sheets, thin cardboard boxes and plastic or tinfoil pouches or containers are now used to pack food.

Picture 2: Takeaway containers and plastic waste

Picture 2: Takeaway containers and plastic waste

Source: Author.

Picture 3: Plantain leaves (background), and plastic plates being lined with plastic sheets

Picture 3: Plantain leaves (background), and plastic plates being lined with plastic sheets

Source: Author.

41When observing the practice of preparing the food ordered by customers to take away, the type and quantity of packaging that is generated deserves some comment. In the first place, one needs to make a distinction between fast food or quick-service restaurants and other restaurants. In fast-food restaurants, paper or plastic tokens with pre-assigned numbers are issued to the customers, who may then order food to be eaten in the restaurant while they wait for their parcel orders for carrying home are made ready. In these types of orders, the parcel or packaging is standardised and no customer would take in his or her own containers. Special counters where customers can pick up their parcel orders are also often found in regular restaurants, as the bearers/waiters/suppliers serving the ‘eating in’ customers usually do not accept parcel orders. Restaurants charge extra for each item of food packed and taken away. Often restaurants require that patrons bring their own containers, bags and boxes in order to contribute to the protection of the environment. Display boards explaining this policy are to be found on restaurant premises, but also in public places (see Picture 4). My study suggests, therefore, an interesting point with respect to ordering food for home delivery and bringing home packed food: although this practice entails the generation of a substantial amount of packaging waste, some incentives to reduce that waste for the sake of environmental sustainability can also be observed in Bengaluru’s eating-out scene. In this perspective, collective initiatives, such as those of the Greater Bengaluru Association of Restaurateurs, assume particular significance and should be developed in liaison with the larger policy of solid waste management. Interestingly, while the notion of reducing waste is not the subject of any focus by municipal authorities (see Lutringer and Randeria, 2017, this issue), restaurant owners, associations and customers seem to be increasingly aware of the problem generated by waste and of certain opportunities, with regard to their own practices, to contribute to its reduction.

Picture 4: An appeal launched by the Greater Bengaluru Association of Restaurateurs

Picture 4: An appeal launched by the Greater Bengaluru Association of Restaurateurs

Source: Author.

5. Towards a Conclusion

42Bengaluru, the Silicon Valley of India and its ‘globalised face’, is an appropriate setting in which to trace some of the changes taking place in family and household composition as well as in work patterns and gender roles. These impact culinary tastes and the culture of eating out, both of which have an effect on the generation and disposal of food waste. An interesting feature of the new middle class in Bengaluru is that it is defined less by occupation or income, and much more by consumption patterns. Dual-earning families and those with multiple pay cheques go out to eat—not only because they need a break from ‘eating out’ as part of their work (business lunches and dinners) but not in each other’s company, or to give a break to the main person (male or female) responsible for cooking at home, but also to meet the diverse desires of the taste buds of household members.

43These patterns are reflected in the enormous differentiation of the eating-out scene in the city, from global to regional specialities, which meet and create the demand for new tastes. On the question of waste, my respondents among restaurateurs perceive that the macro-management of waste in the food service industry would be unlikely to be a workable solution in the long run given the failure of solid waste management practices hitherto. Instead, they believed that the solution will lie in micro-waste management enterprises at the unit level (restaurants) or in cooperation among a group of bulk waste producers for mutual benefit. In the absence of widespread civic participation in regulating waste generation, segregation and disposal, some perceive the increased frequency of eating out as a possible solution to the waste crisis in Bengaluru. Restaurants could be prevailed upon, more easily than could families, to make sustainable arrangements to manage the waste generated on the premises. With more and more Bengalureans eating out as a way of life, as entertainment and as a means of escaping the pressures of running a kitchen in dual/multiple-income families, food waste shifts from the home to restaurants. The quantity of household wet and food waste is reduced considerably in the process. However, at the same time there is an increase in another type of waste generated by eating out, as the packaging of takeaway or home-delivered food creates significant problems of disposal. If waste segregation and disposal regulations were to be followed, the shift in food waste to restaurants could be an opportunity to manage bulk waste better. With e-commerce in the food service sector expanding rapidly, it may be time to regulate the food packaging industry and restaurants in an attempt to manage food and packaging waste better.

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1 E.g. ‘Dude, I just got Bangalored! Now I'm gonna have to train on flipping burgers at McDonalds.’ One is Bangalored when one loses one’s employment because the position was outsourced to an offshore company in Bangalore. See (accessed on 3 August 2014).

2 Idli is a popular breakfast delicacy in southern India, made up of lentils and rice ground and fermented overnight. Steam cooked, it is salty and sour in taste and is eaten with coconut chutney and/or Sambar. Dosa is made of lentil and rice paste. Stored overnight and prepared on a pan, it looks more like a thin American pancake. Appam is another type of southern Indian pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk.

3 Since the author was born into a family that for three generations has been engaged in the business of restaurants, some of his auto-ethnographic perspective forms the background to this study.

4 The meeting was held on October 14, 2014 in a prominent restaurant on Richmond Road, Bengaluru. My grateful thanks to Mr. Arun Kumar of the famed Vidyarthi Bhavan for facilitating this meeting, though he could not attend it.

5 It was hoped that such a snowballing for potential respondents would result in a sample of over 200 and that the initial e-mail to about 15 persons would result in its multiplication by two to three times with tapering numbers at each successive round. A little less than 100 responded, and a review of the responses revealed that only 61 could be accepted as respondents. It should be clarified that the ‘non-acceptance’ of about 36 response e-mails was due to i) incompleteness of their responses, ii) evidence of the respondent missing the point completely and providing information irrelevant to the questions asked, iii) unmanageable internal inconsistency in responses and iv) responses indicating an inability to participate in the survey.

6 A glimpse of the attractive booklets on the counters of Karnataka Tourism at the airport or train stations is an indication of this.

7 On the question of how migration affects food consumption see Codesal (2010).

8 In southern India a tiffin is usually consumed as a snack between meals, and can for example be dosas or idlis.

9 Local breeds of chicken, as opposed to the broiler variety.

10 In popular usage, the term ‘hotel’ is meant to refer to a restaurant. The terms ‘hotel’, ‘restaurant’, ‘café’, ‘dining place’ etc. are employed interchangeably in most parts of India.

11 Food is surrounded by many a ritualistic taboo. Many so-called high-caste Indians do not eat onions and garlic on Thursdays and Saturdays, while a majority of southern Indian peasant castes do not eat meat or chicken on Mondays. The latter taboo has extended also to Thursdays and Saturdays. This Indian (if not Hindu) version of everyday and occasional forms of lent is an interesting topic to reflect upon.

12 According to National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), Government of India, ‘the unorganised sector consists of all unincorporated private enterprises owned by individuals or households engaged in the sale and production of goods and services operated on a proprietary or partnership basis and with less than ten total workers’ (NCEUS, 2007, 3).

13 On the question of lunch boxes and Dabbawalas, a long-existing practice in Mumbai, see Patel and Vedula (2006) and Percot (2005).

14 The delivery workers in food industry are all, to the best of my knowledge, males; hence the expression, ‘delivery boys’. Except for the person at the cash or billing counter, there rarely used to be women workers in Bengaluru’s restaurants for a very long time. The woman at the cash counter would have been the wife or a daughter of a male proprietor of the restaurant. It is only since a decade or so that we find women workers in Bengaluru’s restaurants, specialising in work related to cleaning vessels, or removing used plates and cleaning the tables. Rarely women were employed as food suppliers (‘bearers’).

15 Leftover food as well as used plates and mugs were traditionally considered impure, and contact with them was therefore seen as polluting. This work was therefore assigned to persons of so-called lower castes. Given the division of labour in restaurants, there was traditionally a distinction between waiters/suppliers, whose ‘privilege’ it was to only serve/supply food without having to handle the ‘used’ plates and mugs, and those other employees that were tasked with removing these items.

16 At the prevailing rate of exchange (26 Sept 2017) this is USD 7.70.

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List of illustrations

Title Picture 1: Publicising affordable technology for waste management
Credits Source: Author.
File image/jpeg, 280k
Title Picture 2: Takeaway containers and plastic waste
Credits Source: Author.
File image/jpeg, 220k
Title Picture 3: Plantain leaves (background), and plastic plates being lined with plastic sheets
Credits Source: Author.
File image/jpeg, 152k
Title Picture 4: An appeal launched by the Greater Bengaluru Association of Restaurateurs
Credits Source: Author.
File image/jpeg, 210k
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Cite this article

Electronic reference

G. K. Karanth, « ‘Foodscapes’ in Bengaluru—Changing Patterns of Family Eating Out and Waste Generation »International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 8.2 | 2017, Online since 03 November 2017, connection on 20 October 2020. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

G. K. Karanth

G. K. Karanth is ICSSR National Fellow in affiliation with Jain University, Bengaluru (Karnataka, India). Until 2014, he was Professor of Sociology at the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC) in Bengaluru. Holding a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, he has engaged in ethnographic research on social change and social structure, natural resource management and rural livelihood systems. During 2011–12, he was ICCR India Chair Professor in the Department of Sociology, Lund University. His research deals with the peasant economy and society, caste and social stratification, rural–urban linkages and the sociology of development.

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