No dosa on Saturdays and Sundays

Back when I was a student at IIM Bangalore a decade ago, I had tried to run this series on this blog (its predecessor, to be precise) on “delivery mechanisms in South Indian Fast Food restaurants”. I had half a mind to do a project on that, too, but then worse sense prevailed, and I did some random shyte on post offices.

Anyway, given that I’ve been living alone for a year now, I tend to frequent South Indian Fast Food Restaurants fairly often for breakfast (and tiffin, sometimes), and thought I should resume this series.

So this morning I went to “duplicate Brahmin’s” for breakfast. This is a place in Jayanagar 4th Block (next to the 560041 post office) and should not be confused with the “original Brahmin’s” in Shankarpuram. I don’t know if this Brahmins has anything to do with that Brahmins, though I’m pretty sure people would have outraged about a restaurant with a (upper) casteist name in these times. Some hypotheses go that this restaurant was started by disgruntled employees of the “original” Brahmins. Anyway, it doesn’t matter since the food here is pretty good (though not as good as at the original Brahmins).

This restaurant has aped a large number of features from the “original” Brahmins. The first is a limited menu – there are only some five or six items made daily. This is usually a good feature of fast food restaurants since it results in aggregation of demand and lower wastage, resulting in lower costs. It also results in significantly quicker service since there are only so many “lines” that need to be maintained in the kitchen.

The other feature this has aped from the “original Brahmin’s” is that there is no sambar. While this might shock Tamilians and North Indians, it’s a fairly normal thing in Bangalore. In fact, Sambar with breakfast is not normal for Bangalore, and most “traditional” restaurants only serve chutney. The advantage of this is (as Pavan pointed) that people can hold their plates in their hands (chutney is cold, unlike hot sambar), so you don’t need that much table space!

There are normally six items on the menu in the duplicate Brahmin’s (apart from beverages) – idli, vada, kesribhath, kharabhath, “ricebhath” (a redundant term like Avenue Road, I know; and this is only served during lunch. It’s a catchall term encompassing “tomato bhath”, “veg pulao”, puLiyOgare, chitrAnna, etc.) and masala dosa. And the odd man out is the last one for the rest are “made to stock”. Masala dosa is usually “made to order” since its quality “decays” quite quickly after it’s made.

It was pleasantly surprising to see a board saying “no masala dosa on Saturdays and Sundays” when I went to duplicate Brahmin’s this morning. The restaurant was already fairly crowded when I went, and there was a queue about five people long at the cash counter. The restaurant is designed in a way that there is this one not-so-large counter across which everything (coupons, food, beverages) is served, and there was a crowd today at every part of the counter (only the cash counter had a queue, at the rest of the places people just crowded around).

That’s where the “no masala dosa on weekends” board makes sense. With the dosa being made to order, people have to linger around the ¬†counter once they’ve handed in their order until they have received their dosa. And given the rather small size of the counter and the weekend crowds, this simply leads to unnecessary crowding and shoving. It also seems like the demand for Masala Dosa at duplicate Brahmin’s is not high or predictable enough to warrant making it to stock. And hence, it’s a rational decision to ration the supply of dosas (to zero) on weekends.

The question is why the restaurant makes dosas at all (on weekdays), given that the original Brahmin’s doesn’t. The answer to this lies in a cost-benefit analysis. On weekdays, the supply chain is not tight and there are no people crowding at the counter. This means that the strain imposed¬†on the system by people waiting around for their dosas is not too high.

Studying fast food restaurants can be a fascinating exercise.