Sri Lanka has always been a melting pot of exciting cuisines and flavours and the Sri Lankan appetite for good food is well known. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that came in its wake saw restrictions on restaurants big and small but from five-star hotels to bakeries and food trucks, restaurateurs have turned disdavantage [...]


Lockdown: A foodie experience comes to your home


Pizza Factory: A range of wood-fired pizzas

Sri Lanka has always been a melting pot of exciting cuisines and flavours and the

Sri Lankan appetite for good food is well known. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that came in its wake saw restrictions on restaurants big and small but from five-star hotels to bakeries and food trucks, restaurateurs have turned disdavantage into opportunity and embraced online orders and delivery of their food offerings, seeing it as a safe and viable option to retain their customer base.

It has, no doubt, been a challenging transition. General Manager of Cinnamon Grand Colombo and Cinnamon Lakeside, Colombo, Kamal Munasinghe outlined to the Sunday Times  how the 15+ restaurants under their brand adapted to presenting gourmet offerings to customers at home through their online delivery platform Flavours by Cinnamon.

Flavours by Cinnamon: An Indian treat

“At the start, it was indeed a new transition, as we never thought food delivery would be one of the key revenue-generating means for our restaurants. However, our operations and marketing teams were eager to take this on. With 15+ restaurants the platform is the first of its kind to offer the largest variety of cuisines, via one platform by a hotel chain in the country,” he says.

From meals, platters, and family meals to desserts and beverages, there is a staggering choice of some 470+ dishes available. Cinnamon also launched the ‘Meals that Heal’ initiative where every time an order is placed on their delivery platform, meals are provided to disadvantaged communities with customers able to contribute additionally when completing their order.

Mr. Munasinghe adds that being available online has given them the opportunity to better engage with the digital-savvy younger generations.

However, the complete closure of the leisure industry not only affects the hotel industry but the entire supply chain, affecting the cycle of the economy and drastically weakening spending power, Mr. Munasinghe points out. Managing employee motivation and engagement is a challenging task and although they continued to pay their salaries without curtailment, more and more employees began to move away from the hospitality industry with many being unable to sustain their daily lives without the dine-in service charges, he noted.

Susiko Bakers’ CEO Suwimal Rupasinghe

Catering to the mass market and a different customer base, CEO of Susiko Bakers Suwimal Rupasinghe tells us the transition to being a delivery based platform has not been much for them. Bakery products being considered essential items, most of their outlets are open with restricted access for customers to purchase their needs through a small side window.

“ We have displayed all our products right by the front so people can see. We also have delivery trucks that go around town. People don’t really order bakery goods through PickMe and other online delivery platforms unless for breakfast,” he shares with us adding that these are “on-the-go” items.

Highlighting the fact that they cater to the working class and schoolchildren especially, Mr Rupasinghe says they no longer sell lunch and dinner meals at their outlets unless it is the standing orders which keep their kitchens running. Many of their customers are parents who buy breakfast for their families on the way to work and lunch as they don’t have time to cook. However with lockdown and schools being closed, that demand has dried up.

Some employees have left of their  own accord as it is easier to earn an income growing their own vegetables and selling it in their hometowns with no opportunity to work overtime and earn extra anymore, he says.

Chef Acharya busy at the Thai Heritage Food Truck

A casual dining restaurant offering original Italian wood-fired oven baked pizzas, the Pizza Factory located in the heart of Colombo at Hyde Park Corner drew the Colombo working crowd with their wide range of pizzas, pastas and desserts.

Opening the restaurant in the middle of the pandemic, the Pizza Factory team was well prepared to face the obstacles such as lockdowns, government restrictions and safety regulations. Foreseeing that there would be a drop in customers, they focused on pushing customers towards deliveries, ensuring that they were digitally friendly from the get go and available for home delivery on all popular platforms such as Uber, Pickme, Eat Me Global as well as having their own delivery network providing free delivery within Colombo. Logistics involved obtaining various clearance passes for deliveries and working with limited staff while ensuring deliveries are made on time.

“It’s been challenging for sure, but as we shifted a lot of our efforts to social media as well as advertising on traditional media such as television and radio to reach customers who are spending more time at home, we were actually able to capture the market quickly. We are also the first and only restaurant that offers a wide variety of online payment options such as card payments as well as selected cryptocurrencies giving us an edge over the competition,”  the Pizza Factory restaurant manager Sanjeewa Mapalagama says.

Over the past few years, food trucks became a fixture in Colombo dotting the Marine Drive and other hotspots. The Thai Heritage Food Truck parked at Havelock Town quickly adapted to putting their meals on wheels and delivering their authentic Thai cuisine to customers.

Nalin Jayapala who heads operations of Thai Heritage Food Truck, tells us that with PickMe, UberEats and their own delivery service they deliver in about an hour. Serving up delectable Thai dishes from Pad Thai, Tom Yum soup, green curry and more prepared by their Thai Chef Acharya, they have had a massive influx of orders from customers craving something different from home cooking and enjoying the flavours of lemongrass, pandan leaves, kaffir limes and galangal.


Gourmet Island: A platter of finger foods

“It is definitely not the same as having customers coming to us  as they don’t order the drinks, desserts or appetizers, only the mains. We lost out in that way because usually we see friends coming, families enjoying a meal and they tend to order more as they stay on, but here it’s just one order.”

Home-based food businesses like Zahra Wazil’s Gourmet Island too have been quick to seize the opportunity the long lockdowns presented. “We offer finger foods in a platter focusing primarily on meat items,” she says. Hers is quite a family operation with her mother helping her with the tasting, her father sourcing ingredients and her sister and brothers chipping in with the social media.

Using PickMe Flash as their go-to delivery service, Zahra says the biggest challenges have been sourcing meats, ensuring supply and the uncertainty surrounding the pricing of ingredients/lack of availability of imported products etc.

But with people away from their loved ones, there is a demand with many sending out a special meal for birthdays, anniversaries, wedding registrations and other occasions, she says.

Even if most are looking forward to the opportunity of dining out again post lockdown, ordering food home has definitely come to stay.


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