‘Zomato food an issue, carrier may matter, but what if the story is a marketing gimmick?’

The Zomato story is not as simple as it seems to be, as sensitivities about food involve both the cook and the carrier even though none would know who farmed it

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Zomato controversy

New Delhi: Sirf News solicited opinions from its subscribers this morning about the controversy surrounding a delivery by Zomato. A customer from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, had refused the food delivered to him because a Muslim worker had brought it while the company refused to entertain customer Amit Shukla’s grievance.

The overwhelming view that we received from our subscribers, not known to be affiliated to any political group or part of any religious cult, is that the customer has an absolute right to choose the kind of food he wants to buy and consume.

While nobody said Zomato transgressed, the opinion was mixed on how food could be affected by the religion of the delivery boy.

There is also a view that this is a non-issue, created by some vested interests. Read on.

Vishwajeet Sinha says, “The debate around halal (meat) is not limited to “choice” of Hindus or Mohammadens or Islamophobia. Promoting halal meat, in any form, essentially boycotts the Hindu community of butchers, mostly “Khatiks”, from the meat industry’s value chain. Should Hindus accept their boycott through halal at the hands of Mohammedans? Isn’t this social pressure created by Mohammadens to get a halal meat certification for food outlets, an institutionalised attack against the Hindus’ livelihood?”

Kunal Krishna says, “The issue that arose yesterday between a customer and Zomoto was totally uncalled for. The customer ordered food and a Muslim boy was assigned the job of the delivery. After that, the customer refused to take the delivery from him and asked for a delivery boy change, citing a religious time and reason.”

“Did the customer know who cooked the food? Hindu or a Muslim? Did the customer know who brought the vegetables? Did the customer know what was the religion of the farmer?” asks Kumal Krishna.

“Unnecessarily putting and questioning religious beliefs at every place is becoming a trend nowadays. In some cases, to some extent, it is acceptable but we have been seeing various occasions where huge issues are creeping out every now and then because of these,” Kunal Krishna says.

“We are talking about a carrier and not the food. There have been debates as to why Jain food or halal meat is served with a mention. It’s because these are food meant to be consumed. The delivery boy is a different issue,” Kunal Krishna says.

“Foods are not tied to a religion. Traditionally, the preparation is like Hyderabadi biryani, Lucknowi biryani, Bengali fish etc. This includes places, creed and communities, but it’s always related to the consumables and never to the other side.”

“What happened yesterday should not have happened. We cannot keep adding dimensions that separate the citizens of the country,” Kunal Krishna concludes.

Ramesh Venkatraman says, “The Zomato issue needs to be parsed carefully and nuanced clearly. Here is the scope of the issue and what matters and doesn’t:

  • Zomato was right in refusing to change the delivery boy because of his religion
  • Zomato was wrong and hypocritical when it claimed that it did not mix religion with food and food choices
  • Zomato is careful and selective in how it serves its food when the order comes from those who do make a religious fuss. Here, I must add that they are I am sure as careful in servicing Jain clients as they are when servicing Halal-specific requirements. And this is hypocrisy.
  • Will Zomato serve non-halal meat if a Hindu/Sikh customer specifically asked for it? I don’t think so; this is hypocrisy, too.
  • Zomato might be only an aggregator and may well claim that it does not make the choice with regard to food, but Zomato took a position with a Hindu customer that was inconsistent with its earlier position when challenged by a Muslim customer. That is hypocrisy again because a company’s position can never be inconsistent when serving the public.

Rohit Singh Sikarwar says, “The consumer is right as per the concept of consumer rights to demand a specific service. However, whether to comply with it or not is the sole prerogative of the service provider. So, by that way, Zomato is right in denying that. Here, both are right within the framework of their respective positions.”

Singh says, however, “If one goes on making news on such trivial issues, every day you can have thousands of such cases. Not necessarily just on religious lines but on caste lines too (let us not forget, that in India, caste is not just limited to Hinduism alone as it is advertised to be). So, to me, this news is a nonsensical one. But here is the catch.”

“This incident could be part of Zomato’s marketing strategy, you never know. They might be trying to build an image by blowing hot over a meaningless incident. Building one’s own image is fine, but when one vies for it by firing over other’s shoulders, the selective approach and cleverness must be called and exposed. That is what people are doing right now. When one hides behind values, it becomes necessary to expose them,” Singh says.

Paras Verma says, “This looks like a case where some ex-Bollywood marketing manager masterminded the brouhaha over a petty issue while sharing big news in hindsight about business. This has already acquired a trend status in Bollywood where controversy strikes around some actor or director all of sudden. That coincides with the release of a movie associated with same actor/director.”

Verma continues, “Zomato was looking to share a piece of big news around their delivery and serving in 500 cities. Since most would’ve just ignored this news, Zomato piggybacked on the inferior issue to create ruckus which eventually resulted in a lot of buzz around Zomato, including the news that they wanted to convey: ‘Serving in 500 cities!’ Though such actions are not ethical from a personal standpoint, everything seems fair in this war (of food).”

Supratim Basu holds we are dealing with two separate issues here. “Zomato is absolutely within its rights to allocate riders randomly, and refuse a refund on cancellation of order because delivery was being made by a “non-Hindu” rider.”

However, Basu opines, “Customers have the right to demand jhatka meat from the restaurants and restaurants should be asked to update whether they are jhatka, halal, both or none of the above. Jhatka certification will need the creation of a standards body, though.”

Rupam Das concludes,

  • “Zomato could refuse the customers request politely and order could have been cancelled.
  • Zomato cannot force the customer to accept an order and its delivery by a person if the
    customer does not want the delivery from that person and is apprehensive of him, whatever be the reasons.
  • Given that the month of ‘Shravan’ is going on and many Hindus have a specific diet during this period. Which why the customer must have asked for the change in the delivery personnel since the person had a diet that consisted of regular meat-eating and Hindus do not eat food touched by hands that have eaten meat or handled meat. Even when the carrier is a Hindu, the handling of the food is paid attention to. Even family members who are not following the particular diet are not allowed to touch the food of that person following the particular diet. Could a Muslim delivery boy have been sensitive to such concerns of the customer? Chances of that are slim.
  • If the customer did not feel his food would be ‘safe’, and he requested for a change of the delivery personnel, it was wrong of the Zomato head to lecture the customer and pontificate on how food had no religion. There is evidence Zomato did take care to address the issue of food when another customer had complained about it according to his diet.”

Das says like Venkatraman that “this clearly smacks of hypocrisy and selective implementation of service. It also shows forcing an unsolicited service on the customer and not accepting the cancellation of the order.”

In the meantime, on Thursday, yet another controversy erupted about a food aggregator service. #BoycottUberEats is trending on Twitter since Uber Eats India tweeted that it supported the stand of Zomato. Perhaps intimidated by the trend, the person handling the Uber Eats India account suspended his handle temporarily or perhaps deleted it permanently.

Some Twitter users asked why the liberal brigade did not raise the issue of the food provider’s right when the Akshaya Patra dispute had surfaced. A similar incident had occurred when madrassas in Ujjain had refused mid-day meals from Hindu eateries.