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Delhi: Restaurants grapple with reduced staff, missing customers

Restaurants are assessing the situation before opening up. “We understand the government has to play it safe. But how can you expect businesses to restart with the handbrake on?” says Ashish Ahuja, director of Pebble Street.

Written by Pooja Pillai | New Delhi |
June 9, 2020 1:46:38 am
Coronavirus lockdown, Restaurants open, missing customers, Delhi news, Indian express news At Saravana Bhavan in Connaught Place Monday. (Photo: Anil Sharma)

It’s 2.30 pm and the first customer is yet to walk into Pebble Street restaurant in Delhi’s New Friends Colony, which has been open since 12.30 pm. “We’ll take the last entry at 8 pm and ensure everyone leaves by 8.30pm, as the staff needs to get home,” says Ashish Ahuja, director of Pebble Street, adding, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to open now… It is risky, but the confidence of customers needs to be built.”

Restaurants are assessing the situation before opening up. “We understand the government has to play it safe. But how can you expect businesses to restart with the handbrake on?” says Ahuja.

This is a question bothering most restaurants in the capital. Manu Chandra, Chief Partner with Olive Group, whose restaurants include Olive Bar and Kitchen, Monkey Bar and Guppy, says their Delhi outlets will open over the next two-three weeks, depending on if they are able to align the various guidelines issued by central and state authorities. A major challenge facing them is labour shortage, says Chandra: “We closed before the lockdown was announced, so our staff had time to return home. Now, it’s a question of how many of them will return.”

The reopening of restaurants is also hampered by lack of clarity about the guidelines. Citing an order issued Monday by the Delhi’s Excise Department, Priyank Sukhija, CEO and MD of First Fiddle Restaurants, says, “We don’t know what businesses serving alcohol are expected to do. Are only bars not operational, or are those who have any kind of bar licence not allowed to operate, even if they only serve food now?”

Among the properties run by First Fiddle are Lord of the Drinks, Plum by Bent Chair and The Lazeez Affaire. Sukhija says, “We would make more losses now than during the lockdown, because we will be expected to pay rent. I own large properties, so it won’t be financially feasible to start right now.”

This is in contrast to smaller establishments, which are designed to be risk-averse, and quick service restaurant (QSR) chains such as McDonald’s and KFC which have the economies of scale on their side. Moksh Chopra, Chief Marketing Officer, KFC India, said, “When customers walk into our restaurants, they will be able to enjoy a ContactLess Dine-in experience..”

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