April 3, 2021 12:20:38 am
SAKSHI GAUTAM, who is part of the management and design of a bar and eatery, finishes talking to a client who wants to come in late. “We will not have time to take your order,” she says, indicating the 8 pm deadline in Pune. Now, Gautam and restaurant business professionals are gearing up for a stricter guideline under which eateries, bars and malls will remain shut for a week to combat the surge in Covid-19 cases. “The hospitality industry was expecting this, but that doesn’t make it easier. Business is going to take a hit, but there is nothing we can do now,” Gautam says.
It is a sentiment echoed by the restaurant industry, which was trying to get back on its feet after being closed for several months during the pandemic last year. Several popular hangouts have responded to the guidelines with a mix of disappointment and helplessness. “Why are only restaurants, hotels and bars being targeted? We have followed all SOPs (standard operating procedure) such as 50 per cent occupancy, use of masks and sanitisation guidelines. Why are other businesses that attract people in large numbers not being targeted? Why are the authorities not implementing safety norms at marketplaces?” asks Praful Chandawarkar, founder of a Southeast Asian restaurant, which was among businesses that worked to provide food security to frontline workers and people affected by the crisis last year.
The establishments suffered heavily between March and October 2020 and, thereafter, saw the situation improve and were able to start servicing their debt, paying their vendor backlogs and looking after their teams. “This sudden change in timings since March has again destroyed our business,” adds Chandawarkar.
Brand manager for an eatery, Kartik Ganesh says during lockdown, business was quite low also as people were apprehensive about ordering in. “It took a collective effort for the F&B (food and beverages) industry to educate guests that it is safe to dine out and order in, if done responsibly. After lockdown was lifted, it almost felt like we are making a new beginning. The business definitely picked up and we also saw numbers similar to pre-Covid days. However, the new announcement has again brought back uncertainty,” he adds.
Many restaurants shut permanently during lockdown. Signs announcing ‘shop for rent’ came up in spaces where well-known restaurants, bars or pubs stood. “I have several friends who suffered great losses and shut down. My restaurant opened shortly after lockdown and business has been slow. We just started gaining traction and, once again, we are hit with a fresh lockdown. It is getting difficult as these rules are being implemented erratically,” says Santosh Kulkarni, owner of a newly opened eatery. He is among those who do not think that closing restaurants will affect the number of cases. “As long as restaurants take necessary precautions and people follow safety norms, there is no reason for restaurants to be shut. Neither is the government supporting the industry financially nor is it being allowed to operate smoothly. The pandemic is here to stay, and shutting restaurants or retail, having complete disregard for livelihoods, is not a solution. It is just an easy way out of a problem,” he says.
While some places saw a burst in footfall as soon as the lockdown eased, others witnessed an increase in home delivery orders. “Human beings are social animals. They are happiest when meeting friends and family in social settings like restaurants. Home delivery is used only during emergency lockdowns and on days when people are busy and unable to cook,” Chandawarkar says.
“According to our interactions with guests, in times such as these, people enjoy catching a break and having a good meal to cheer themselves up as they are mostly working from home. Having said that, they are also aware of their surroundings and expect the highest level of hygiene wherever they go,” Ganesh says.
According to Kulkarni, “After being caged for almost a year, people were willing to go overboard with their socialising but are still living in fear of the infection and tend to be cautious. Consequently, people are avoiding large congregations at common meeting spaces such as restaurants, bars and pubs. So, people have cut down on going out and prefer ordering in.”
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