Hit badly by the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant sector in Pune is finding itself struggling during the time of Christmas and New Year eve as well. The last fortnight of the year brings the restaurants a huge chunk of their annual revenues, but city outlets have been reporting lukewarm response from their customers due to continuing restrictions on seating capacities and operation timings.
Though the New Year is less than two weeks away, there is still no clarity whether the government would allow New Year’s eve parties in restaurants and bars.
After remaining completely shut for two and a half months, starting March 22, the state government had allowed the restaurants to open on June 1, but only for takeaway and home delivery services. Dine-in services continued to remain forbidden. Following persistent pleas from the restaurant owners’ associations across the state, the government had later allowed them to provide dine-in facility but had put stringent guidelines to be followed to ensure sanitation and physical distancing at the establishments.
Apart from this, general reluctance among Pune residents to dine out owing to the health risk has also reduced the footfalls in the restaurants. The outlets are also struggling to get staff, who generally come from northern states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttarakhand, because of the fear psychosis caused by large number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the city and in the state in general.
Out of the nearly 1800 restaurants and bars in the city registered with the State Excise Department, only 596, or about one-third, have been able to open their establishments in the last two months.
“The operators are citing different reasons. Most frequent are financial troubles, staff shortage and general reluctance among residents to visit restaurants,” said Santosh Zagade, Superintendent, State Excise (Pune).
According to Ganesh Shetty, President of Pune Restauranteurs’ and Hoteliers’ Association (PRAHA), none of the hotels in the city, including five-star establishments, have been able to finalise plans for New Year parties due to the prevailing uncertainty.
“It’s unlikely that the government will allow the parties and hence there’s no excitement in the sector. Otherwise, by this time you will find hoardings advertising the parties all across the city,” said Shetty. He said that with 50 per cent cap put on restaurant dine-in and 11.30 pm closure deadline, restaurants too are not expecting the usual business.
Officials with State Excise Department and District Collectors’ Office, where applications have to be made for organising special parties and entertainment events, have said that they have received no applications this year so far. “We are waiting for directives from the state government,” said an official.
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