Updated: June 7, 2021 7:37:19 am
Written By Seona James
More than a year into the pandemic, two waves and two lockdowns later, restaurants and food outlets in Pune city are gearing up to reopen and resume services from Monday.
As a part of the five-level unlockdown plan, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) had Saturday announced partial reopening of private offices, restaurants and gardens in the city. Restaurants, bars, food courts have been allowed to operate on weekdays till 4 pm with 50 per cent sitting capacity for dine-in facility. They can provide parcel or home delivery facility on weekends till 11 pm. Liquor shops have also been allowed to open till 4 pm on weekdays and do home delivery on weekends.
On Sunday, most restaurateurs said they were better prepared during the second lockdown even as it threw multiple challenges to the food industry. While some had to alter their menus and cut back some services, others had shut down branches due to drop in sales.
Shivang Sood, one of the partners of ‘La Kheer Deli,’ a food outlet that specialises in kheer, said they faced a lot of difficulties during the first lockdown as they were a start-up and were overburdened with overheads and witnessed a decline in sales. “December onwards, we saw things picking up slowly and we did see a positive trend in the market with customers starting to coming in to buy products again. By the time the second wave came in, we saw a decline in sales once again. Things got challenging for us again this time because we were already trying to recover from the losses, we bore last year. This year came with more difficulties as we have some debts to clear and a lot of our staff left. A major chunk of our customers was employed singles, and several of them had also left the city during the lockdown,” he said.
Smita Murthy, one of the co-founders of ‘The Fat Labrador Café’, said though her café was functional post the first lockdown, the second lockdown hit them hard. Her café, too, struggled to recover funds and still has overheads pending. To deal with the challenges, the café reduced its staff, changed their timing and also changed the menu.
“We changed our menu to include items that are easy to take away. We introduced meal bowls and wraps, which we did not have before. We also had to start thinking about packaging so that the food could be delivered properly,” Murthy said.
Praful Chandawarkar, the founder of Malaka Spice, also said that his food outlets made several adaptations during both the lockdowns.
Multiple restaurants and eateries also had to completely shut down some of their branches. Some food outlets which were planning to expand also had deferred their plans. La Kheer Deli had to shut down four of its total 10 outlets, while Swig and The Fat Labrador Café, which were planning to set up more branches, had to put their plans on the backburner.
‘An opportunity to learn, evolve’
The food industry, however, is taking everything in its stride and using this experience as an opportunity to learn, evolve and look at the positive side of things.
Sakshi Gautam, a member of the management and digital designing team at a hospitality company, said the restaurants that she works with, including Swig, managed to bounce back earlier than last year, which she says is a positive thing.
Chandawarkar of Malaka Spice said that along with pre-existing cloud kitchens, they have also launched Malaka Market, which is a retail online store and sells organic produce from their own farms and other collaborating farms. Murthy emphasised on her learning process and establishing a digital presence for her café which will continue to be fruitful in the future.
Sood, meanwhile, said he was extremely grateful to the customers who supported them in the testing times. “It (pandemic) has taught this industry many lessons, which will continue to remain valuable in the future,” said Sood.
While the city restaurants eagerly wait to understand the response they will get this time, a few said have already begun to receive bookings.
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