ALTHOUGH THE state government has allowed restaurants and bars to open dine-in services from Monday, there are many hurdles to cross before eateries can throw open their doors to welcome back patrons: staff shortage, no order from Pune’s district collector and municipal commissioner, and confusion over payment of excise certificate renewal fee for sale of liquor are just some of them.
For restaurants to get back into the groove, issues pertaining to licensing and supply of staff need to be resolved. “We are still confused if we will be able to open dine-in on Monday,” said Ganesh Shetty, president of Pune Restaurant and Hoteliers’ Association, adding, “we can’t officially open before the municipal commissioner allows us to do so through an order.”
Most restaurant owners and managers are facing acute staff shortage, as during lockdown most workers left for their home states outside Maharashtra. While some returned after a few months as home delivery and takeaway resumed at these eateries, a big chunk comprising waiters and captains stayed back.
“We asked our workers to return about a week ago, but travelling has become a problem. There are others who are worried that the virus continues to spread in Pune. There’s no train connecting Pune to Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand – where majority of North Indian cooks and service staff comes from – and only one train between Pune and Patna is operational. Also, booking a berth in these few trains at a short notice is close to impossible. In such a situation, they will have to opt for private buses or, as a last resort, airline tickets,” said Deepak Borawake, a restaurant owner in Wakad.
Riyaz Ali, a cook of specialising in North Indian food from Bahraich in UP, said he returned to Pune last week after much trouble. “Pune-Lucknow Express isn’t running and I couldn’t get a ticket to Mumbai. As there were several others who wanted to come to Pune, we booked a private bus by paying Rs 3,500 each as opposed to Rs 750 for a train ticket,” Ali said.
Another important issue, specifically for bar owners, is the lack of clarity over relief in the payment of annual excise licence renewal fee.
“The CM had promised us that we will be required to pay the fee on pro-rata basis for the rest of the financial year. The finance department is yet to send an approval to the proposal and, hence, the local superintendent of excise hasn’t started licence renewal due to lack of clarity,” Shetty said.
A countrywide lockdown in March pushed the restaurant business into massive trouble, with some surveys predicting that a considerable chunk will permanently shut down. According to Shetty, the scenario in Pune will be clear only after a few weeks.
“We will know what proportion of restaurants do not open at all after a month or so. The major issue for restaurants is rent payment. Many are unable to pay the rent for months when there was no business and if pressed to pay up, they may wind up,” Shetty added.
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