With the new curfew timings, from 8 pm to 6 am, coming into effect from Wednesday, hotels and restaurants owners in major cities of the state are apprehensive the extended curfew will rob them of crucial “evening business hours” and force some of the smaller players to shut shop.
“The food industry was just limping back after struggling with year-long restrictions on timings and social-distancing. Business was already bleak after the government imposed curfew from 9 pm to 6 am from the earlier 11 pm closure timings. With the new timings, we will have to shut our kitchens before 8 pm and this will deprive us of our crucial business hours. About 80 per cent of the restaurants do maximum business in the evening,” said Narendra Somani, the president of Hotels and Restaurants’ Association (HRA-Gujarat).
There are about 10,000 restaurants, hotels and food parks in Ahmedabad alone. According to HRA-Gujarat there are about 50,000 food outlets in the organised space in the state.
“Last year, people were considerate and used to forgo rentals and went soft on salary cuts. But having battled a poor year, as far as earnings are concerned, now everyone’s finances are stretched thin and there will be more permanent closures in the business. The small players will not be able to survive as they won’t be able to repay loans, debts, salaries and other overheads with the reduced income,” Somani added.
Members from the industry say they were not taken into confidence by the government before curfew timings were extended. The curfew timings from 12 am to 6 am were extended by two hours (10 pm to 6 am) for four major cities on March 16. This was further extended the same week by an hour (9 pm to 6 am) in Ahmedabad.
All the major cities of Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara, have streets or locations that cater to food aficionados.
In Surat, restaurant owners — where families troop out in large numbers for an evening snack or meal — feel the food and hospitality industry is being made a “villain”. “The textile industry, diamond industry and others industries remain operational even at night. But we have to shut our business. Our industry is the one who had strictly followed the Covid-19 guidelines, but we are being seen villains,” said Arun Shetty, president of Southern Gujarat Hotel and Restaurant Association.
“Had the government permitted take-aways, we would have survived. But total night curfew is difficult for us to survive. We have found that 50 per cent of our industry players had shut down their business as they cannot cope up to meet day to day expenses. We will make representations to the state government in coming days,” Shetty added.
According to the association, there are 200 restaurant owners who are registered members of SGHRA, while there are over 2,000 others who operate from temporary tents in open plots and roadside kiosks.
For many restaurant owners in Vadodara, the one additional hour of curfew has come as the last straw. A popular non-vegetarian evening restaurant in the city has decided to prepone its operations from 5 pm onwards. The owner says, “With the curfew beginning at 8 pm, even the delivery agents will pick and choose the orders. The food delivery app services have already mentioned that as we near closing hours, only orders above Rs 300 will be accepted. We have tried it today. The orders came in but obviously it was less than half the business we have seen on a regular day. For those coming in to pick their parcels, the minimum amount is not an issue. But dine-in will almost be negligible. We will see the sales over the next few days and decide if we should open all through the day until the curfew or remain completely closed.”
Another owner Aftab Chakra of Millenium restaurant, one of Vadodara’s oldest, feels the latest curbs will be a “final nail in the coffin” for several hotels that have been struggling to meet ends. Chakra said, “The restaurants had been operating under a lot of stress. Things were just beginning to pick up when the second wave struck. This time, those who were trying to keep afloat will not be able to sustain. Several hotels had already shut or handed over their franchise to new owners. It is usually after 8 pm that even take away orders pour in. No one will order at 6.30 pm, which will be almost the last that you can order because deliveries also take close to an hour.”
Another owner of a popular cafe in Fatehgunj has been on the edge since Tuesday’s announcement of the curfew. The entrepreneur said, “People are being cautious. Almost everyone you know has either got a family member or a neighbour down with Covid-19. The last two weeks have really seen a plunge in the dining, especially at cafes, where the meals are not seen as ‘cooked’. The new curfew hours and the unending pandemic will definitely hit hard. I tried convincing my family that I must give my cafe another chance after suffering terrible losses and paying heavy rent last year during the lockdown. This time, I can only wait for a week before taking a call.”
Restaurant owners and hoteliers in Rajkot too expressed similar views. “During summer, when days are long, people tend to have their evening meals late. Curfew from 8 pm means hardly anyone would come and dining in our restaurant as 8 pm is the time when people actually start streaming in,” Sandeep Patel, manager of Om Restaurant in Bhaktinagar Circle of Rajkot said.
Meru Ahir, owner of Venu Restaurant, an eatery serving Gujarati meal on Kothariya Road of Rajkot city said the extended curfew hours would cause lot of inconvenience to people planning to eat outside. “While the government may have reasons to extend the curfew hours, what about workers and people who have to eat out due to nature of their work or job? Where will they go to have their meals in the evening,” said Ahir.
Dilip Patel, president of Saurashtra-Kutch Hotel Association, an organisation of owners of hotels in the region said, the government decision is a huge setback to the hospitality industry. “Hotel and restaurants had practically remained closed for three to four months last month due to lockdown. Barely had they started to get back on track, the government has advanced the curfew to 8 pm. This means people can’t dine in a hotel or restaurant as such establishments open at 7 pm and anyone would easily take an hour to have his meal. How would one go home after that?” Patel said.