Bonding over buffets and brunches has been a staple for high-flying executives and socialites in Mumbai for a while, but the city’s dining culture now faces an uncertain future. While the Uddhav Thackeray-led coalition government in the state is mulling to reopen restaurants and cafes in the near future, the standard operating procedure (SOPs) being readied for such establishments recommend discontinuation of self-service buffets and salad bars for now.
“Buffet services are to be avoided in the near future. Pre-plated dishes are to be encouraged,” the government’s draft SOPs for the restaurant industry state. The SOPs further mention that the menu, to be shared with the guests in a contactless form, should only include cooked food for now. “Inclusion of raw or cold food, like salads, is to be avoided.”
Grappling with severe losses due to the coronavirus lockdown, the hospitality industry has been lobbying aggressively for the reopening of restaurants, cafes and bars. Still struggling to cope with a new flare-up of Covid-19 cases since the first set of reopenings under Maharashtra’s ‘Mission Begin Again’ from June 5 onwards, senior government sources said that the government is now tentatively looking at restarting restaurants, cafes, canteens and eating outlets on or before August 1.
Meanwhile, sources also said in the first phase of restaurant openings, bars are likely to remain shut.
Maharashtra has about 1.5 lakh restaurants, with Mumbai Metropolitan Region alone accounting for around 60,000. Shut for almost four months now, restaurants have been surviving on business generated by takeaways and home deliveries.
While the Union Tourism Ministry had first unveiled operational protocols for restaurants in June, Maharashtra, which is at the epicentre of the pandemic, has opted to tighten guidelines further. The state’s draft SOPs, which are likely to get an official nod soon, recommend mandatory screening of all hotel guests at the entry, and also obtaining consent from guests for sharing of their health information with authorities for future contact-tracing related measures.
As per the draft SOPs, guests will be asked to make prior reservations, no entry will be allowed without face masks, and a designated waiting area, with markings regarding social distancing, have to be carved out wherever feasible. An attendant will screen guests at the entry door for flu-like symptoms. Only those who aren’t exhibiting any would be allowed. Hand sanitisers would have to be provided in all public areas, and CCTV cameras to be functional.
To begin with, restaurants and cafes won’t be permitted more than 50 per cent occupancy. A minimum 1-metre distance would have to be kept between eating tables. Guests will only be served bottled water.
Protocols will have to be formed to limit the movement of people within the service area. Eating menus will either be disposable or QR-coded.
Disposable tissue will replace table napkins. One designated waiter will serve food on a table. The menu will have only cooked food items, for now, serving raw food and salads will be discouraged.
All staff will have to wear gloves and mask while servicing staff will have to wear face shields. There will be regular disinfection of restrooms, service areas, tables, furniture and fixtures. Signages will be put up outside washrooms to indicate whether it is occupied or not. The kitchen area will be divided into three sections — pre-planning area, cooking and plating sections, with worktables arranged in a manner that the staff do not face each other and maintain a social distance.
Cooks and chefs would have to use tongs and other utensils to avoid direct contact with food. Leftovers to be disposed of immediately. All staff to also be screened daily.
The draft SOPS also encourage digital payments and physical barriers, such as plexiglass screens, to be used at payment counters. It also requires entry and exit points to be separate wherever possible.
An official said, “The draft SOPs have been prepared to ensure and build trust and confidence of the public towards the hospitality services and to make traceability of visitors easier in case a situation in future warrants.”
But Gurbaxish Singh Kohli, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India, said capping of occupancies was unfair. Earlier this month, the government had permitted hotels to function with 33 per cent occupancies, but hoteliers have been complaining that the cap was not economically feasible. “Our demand is that hotels and restaurants should be opened fully with social-distancing norms. When you can allow aircraft to fly with zero social distancing, it makes no sense to impose caps on hotel and restaurant facilities,” Kohli said
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines