The number of tables has halved. Each has a partition and is spaced at least a metre apart from the other. The usual items kept on the tables, such as salt and pepper shakers, napkin stands and ketchup dispensers, have also disappeared.
In keeping with the social distancing norms and other Covid-19 protocol, much has changed at Annapoorna, Coimbatore’s iconic chain of restaurants, where many would regularly drop in for coffee and a lot more before the lockdown came into effect.
Like all restaurants, Annapoorna, too, has witnessed a sharp decline in dine-in and party orders owing to the coronavirus restrictions. However, following the relaxations announced by the Home Ministry last month, the restaurant began food parcel services on May 6 with the hope that customers will return.
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“Dine-in services were permitted by the government after 73 days of the lockdown. We reopened our eateries, with all safety measures in place as recommended by the government, on June 8. Our business has suffered badly over the past three weeks. We have lost up to 60 per cent of our regular customers,” said manager of the restaurant’s RS Puram branch, Rajesh. At this branch, the number of tables is down to 55, from 110.
Rajesh informs that the restaurant is disinfecting its kitchens, dining areas, and restrooms every 30 minutes. Cutlery sets and utensils are sterilised with hot water after every use. Waiters approach the guests with face masks, face shields, hairnets, and even gloves to take orders
Annapoorna hotel was started by K. Damodarasamy as a small canteen in the Kennedy theatre campus in the mid-1960s. It offered tea, coffee, and tiffin items and its customers were mostly the theatre attendees. Over time its popularity grew, and, in 1968, the canteen evolved into a restaurant.
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Post-lockdown, Annapoorna has opened ten branches; its Ramanathapuram and Ramakrishna branches remain closed. “The two branches that are shut are low-profit ones,” said Rajesh.
To tide over the financial crisis, he adds, the restaurant has asked 40 per cent of its employees to wait while 60 per cent have had to take a pay cut of 10 per cent.
“If our business bounces back like it was earlier, we will bring our employees back. From June 8, only 25-30 per cent of the business has picked up. Tax exemptions can help us tackle the loss, but there are no schemes for the restaurant and dining sectors in the stimulus packages announced by the central government. Our expenses for cleaning products have increased by almost 50 per cent. Even big players like us in this sector are struggling to cope with all these rules without floating customers.”
Meanwhile, in accordance with the government rules, all the customers coming to the restaurant have to provide their contact details and addresses, wear face masks, and sanitise their hands before entering the premises. There is also a thermal screening at the entrance. They are allowed to take one full table if they are from the same family; else only two customers are allowed to dine on a single table.
Anamika, a regular at Annapoorna, who had brought her child along with her, said she hadn’t missed the restaurant so much in her life as she did in the past two months. “This lockdown made me realise how much we love Annapoorna and how badly we want to start our day with its coffee.”
She said she was not worried about the virus given the sanitisers, temperature monitoring, a table partition, and social-distancing in place at the restaurant. Hope people will come and have a fantastic time here like earlier.” However, in the early hours of the day, most of the tables were empty and only a few regular customers had walked in.
Rajesh is optimistic about the future though. “Soon, things will improve and we will have our customers back.”
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