It’s like déja vu, lite. The long, global nightmare, which had seemed to be ending, has returned with a vengeance for its first anniversary.
With cases surging to unprecedented levels across the country, the Delhi government’s decision to impose a 10:00 pm-5:00 am curfew has struck another leaden knell on the prospects of the Capital’s F&B industry, which was just regaining its footing after a brutal 2020. And restaurateurs are collectively perturbed.
Beginning of the End?
“Right when we were uncovering opportunities to recover and thrive in the new normal, the government issued this night curfew rule due to rapid increment in Covid-19 cases in the capital city,” says Pradeep Pruthi, Managing Director, My Bar Punjabi Bagh, adding, “It goes without saying that this is going to dramatically affect the whole hospitality industry. In fact, job losses for the Class-IV staff seem inevitable.”
Amit Bagga, Co-founder, Daryaganj, agrees, saying, “This is an unnecessary break to the stability we had built over the last few months. Our maximum business is at night, so we hope this night lockdown doesn’t continue for more than a month, or it will be disastrous for our industry.”
Umang Tewari of Local Café & Bar and Junkyard Café is both perplexed and angry, asking why restaurants are always singled out: “Look at the buses and other public transport modes, these running at 200 per cent capacity at times, while restaurants are strictly following all protocols and operating at the required 50 per cent, which is already bad enough. And what evidence is there that the virus is more active between 10:00 pm-5:00 am? Other businesses will manage, but we get most of our clientele in the evening.”
While seeing the point in the government’s move to impose curfew for the sake of public safety and rising numbers, Riyaaz Amlani, feels this will probably be the final nail in the coffin for the F&B industry, especially delivery and cloud kitchens.
“There’s no thought behind restricting F&B and retail industries once more. We have had a gun pointed at our heads and expensive licence and taxes have been paid, and yet we have been forced into a lockdown once again. It’s about time the government starts giving this industry the relief that it so badly needs. They also need to tell us how they intend to vaccinate our front line workers like delivery staff in order to provide essential services like food delivery,” says CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants, adding, “We urge the government to increase vaccination drives so that more people can get vaccinated. We would also sincerely urge customers to order directly from restaurants rather than aggregator apps to help us tide through what is once again going to be a hard time for us.”
Zorawar Kalra, Massive Restaurants, foresees a huge impact on sales and on the survivability of the industry. “Restaurants were already operating on 50 per cent capacity. Takeaway and delivery alone cannot sustain a restaurant enterprise.”
Kanishk Tuteja of WeQutub, 1OAK, and Nukkad says that the government should reconsider the move as it affects the hospitality drastically and having a curfew for the second time within a year will make it really difficult for businesses to sustain themselves.
Dinesh Arora, Founder, Eastman Color Pvt Ltd that owns restaurants Unplugged Courtyard and La Roca sums it all up with some figures: “Since August/September 2020, the restaurants in Delhi were allowed to operate under restrictions and we were happy as business was back to 70 per cent of pre-Covid. With the spike in cases and the imposition of the night curfew, the industry will be in really bad shape. The rental and salary expenses, negative cash flows, statutory payment obligations have made hospitality the most non-viable business. Our business revenue is 60 per cent dependent on night business. With the remaining 40 per cent also under Covid norms, survival seems next to impossible.”
Finding an Antidote
The government’s announcement came even as restaurants and bars have recently offering deals to people who have gotten vaccinated, in lieu of the policy of encouraging inoculation against the virus. For instance, Lite Bite Foods had just introduced a 10 per cent discount for those having taken their first shot and 20 per cent to those with a second shot at all the Punjab Grill and YouMee restaurants, while all Mamagoto and Dhaba outlets are offering those with their first shot certificate 15 per cent off, and second shot certificate, 20 per cent off. First Fiddle Restaurants is offering a 15 per cent discount at all their properties that include Plum by Bentchair, Lord of the Drinks, Dragonfly and more. Meanwhile, Molecule, Nukkad Cafe & Bar and 1OAK are offering a 10 per cent discount.
While restaurateurs acknowledged that it seemed foolhardy to be encouraging people to dine out when the numbers of cases were rising, they say that restaurants are among the safest places to visit, given the stringent protocols the places follow.“We will work towards having some good offers to attract the customers during the day, along with adhering to all guidelines,” informs Ricky Sethi, Co-founder, Fresh.in and Talli Station. “But I’d like to request the authorities to provide us with the necessary subsidies so that we could sail through these difficult times,” he adds.
Akshay Anand, Co-founder, Ophelia, will ask all their staff to come on alternative days. “This is to assure that everyone gets paid and there is not too much staff at any point. We shall roughly stay open for 9-10 hours only.” Other restaurants too are figuring out new schedules for their employees given the reduction in working hours, though according to the latest Delhi Disaster Management Authority guidelines, home delivery is allowed. At Daryaganj, which is only open during lunch and dinner hours, Bagga says, “We will open one hour earlier and reduce the break time so as to cater to maximum guests. The kitchen team will be there on their usual hours so we can deliver after 10:00pm. We may reduce the number of working days of our service staff looking at the response in the next few days.”
However, some restaurateurs are trying to put their best foot forward with Shaan Sarin, Co-founder, TEO Lounge & Bar saying, “We are happy that our patrons can dine in during the day time and make the most of it unlike last year when we were in a fully-fledged lockdown. They can even order food from the their homes. In this ever changing environment, we need to work on more innovative ideas to run our businesses with restricted timings.”