Imagine people having a glass of beer in one hand and fingers on laptop with other hand. That’s how restaurateurs have been witnessing customers these days at their restaurants when they are now opening in phased manner in different parts of the country.
A hope of revival
Last week, the Maharashtra government announced opening of restaurants in phased manner in different part of the states as per the cases in each cities. Mumbai and Pune have been allowed to open restaurants from 10 in the morning to 4 PM, with closures on weekend.
“It's difficult to make a fair business out of the timeline specified by the government, as prime hours for business are post 7 pm for most restaurants. The overhead costs are still huge and the rent is still high. Although a lot of the raw material suppliers have been supportive with the industry, which has eased off some of the difficulties that are being faced. Some landlords have wavered off 50 percent of the rent as well. We are still hoping for the situation to change sooner rather than later,” shared Anish Dutta, Head Chef - La Gustosa Pune.
Commenting on the same Sanjay Vazirani, CMD, Foodlink F&B Holdings India Pvt. Ltd said, “We have started Dine-In operations in Mumbai as per the relaxations that have been announced and vaccinated all our employees. We are ready to serve our guests at 50 percent seating capacity. Overcoming losses will take time but until then we are standing strong.”
Vazirani who owns restaurants like China Bistro, India Bistro was also of the opinion that for him everyone's safety is a priority at the moment and is with the government on their decisions on stage-wise unlock plans even though a 4 hour relaxation is not particularly viable for them since it adds fixed costs more than it can impact revenues positively.
Similarly, Mamata Banerjee led West Bengal government has asked restaurants to open from 5 PM to 8 PM. But the big question is whether this 3 hour window will be enough for restaurateurs to do the business. In fact when contacted many restaurants in capital city, Kolkata are in no mood to open their outlets, until there is some more relaxations and clearance on the operation.
"It's a very optimistic approach by the government and we are really happy and enthusiastic to take upon this with a bang! We know as a restaurant industry how much the economy relies on us. And because we are one of the industries who face the maximum jab during this lockdown, the impact, therefore, is always quite astounding. Although, there lies a little dilemma regarding the opening hours as it is not really the peak hours for dine-in(s), however, it still is a big initiative by the government,” pointed Debaditya Chaudhury, Director, Chowman, Oudh 1590 & Chapter 2.
Also, the Haryana government that extended COVID restrictions in the state till June 14, allowed restaurants and bars to reopen with certain conditions. As per the order, restaurants and bars in Gurgaon (including those in hotels and malls) are allowed to open from 10am to 8pm with 50% occupancy, while adopting social distancing norms, regular sanitisation and COVID-appropriate behaviour. Though, few restaurants have opened their outlet and are welcoming this order, few are in no mood to open soon.
“We have opened the Gurgaon outlet and we have been able to draw people at our outlet with 50% discount that we are offering for customer who are vaccinated. Every alternate table has got someone who has a beer on one hand and other hand on laptop,” shared Varun Puri of Duty Free Gurgaon.
Targeting the right crowd
Currently, restaurants are already geared up, stocking sanitization kits, processing QR codes and touch-fewer menus via PDFs and other print media. Moreover, they have stocked up an ample amount of thermal guns, soaps and sanitizers, head caps and masks and face-shields for the in-house staffs to abide by the protocols and to take up the next challenge.
“To reiterate the fact that since this 3 hours window is not the best time as restaurant hours, also that people are still sceptical with the ongoing shutdown, the response is not great compared to the normal times. Because of this there is no specific target audience,” added Choudhury.
Also, as restaurants are mostly open for breakfast, lunches etc. restaurants can look at their regular customers as the best audience because there is two things that these regular customers are also addicted to or are sure of if venturing out for dine-in, the safety protocols, the services available because mostly people will move out with their laptops etc to a restaurant doing their work, meetings. Hence, it is an easy bet for restaurants to look out for their loyals in spite of attracting the new ones.
“Our target clientele for this phase would be mostly the regulars and the family crowd, who have had a difficult past few months due to the lockdown. We want to provide them with a dining experience in a safe environment where our food wins over, providing a beautiful change in the past routine that they've had to go through,” added Dutta who has seen a positive response in past 3-4 days as people are stepping out during the day. And, the lack of sale in takeaways in the first half of the day during the lockdown is getting recovered by the dine-in clientele.
On the contrary, Puri is witnessing 70% of the corporate client at his restaurant. The most common request that he get now is not about repeating the drink but a request for the wifi password, or permission to get a print out, charging point is most in-demand thing in restaurants and bars these days.
“Our audience is our community of patrons who are our regulars. They have trusted us and supported us through this tough time via direct home delivery orders and positive feedback. I have several guest messages who have expressed how they have waited to dine with us. With such tremendous support and love, I am sure we'll get through this. We are looking forward to relaxation of norms in other cities as well,” concluded Vazirani.