As soon as the second wave hit the country and restaurants started to close their doors for dine-in, staff were left in a complete state of dilemma. Employees at Kynd Cafe and Bar in Pune wanted to go back to their native place again and the landlords, of course, were in no mood to give any further concessions. Yet again, when things were settling down slowly, restaurant employees of big cities are staring down at the barrel of uncertainties.
Restaurateurs fear that their employees could migrate to villages once again, but this time, maybe forever. Reverse migration has already started in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. With uncertainty over whether they would be able to see their families in such testing times, many employees preferred to return home. Several establishments had also stopped paying their employees; some people were forced to leave as restaurants were running into losses when the lockdown began. This all looked like living in the past year.
A lot of the fine dining restaurants are facing staff shortages affecting them directly or indirectly. A lot of them are postponing their opening too even when they are allowed to operate. While many restaurateurs are trying to make travel arrangements to bring the staff back. Only those who have staff in place are likely to start operations.
“Our staff plans on going back to their native again and our landlords are in no mood to give us any more discounts and vendors have been now following up too, this is going to pile up on my debts and create more uncertainty in our minds,” Eshita Deoskar, Co-founder of Kynd Cafe and Bar Pune had said.
Especially restaurants situated in states which are majorly hit are facing the unfavourable situation. Business owners who run small eateries and restaurants say that with a large chunk of the workforce gone, the lockdown-hit business that was slowly picking up has been adversely affected. Some even fear that this second wave will lead to the complete shut-down of many f&b businesses because now they don’t have any liquidity to stay afloat.
Kalyani Das, Owner of Dasaprakash informed that some of the team members preferred to return to their home towns and villages to sit out the second wave. “We are in touch with many of them and they are looking forward to returning back to work as soon as things open up,” she further added.
Das believes that the key to their return is based on their level of confidence in their employers and their relationship with their management. While in the case of Kalyani, most of her team members are keen to return back to work as soon as it is possible.
“We believe that strong brands with good financial backgrounds and strong employee focus are key to employees returning to work as soon as lockdowns are lifted,” Das said. Many major players had not faced the issue of reverse migration yet as there is enough backup capital to keep the salaries updated even in zero revenues.
Others like Vishal Anand, founder of Moonshine Food Ventures have kept his employees engaged through various initiatives. “We had started offering homestyle meals at a very subsidized rate to the Covid affected families and work from home couples on a subscription basis. We have received a good response so far and moreover been able to maintain a connection with our guests during these difficult times. This has also helped in keeping most of our staff engaged,” he said.
Now with states opening up in phases, restaurant operators are expecting their staff to return and many to shed away the fear have announced vaccination drive for their employees. Owners have welcomed the vaccination move announced by West Bengal government. The owner of Peter Cat and Mocambo, Nitin Kothari said that he has already sent requisitions for vaccines. “Our cooks are here but a lot of staff members are not in the city, We have told them to return,” he said.
However, looking at the grim situation, industry stakeholders feel that Government needs to rethink the strategy of lockdown and provide a breather if they want the owners to sustain in the business.