"Major concern for restaurants after COVID-19 will be survival and it depends on loyal customers"

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Talking to Restaurant India Ashish Mehta, Co-Founder, Bombay Cocktail Bar, Blanco, Oheka and February 30 shares about restaurants business post Covid-19 world.
  • Nusra Deputy Features Editor
Ashish Mehta

What was your first thought, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic?

Pandemic word is used to describe when an epidemic has become rampant in multiple countries and continents simultaneously. The first reaction was of fear and stress as this kind of global health emergency hasn’t been since more than a century and the impact of it on the hospitality was going to be disastrous. To be in abyss without the clarity on recourse & recovery and with the responsibility towards employees, work force and other partners, it was a stressful period. To recover from the same, it was evident the world will take long time and the change it will bring to all industries especially hospitality was immense and drastic to say the least.

What is the way forward, do you think people will venture to dine out again?

People have fear instilled in minds of getting infected and it will take some more time for them to come to normal socializing norms (though the new norms are now defined for socializing with measures like masks, distancing etc.). Dining out is purely a concept of socializing contrary to current norm of social distancing and thus return of normalcy in the same will be seen once a fool proof medicine or vaccine is discovered.

What are the major changes in operation that you see going forward – tell us about before COVID-19 and then how this has changed for your brands?

The number one concern to be addressed post Covid-19 will be on health and safety, which translates majorly into hygiene and sanitation issues of the restaurants. The key is to provide physical evidence of the client’s concern for health and safety. We shall, like all good brands focus on these paramters by deploying proper team to take on right from sanitisation to checking temperature of guests with a remote thermometer, showering a light sanitizer mist & keeping hand sanitizers handy. All the staff will undergo mandatory screening everyday, following highest standards of hygiene and sanitisation and undergoing medical test regularly. All staff will continue to wear surgical gloves and masks to give confidence to the guests. The number of staff will be reduced and experienced and multi skilled staff will be the norm for some time forward.

BCB

When the industry starts up again, do you think profit making will be a major concern?

The major concern for one of the hardest hit industry ecnomically due to COVID-19 will be of survival and in this industry the survival depends on loyal patronage. This will be achieved by making your patrons trust in your health and hygiene systems that are followed and ensuring that it is followed forever. Though profit making is important to survive and meet the increased costs as mentioned above, even a breaking even point for sometime will be happily accepted by our industry. Putting clients first and taking care of employees will help carve a niche and survive for long.

Now that there is no escaping ‘restrictive social distancing’ how are you going to restructure to inculcate this aspect into your business?

Bars, restaurants hotels, and other businesses in the hospitality sector face some of the biggest challenges in reopening their doors to customers in a way that meets COVID-19 social distancing regulations. Simply reducing seating is not a financially viable option for businesses already operating under severe economic strain. One of the areas to be focused for us can be removing delays from ordering which will ensure a significant increase in table turnover, which will be crucial for hospitality businesses operating at reduced capacity. The major restructuring will be to utilise the resources in the most efficient ways and cut down costs. For expample for us a good option will be to allow outdoor seating and service of food and beverages, wherever possible with due permissions.  Technology will also play a crucial role in how well our sector adapts to reopening. We will try and adapt to contactless ordering and billing which will be important.

What restaurateurs want from the Government until their businesses are ‘Back to full strength’?

The appeal has already been made to government to consider in terms of-

·         Support the payment of employee salaries for twelve months.

·         Have a twelve months moratorium on EMIs, advance tax, PF, ESIC, GST, Excise, State levies, bank guarantees, custom duties and security deposits. It may be mentioned that the government has already given a moratorium of three months and further three months extension for existing interest and principal payments to banks.

·         Have support for power and water charges.

·         Interest free loans for working capital.

·         Renegotiate re-financing loans with better payment plans.

·         Allow deferred payment or EMI option in licensing fees (including renewals).

·         Reduce red tapism

BCB

How will single brand restaurants survive post lockdown?

It has been tougher for single brand restaurants. They thrived on their loyal patronage of years that was based on relationship with clients due to warmth they showed and interation they had. The have practically been out of business since the out break. They need support from their landlords to begin with. A waiver in rent for the period of lockdown and then revision in rent when the operations resume till the time operations normalises is something we look forward to. After spending lakhs and crores of rupees in interiors and equipments and other things to beautify the place of landlord and make it feel alive, a good gesture from landlord is welcome. Additionally government sops in form of tax benefits, license fees emi’s etc will be helpful to keep them open and be in business.

Since restaurant capacity will go from 100% to 40% due to the social distancing rule. What are some other ways restaurants can adopt to make money through other streams in hospitality?

Few of the ways to explore are to introduce DIY kits of the best selling and popular dishes as it is a fun way for people to explore their culinary skills as well as a good revenue source. Another option is to have app/mobile based pre ordering service for the restaurant to reduce the order taking/waiting time and a quicker churn of tables can be done increasing revenue. Home delivery to start of prepared meals if not already started. Holding virtual parties and trying best to give the feel of vibe and music through live streaming.

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