Written by Seona James & Dipanita Nath
As bars and restaurants in Pune prepare to stay open till 10 pm at 50 per cent occupancy from June 14, food lovers can expect only fewer dishes on their lunch and dinner menus.
At Austin 40 Cafehouse at Deccan Gymkhana, for instance, at least 100 items, including its bestselling cocktails and mocktails, are missing from the original menu. The outlet of Poona Guest House at Pavilion Mall, too, will have a truncated menu for delivery, when it reopens on June 14.
“Ingredients are either not available or so expensive that we would have to increase the price of the dishes, which would not be feasible,” said Sarvesh Jadhav, CEO of Pune’s Austin 40 Cafehouse. The café, however, has managed to retain its popular “chewing coffee” — a drink that can be chewed and sipped.
Sanat Sarpotdar of Poona Guest House said that a majority of restaurants in the city are working on getting labourers back from their native places. “It is a good sign that the government has given us permission to start operations, but we don’t have staff. To run a restaurant, we need a full team and most of our staffers are from other states where the pandemic situation is still serious and train and bus services are erratic,” he says.
Agent Jack’s outlets have not opened yet. “The news to reopen took us by surprise. It is labour-intensive work and all our employees have gone back to their native places. Now, slowly, they are coming back as the unlocking process has gained pace. Our branches will, hopefully, open by next week,” Kunal Soni, the outlet’s general manager said.
Most bars and restaurants are reeling under the economic impact of the lockdown. Many say they are yet to pay taxes and rentals, among others, although no business was coming in for most of the year. “For most of us, reopening is like starting from scratch,” said Jadhav.
The extension of the timings — from 4 pm to 10 pm — is expected to boost most businesses by bringing in the key evening clientele. Amrita Shetty, the owner of Babylon Craft Brewery, famous for its beer, said that people usually do not come in for liquor in the afternoon, so, the footfall on Friday was only 10 per cent of what it should have been. “Though customers have been coming in and ordering online, business is down to 10-15 per cent,” she said.
Restaurants would, Shetty added, have to bear an additional cost of bringing back 70 to 80 per cent of the workers who had returned home during the lockdown. “We have to get them here through flights, trains or buses. It is an extremely expensive affair for us,” she said.
Irrespective of difficulties, bars and restaurants have initiated special offers to attract customers and boost sales. “To promote vaccination, we are currently offering a person who has got their first dose their first beer on the house. It’s fun and helps us in making Swig a safe place for people to chill. The response has been great, and people have been loving it. There is a certain ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) on the table when one person hasn’t gotten their first dose,” said Sakshi Gautam, member of Management and Design at Swig.
Shetty, too, has been providing up to 30 per cent discount to customers. Her Babylon Craft Brewers and Swig are among the outlets that have been delivering alcohol at home and plan on continuing to do so.
“Deliveries are here to stay, as we were offering and will continue to offer discounts on delivery. Work from home is the new normal, so, I think delivery will play an important role. People working from home do not have to spend on commuting, and some people have shifted back to their hometowns, saving on their rent. So, they will opt for delivery,” Shetty said.
Jadhav, meanwhile, said doorstep delivery has not been very effective. “If I approach the third party, I will have to pay them a commission and, hence, charge customers more. What is helping me is take-aways and dine ins,” he said.
Over the last few weeks, several restaurants have also come together to promote direct ordering from restaurants rather than orders through third-party applications. This has, they claim, helped them tide over financial problems to an extent.
At Hippie@Heart, Karan Kriplani, however, is hopeful of “things to go back to normal”. “The whole experience of deliveries, not a complete experience. Dine-in is about the experience rather than just the food. With home deliveries, the time taken for the dish to reach you deteriorates the experience a little. That restaurants have been allowed to open till 10 pm is a sign that we are trying to get a semblance of normalcy back. At present, we have a truncated menu but within a week or two, we will be serving our complete 120-odd dishes,” he said.