New Delhi: Restaurants and bars across the city, buoyed by the normalising Covid situation, good turnouts and the promise held by the new excise policy, had paid hefty licence fees in November, even agreed to rent increases in some cases. But instead of the buzzing festive season, business crashed as the coronavirus made new inroads in the city. With in-dining ruled out, the industry is staring at huge losses with possible job cuts.
Priyank Sukhija of First Fiddle and head of the Delhi chapter of National Restaurant Association of India, recently opened three new outlets and was planning to open a few more. Deflated, he now says that the industry will likely face the closure of many establishments.
Vishal Anand of Moonshine Food Ventures and Gurgaon chapter head of NRAI pointed out that whereas there seems to be no action taken against markets, public transport and election rallies for not enforcing social distancing, face masks or seating restrictions, restaurants and bars follow all the protocols and yet are always the first to be shut down.
Anand said there needed to be a national Covid task force that issues the same guidelines for every industry and bases its decisions on science and on industry concerns.
Kabir Suri, president, NRAI, said there were 95,187 eateries in Delhi, with 32,777 being organised restaurants holding FSSAI number and GST certification and the rest in the informal sector. Suri said the annual revenue generated by the organised restaurants in Delhi was around Rs 31,132 crore. Also, dine-out frequency in the city was six times per month against the national average of 4.5 times per month. This had all come to a standstill, he said.
“We are very worried about the fate of 3,01,715 people employed in Delhi restaurants. We don’t want them to suffer but unfortunately, we don’t have adequate resources to support them for long,” Suri said, adding that the huge chunk of the revenues came from dine-in and not from deliveries/takeaway, which is currently permitted.
Suri also said a consumption surge prompted restaurants to rehire people, who are now left in the lurch. “This is like an excruciating, painful slow death for an erstwhile vibrant industry,” he lamented.
Many outlets are trying to weather the storm by creating new delivery-only menus. Restaurants like Tangra Project, Oh! Calcutta, Fio, Wok in the Clouds, Smoke House, Social, Plats and Punjab Grill are promoting home delivery. Five-star hotels too are introducing delivery concepts. Taj has Qmin Delivery, ITC has Gourmet Couch with options such as ‘Table for Four’, while The Oberoi at Home, Marriot of Wheels, Claridges’ Tiffin takes dishes to people’s homes as does Hyatt, Shangri La and the Lodhi. Restaurants Comorin’s delivery and Rooh’s the Dinner Box will also cater to the fine dining experience at home.
Sukhija said while the industry would abide by the rules and help fight Covid, the only hope for restaurants and bars now was to reopen with all the major promises of new excise policy fully implemented. “We were promised operations till 3am, reduction of drinking age to 21 years and permission to use open spaces on our premises,” said Sukhija. “We paid the licence fee for these facilities, yet they haven’t been implemented. These should be in place when we reopen or the fee we pay should be adjusted against the delay in implementing these measures. Industry will collapse without this support.”