Ready to resume dine-in services; delivery not a viable option to run business, say restaurant owners – Moneycontrol

Restaurant News

Lite Bite Foods, which operates 30 restaurant brands, including Punjab Grill, TRES, The Artful Baker, Zambar and Asia Seven Express, recently saw one of its outlets set a record, albeit a dubious one. “The highest number of dine-in guests we have served on a single day (since services resumed) is just 15 at Punjab Grill’s Saket (Delhi) outlet,” Rohit Aggarwal, Director, Lite Bite Foods, told Moneycontrol.

Things are no different for Prabhjot Aneja of The Great Wall Restaurant, “Overall sales have come down to 30 percent of what they used to be before Covid-19,” he said.

Akanksha Chaudhary, Assistant Director, Sales & Marketing, JSM Corporation, which manages the Hard Rock Cafe in Bengaluru, also said sales were at barely 20 percent of the pre-lockdown level, on average.

The collapse in business being experienced by these restaurants is being felt across the country. Quite simply, India’s restaurant business has been battered by the strict lockdowns imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19, as well as by customers’ unwillingness to eat out where services have been allowed to resume.

Lockdown blues

Restaurants and malls were among the first to be hit as several States directed them to shut down citing safety reasons. In cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, which have a high density of restaurants, public venues and dine-ins were directed to close before the national lockdown.

While most States allowed service deliveries with Unlock 1.0 and 2.0, not all restaurants are fully operational. About 40 percent across the country are still shut owing to lockdowns.

In Maharashtra, the lockdown, which began in March, has been extended until July 31. Restaurants and malls are still awaiting the go-ahead to resume operations and allow dine-in services. Until then, restaurant owners will have to rely on deliveries to run their business.

People are still apprehensive about stepping out and going to confined public places such as malls and restaurants. “Because there is no movement of people and they are absolutely cautious about what to eat and what not to, demand is presently at 15-20 percent from what it used to be before the lockdown,” said Shivanand Shetty, President, AHAR (Indian Hotel & Restaurant Association).

He also said that regular customers are also extremely cautious on their spending because of pay cuts and the possibility of job losses. Shetty believes it will be at least a year before demand is back on track.

“Another huge challenge is that migrant workers have gone back to their villages because of which the industry won’t be able to function normally post the lockdown, when restaurants open,” he said.

Delivery model not sustainable 

“The post-unlock situation is not very motivating. Walk-in numbers are extremely low and our operational cost is soaring,” Aggarwal of Lite Bite Foods told Moneycontrol. Aggarwal said that to meet operational costs, Lite Bite Foods’ restaurants that are open (YouMee in Bengaluru and Delhi and four outlets of Punjab Grill across Delhi-NCR) have been taking delivery orders as well. Despite this, sales are at just 20 percent sales of the level they were at before the Covid pandemic struck.

Things are slightly better for Chai Point. Speaking to Moneycontrol, Amuleek Singh Bijral, its Co-founder and CEO, said: “We are doing about 65 percent of the pre-Covid delivery revenue with less than 70 percent of our stores being open.”

In certain States, such as Maharashtra, where dine-in is not allowed, delivery is the only source of income. But Shetty says this is not a viable option to run the business in the long run.

While the Maharashtra Government is yet to announce SOPs for standalone restaurants, small restaurants are struggling to survive as takeaway/home delivery is not viable for them and they are unable to cover even their input costs. “Takeaway/home delivery is hardly a viable option for restaurants. Hence, there should be no cap on customers who can be served at restaurants. Opening at 100 percent capacity, with due respect to SOPs and social distancing norms, will be the only viable option,” said Shetty.

A new dine-in experience

To prevent any infection and reassure customers, restaurants are going the extra mile to re-align their strategies to meet the new normal and gain customer confidence once States allow dine-in services to resume.

The focus has shifted from aesthetic cleanliness to clinical cleanliness, said Amanpreet Matharu, Director-Food and Beverages, The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi. “We have charted a contact-less journey for our guests, right after their temperatures are checked upon arrival. They can check in or place orders through a simple touch on their personal devices and even make digital payments without any human interference. We are ensuring strict adherence to all the standard guidelines issued by the authorities,” Matharu said.

He pointed out that restaurants and banquets will need to be mandatorily set to 50 percent of their previous capacity. The buffet will be done away with to make way for pre-plated portions and dining areas will have more space.

Jaydeep Mukherjee, Brand Head, Smoke House Deli, said: “Seating has been re-aligned to maintain social distancing norms, and easy and intuitive contactless ordering and payment has been facilitated from each table directly through a new tech platform.”

“The entire outlet’s staff is armed with safety gear such as face masks, gloves, and visors at all times while handling, prepping, and cooking food. Their body temperature is checked regularly, and they ensure they wash and sanitise their hands every hour,” said Mukherjee.

Most restaurants owners said that inside the kitchen, chef workstations, kitchen utensils, machines, crockery and cutlery are sanitised.

In public areas, sanitisers have been placed on every table, and tables and chairs are sanitised after every use.

Bijral of Chai Point said its outlets have been redesigned for a “Safe & Quick” experience. For instance, it has installed toe-operated door openers and kick plates. GMTS (Gloves, masks, temperature check and sanitisers) are a must for both staff and customers. Whatsapp and QR code-based contactless ordering, E-bills with staff temperatures, social distancing markers, plexi-glass at the billing counter, sanitised trays and foot-operated sanitisers are other features.

Rishi Bajoria, Chief Mentor at Royal China, Kolkata, said they have reduced seating, provided masks to all staff, and sanitisers to all guests. Guest areas and touch points are constantly cleaned and disinfected.

Aneja of The Great Wall Restaurant said it is important to ensure customers do their bit to nullify the risk of infection. “From using masks, face shields and gloves to disinfecting the place regularly, we are taking all the safety precautions,” he said. “If people show up and see that there are regular temperature checks and sanitisation, it would help us gain their trust and they would be willing to visit us more frequently, he added.

Source: Thanks