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Restaurant News

CM says restaurants can resume dine-in services from October; after suffering huge losses during the lockdown, restaurateurs elated; say employees will be asked to return in a phased manner.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced on Monday that restaurants, bars and eating joints would be allowed to resume dine-in services in October across the state. He said a set of guidelines have been prepared and submitted to authorities concerned. “Once finalised, a decision to reopen restaurants will be taken,” Thackeray said in a meeting with representatives of restaurant associations from Aurangabad, Pune, Nagpur and Mumbai. As of now, restaurants are allowed to operate takeaway/delivery services only.

The CM said the government is treading cautiously and laid emphasis on wearing masks, cleaning hands and maintaining physical distance, both by the staff of restaurants and customers. He also spoke about the government’s ‘My family my responsibility’ mission and urged restaurant owners to join it. According to estimates, the decision will benefit nearly 60 lakh direct employees of the 400,000 establishments in the state.

Draft SOPs from Maharashtra’s Directorate of Tourism state that when restaurants reopen for dine-in services, they will be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity, and will have to follow a long list of Covid-related guidelines. Restrictions notwithstanding, players in the industry welcomed the news.

“We’re elated,” said restaurateur Gauri Devidayal, “we have been waiting for this for months now. No doubt, it will come with its own set of challenges, and we understand that recovery will be slow, but we have to start somewhere.” Mayank Bhatt, brand head of Social, which has 10 outlets in Mumbai, added, “Naturally, we won’t be doing more than 30 to 40 per cent of our pre-lockdown business, but it’s good that we’re restarting.”

However, despite the green light, the city’s night life isn’t about to recover fully just yet. Bhatt said his properties wouldn’t open all at once. “We will start with the ones that have been doing a good amount of deliveries. Staff will be called back from their native places in phases, too,” he said.

Rahul Bajaj, director of Out of the Blue, Bandra, isn’t planning to open his dine-in service any time soon. “I will only open when it’s safe for all,” Bajaj said. His restaurant occupies a property owned by his father, so he doesn’t have the landlord breathing down his neck, demanding rent.

Bhatt said restaurateurs in Mumbai “pay first world rents to make third world profits” and they have been under a lot of pressure over these last few months. Rahul Akerkar admits he hasn’t paid rent for an year-old property since March and is currently in discussions with his landlord. AD Singh, the managing director of Olive Bar & Kitchen, which has 16 hospitality brands under it, has had better luck. “Most of our landlords recognise the value of a good tenant,” he said.

There are other considerations, too. Akerkar, who currently has a team living at Qualia to manage deliveries, and Devidayal, whose Mag St Bread Co has been delivering in Mumbai and Alibaug through the lockdown, wonder how the ‘front of the house’ staff will commute to work. “Will the trains resume simultaneously?” Devidayal asked.

“For sure, the restrictions and the pandemic make our business hard, but we are looking for ways to increase revenue within these parameters,” said Singh, who has had to shut down one property in Kolkata and another in Delhi. He is, however, worried about whether customers will return.

Singh said if the number of customers going out doesn’t increase some restaurants may need to shut down. Akerkar added, “I am really excited to finally be able to get going again, but I’m also curious to see if people will come out.” From what he has seen all over the world, he feels “people will”.

Devidayal agreed that the future remains uncertain for now, but the CM’s announcement has given restaurateurs a reason to hope, at least. “Until we open, and see what the customer response is, we can’t be sure how this will play out,” she said, adding that based on the response from customers who come around to pick up deliveries, “people do seem to want to get out again”.

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