The government of West Bengal announced strict restrictions for the state for an indeterminate period of time. As per government notifications, shopping malls, cinema halls, restaurants, bars, gyms, spas, sports complexes, beauty parlours and swimming pools will remain closed until further notice.
The food and beverage industry is one of the sectors that will be hit first and hit hard by the lockdown. The condition had been problematic anyway with last year’s long lockdown for the restaurant business. The industry, with a total turnover of Rs 4, 23, 865 crores, employ as many as 7.3M people. Needless to say, many of these, especially in the unorganized sector lost jobs last year with major lay-offs and closing of restaurants. Even this year, about 35% of the organized sector may lose their jobs if the lockdown persists. However, this year, restaurant owners and entrepreneurs are not going to sit down and take the punch in their faces. They are ready and will see through the smoke, they have decided.
Situations at the F&B business were improving since December and January and the restaurants were getting back over 50% of pre-Covid business, especially through food delivery apps. Still, however, business owners are not willing to take this as a defeat. With stretched election and campaigning, the restaurant business was hit anyway in Kolkata and West Bengal in general. But major brands are looking into strategies to keep afloat this year, with cloud kitchens, more automation and home delivery systems to keep the wheels turning.
Restaurateur Siddhartha Gupta, co-owner of Traffic Gastropub, says: “The pandemic did result to a drop in sales but we were still recovering from that and while we were in that process, we have faced another slump considering the fact of the increasing number of covid cases in the country. The impact of the partial lockdown is going to be tough this time.” However, there are voices of hope.
Vanita Bajoria, Director of Hard Rock Cafe, Kolkata, says, “last six months were the toughest moments I faced. I had the responsibility for so many people. But I knew I will have to overcome this rough patch. I was optimistic to get back on a good sales position until the news of partial lockdown. I really hope the restaurant industry will again see its peak despite the lockdown. We will bounce back.”
The owners of Aminia chain of restaurants, Kabir Azhar and Asher Ather, have their own two cents on the issue. According to Kabir, “it is our sole responsibility to ensure customers get safe and hygienic food at their doorstep. We don’t know when and how things are going to be normal, but we can pray to our almighty and have faith to win this battle altogether. Requesting patrons to support their favourite restaurants by ordering directly”.
Amit Kumar Modi and Priti Modi speak of their restaurant Unplugged Courtyard, Kolkata: “Armed with social distancing and tight safety parameters with extreme food hygiene and innovative menu, we were hoping to make the new situation ‘normal’. The new outlet was ready to floor customers. But the sudden lockdown has been a major setback. We will look forward to get over this soon enough and gift Kolkata with a brilliant eatery”.
Of course, there are problems. Lord of the Drinks, Kolkata is located in a plush shopping complex of South Kolkata and as per the regulations, malls will stay shut until further notice. Amit Bajoria, owner of Lord of the Drinks, says about the situation: “Things were finally seeing a ray of hope and we were recovering when the partial lockdown was imposed. With the rising number of cases in our country, public safety is of utmost importance right now. At the same time, restaurants like us who do not opt for take-away or online deliveries, will be hit hard.”
Canteen Pub & Grub, located in City Centre 1, Salt Lake, has similar problems. Swastik Nag, the owner of this place, says, “I am hoping for the day when ‘open’ signboards can finally go up on the restaurant’s social media page, post the lockdown, by then we will try to make the dining look very different again.” Sadly, delivery isn’t an option for these restaurants since their location would remain closed. Having said that, delivery and cloud kitchens are taking over a major chunk of the market, especially with fast food brands and looks like it’s the way to go.
Sanjay Chadha, owner of cloud kitchen Punjab Chowk, located in Jessore Road, has introduced authentic flavours of Punjab in our city straight through his kitchen. “Being a cloud kitchen, the new measures have made me adopt a model that has considerably more strict rules. From social distancing of staffers to daily temperature checks, sanitization process, and maintaining all aspects of hygiene is my top-most priority. But we will get over this,” says Sanjay Chadha.
Others are willing to make adjustments to keep on fighting the situation. Spandan Sarkar of Ekdalia Cocina says, “the restaurant business has been plagued by this pandemic and the consequences have been disastrous from last year itself. Nobody knows what we are going to face in the future. However, living in lockdown and through this pandemic is nothing but a serious adjustment in life. Ekdalia Cocina offers online deliveries and that is going to save me and my team from this phase.”
With new strategies and tech, restaurant businesses are looking to keep it positive through a difficult time that is going to hit the market and more importantly the F&B industry. Market will hope the huge industry will not go into lay-offs and closing down once again. Hope is the keyword.