Customer fear puts Delhi restaurants in a bind

A waiter cleans a table while customers wait for their lunch at the Town Hall restaurant in New Delhi.

A waiter cleans a table while customers wait for their lunch at the Town Hall restaurant in New Delhi.  

Many worried about the future as rent and operational costs outweigh income

A thermal check at the entrance followed by a dab of hand sanitiser and a brief on what to expect in terms of service are some of the new ways that restaurants are greeting customers — the few there are.

The government permitted eateries to open their dining areas on June 8, but over the last two weeks only a handful of restaurants have taken the leap to layout their tables. Most are rethinking their strategy given the high rent and fixed costs; and the fact that customers are staying away as they are apprehensive of getting infected.

While quick-service restaurants have adapted well as they mostly use disposable containers to serve customers, it is the traditional restaurants that are putting in the extra effort to ensure safety of customers and employees.

Measures include contactless menu cards, contactless payment, and transparent glass partitions between tables in the dining area. Strict sanitation rules are observed in the kitchen and employees have to wear protective gear.

The move to open restaurants was welcome news for the thousands who were left unemployed as the industry tried to survive the lockdown on the little revenue it made from takeaway and delivery orders.

Randeep Bajaj, co-founder and partner, Ambrosia Hospitality, which runs restaurants such as Townhall in Khan Market, and Amour Bistro on Malcha Marg in Chanakyapuri, said: “Customer response has been positive so far which gives us some hope for the future and courage to fight, but the numbers are not enough to sustain models... but at least the system is running again.”

Ashish Ahuja, who owns Pebble Street in New Friends Colony, said the fear in the minds of customers is too much for restaurants to start functioning normally again.

“Our restaurant in New Friends Colony is open but the one in Connaught Place is still shut... the dining business is next to negligible,” said Mr. Ahuja. Managers of restaurant located in commercial areas said that business has improved slightly.

Pradeep Mishra, general manager at Nathu’s in Sunder Nagar, said they have changed the layout of the restaurant to ensure space between tables. There is also a divider to ensure that those who come for takeaway do not enter the dining area.

“Earlier, many families would come. But now with children under the age of 10 and senior citizens not being allowed out, it is mostly individuals who are coming in for a quick bite,” Mr. Mishra said, adding: “Since reopening, there has been a steady rise in customers... it is helping us sustain our business, but it will be a long time before things are back to normal.”

Many restaurants said that the 9 p.m. curfew, which stops them from offering dinner service, and ban on serving alcohol are coming in the way of their unlock plans.

“Only very early diners can be catered too and if someone is supposed to go to work and then come for dinner, 9 p.m. seems like an impossible situation for them. Lifting the curfew, or at least pushing it to 11 p.m. will certainly help,” said Mr. Bajaj.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 2:13:41 AM |

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