Food servers turn food providers

People having lunch at a restaurant in Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Left unemployed as restaurants were one of the first sectors to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several waiters who had migrated to the city went from serving food to growing food to earn a living as they headed back home in March 2020.

Looking back, they say it was a blessing in disguise that the restaurant industry shut before others as the week-long window before the nationwide lockdown allowed them to head home comfortably and not get stranded in the Capital. Others, who stayed back in the city, say they spent their time picking up skills that could help them with alternative career choices like becoming a DJ or harness the home-delivery boom by becoming a food valet.

Radhe Shyam, from Siddharth Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh, who works at an eatery in Patel Nagar says that almost every body who comes to the city looking for a job has family and some agricultural land in the village and there was a rush to head home as it was the safest place to be.

“Since the 1980s, I have sent all the money I make back home every month. Apart from by bad habit of chewing tobacco, I don’t really have any needs as my employer provides me food and accommodation. My family was happy to have me home and work in the fields when I was out of job. It was time for them to repay me,” says Mr. Radhe. He adds that returning to rural life was a welcome change and with limited expenses, it was easy to get by as the country shut down.

Back to the farm

With schools also closing early, Gajendra Negi who works at a restaurant in Connaught Place, says that he moved back with his family to his village in Tehri and started helping out in the fields. “With school declaring holidays, we left immediately for home and did not get stuck in the city as the atmosphere was better back home. We were not stuck within four walls. I did not think it will be for this long but thankfully, I was not unemployed during the lockdown as I earned an income from farming and my children attended classes online. As soon as restaurants opened, I got a call from my employer and was back. If restaurants had not closed early, we would have been in a different situation,” says Mr. Gajendra.

Some waiters like Vishal Kumar, who works at a club, took the opportunity to learn a skill so that they could seek better opportunities once things opened.

“I am back to being a waiter now but I used the lockdown wisely. I would see people paying so much money to hire DJs. I am always in touch with the latest songs, as my friend who used to rent out sound equipment taught me. I have a mixing app on my phone and keep practising. I am waiting for the wedding season to start so that I can launch my new career,” Mr. Vishal said.

He added that the going was tough during the lockdown but the time spent out of work gave him hope and the opportunity to better his life.

Delivering food

Within the hospitality sector, the push towards getting food, groceries and medicines home delivered, gave the opportunity to many to become valets with food delivery apps. Soham Rawat said that while life was initially tough, he applied and became a delivery rider. “I had to care for my family and find employment. It was tough as there were few openings. It worked well for me that many of my colleagues went home so when restaurants started with home delivery, I jumped at the opportunity. What difference did it make? Earlier, I used to serve people at the table, now I started serving people at their home,” says Mr. Soham.

With the restaurant business back in full swing, and the city witnessing a trend of “revenge dining” as COVID-19 cases remain low, HarendraYadav from Aligarh, who works at a restaurant in Connaught Place, says he is happy to be back to work as sitting at home was very boring. “I like doing my job as I interact with different people every day. COVID-19 made this difficult as I felt lonely trying to run my family’s readymade garment business at home. I am happy to be back and thankful that I worked in a sector that shut early and did not have its employees trying to walk home when the lockdown was announced.”

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 2:42:39 AM |

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