Pune: ‘Waiting’, is probably the first thought that would come to our minds as we planned to go out for a meal at one of the most popular restaurants in the city, especially over the weekends. However, queues of people waiting outside restaurants and eateries, big as well as small ones, are going to vanish as restaurateurs prepare themselves for the post-lockdown changes and challenges.
“Hygiene and social distancing are going to be the determining factors in the minds of people as they choose the places to eat after the lockdown is lifted,” said restaurateur Rajesh Shetty, who owns the fine and dine restaurant Naivedyam, off Sinhagad Road.
CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
Pune Restaurants and Hoteliers Association (PRAHA) President Ganesh Shetty told Sakal Times, that initially the restaurants would only be able to accommodate customers at about 30 to 40 per cent of its capacity at a time.
“We would have to make arrangements such that there is a gap of at least one table between two groups of customers. We are thinking of bringing in the sanitisation tunnels and would clean and sanitise the restaurant every couple of hours. Masks will be compulsory for the staff,” Ganesh said.
He also added that the restaurants might face a staff crunch as well as some big ones might do layoffs.
“To ensure social distancing and extensive cleaning, we will have to shorten our menu, which would mean we would anyway require lesser staff. But also, many chefs and waiters, as well as other employees at the restaurants tend to be migrant workers, most of whom have returned home. We would face a staff crunch until they are back,” Ganesh added.
Poona Hoteliers Association past president Neerav Panchmia stated that there will be a change in the entire operation of the restaurants.
“We would need to sanitise the place more, conduct temperature checks of the employees, and maintain hygiene right from receiving raw material to serving food,” he said.
WINNING THE CUSTOMERS BACK
However, Panchmia added that winning the confidence of the customers is going to be the most difficult task.
“People will come back only when they are 100 per cent sure that the place is safe for them. Also, after the lockdown, the economy is going to be in bad shape, which would also impact the number of people eating out,” he said.
It will take at least until Diwali for the industry to stabilise, Panchmia said.
“Presently, the industry in Pune is facing a loss of around Rs 8 to 10 crores per day. Over 8 lakh people would be looking at unemployment after lockdown,” Ganesh Shetty said.
In a recent nationwide survey of Indian parents by the parenting platform ParentCircle, 49 per cent parents had said that they will not visit a restaurant for the rest of the year. In contrast, another 33 per cent were unwilling to risk eating out for at least three months.
However, Rajesh Shetty said that people will gradually start coming to the restaurants as they would want to hang out with their friends and families after all this while indoors.
“Restaurants are the best places to sit with people for a couple of hours, eat and chat. People are waiting to step out, share their lives with others. I think that will draw them to the eateries eventually, even though I agree that the frequency will be lower than before,” he expressed.
He hoped that in the 100 days after reopening, around 70 per cent of the customers would be back.
TOUGHER SITUATION FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
“The changes that we are staring at for the post-lockdown world would be expensive. It would be very difficult for the smaller establishments to cope with the losses that would be incurred in the process,” Panchmia said.
Ganesh Shetty added, “Everything will be on a trial and error basis. I don’t know how viable it would be for the smaller eateries to run at 30 per cent capacity.”
Owner of hotel Sandeep, a smaller establishment in Shivajinagar, Rajendra Shetty said that in such a situation, food delivery would be a better option for eateries such as his.
“We would not be able to have more people inside the eatery at once. So people would have to wait outside longer, and I think that would only lead to losing customers further. I believe that food delivery is the only hope for small restaurants in these challenging times,” Rajendra said.