Kolkata, the food capital of fine dining restaurants in the country, has been seeing a steady decline in customers as the third COVID-19 wave hit the city soon after Christmas. The restaurants are looking at making up part of their losses though home deliveries.
However, as Zomato and Swiggy and delivery champions come to their rescue, enthusiasm for the food trade in a city of foodies is not waning and new businesses are cropping up every day.
Sudesh Poddar, President of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Eastern India told PTI Wednesday there had been 60-70 per cent fall in the number diners across restaurants since Christmas week as COVID-19 infections surged.
''There was fantastic response, similar to pre-COVID times, till December 26 at almost all restaurants. However, people decided against eating out as crowds swelled on the streets and then COVID infections increased,” said Poddar.
Kolkata's restaurant trade is worth an annual turnover of Rs 10,000 crore in normal times with just the 9 days from Christmas Eve till New Year accounting for about Rs 1,200 crore in sales.
''I think the fall in number of diners across the fine dining restaurants can be between 60-70 per cent between the period of December 29 to January 7,'' he said.
Dining hit due to curfew, too
Dining out was also hit when the state decided to impose night curfew from 10 PM.
The restaurateur said he expects business to falter till February when the number of COVID cases are forecast to start coming down by health experts. “Once that happens people may return, taking all precautions,'' he said.
The owner of iconic `Peter Cat’ and `Mocambo’ on Kolkata’s happening Park Street, Nitin Kothari said ''though my outlets have recorded full occupancy with 50 percent seating allowed by the government even the day before, crowds have thinned considerably in all the outlets since Christmas.
''Sales have definitely dropped, by maybe 20 percent after January 2. That’s also because we have curtailed our seating from 70 percent of capacity to 50 percent as per COVID guidelines,'' he said.
He said restaurateurs have worked to make customers feel safe by strictly adhering to best practices, “with our staff using face shield, hand gloves, masks and ensuring there is significant gaps between seats.''
Debaditya Chaudhury, Managing Director of restaurant chains like Chowman, Oudh 1590 and Chapter 2 said, ''it's true that our dine-in sale has gone down by 30 percent but our delivery has come to our rescue with an increase (in sales) by 50-60 per cent.”
Food biz learning to live with COVID
Food historian Ranjini Guha said, “Several new restaurants have started up despite the times being challenging – Craft Coffee, Bean Shot Café, Verandah café, to name just a few. Food businesses are betting that as we learn to live with COVID, they can carve a niche with healthier menus, more stress on hygiene, stricter protocols.”
Surojit Rout whose restaurant Ekdalia Rd had to shut down in 2020, two years after launching and who moved on to running a cloud kitchen, has re-started business with a new restaurant on Southern Avenue.
Apeksha Lahiri, Proprietor, The Yellow Turtle said, ''the number of patrons went down since December 27 as people covid cases rose and the December 31 turnout was nowhere as expected. We will have no other option than to focus more on take away and home delivery of our food, through our own delivery boys as well as through service providers like Zomato and Swiggy,” added Jayashri Chattaraj, Partner, Blu Orchid.
However, the timing of the night curfew at 10 PM with no relaxations has meant that even for deliveries the time window ends at 9.30 PM, as delivery boys are in a rush to wind up work to reach home before 10 PM.
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