While it is a known fact that food brings us together, Mumbai’s restaurant business is facing a hard time to keep up amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic, which has encouraged social distancing in order to contain the virus, has resulted in diners closing operations fully or partially due to safety concerns.
Gauri Devidayal who runs ‘The Table’, a highly recognised restaurant in South Mumbai has shut down the restaurant in a bid to not jeopardise the safety of her staff and patrons. She states, “It’s going to have a very serious effect financially on business, it’s going to be crippling. But safety of our employees and guests is paramount, and it doesn’t really justify having three or four people for just deliveries.”
When asked about meeting the financial needs of her staff, she asserts, “It’s a fair concern, but honestly even for our staff, we’ve explained to them that risking their lives is not worth it, and that we will take care of salaries in some shape or form. We’ve given March 31 as a definitive date rather than saying it’s indefinite. But obviously, if by then the situation doesn’t get better or gets worse, then we have to review it again at that time. So, the idea is to take like a week at a time.”
Alex Sanchez, owner of ‘Americano’, who also decided to keep his establishment closed until further notice, says that he was terrified by the thought of shutting for an unknown period while the bills continue to pile up. However, he maintains that it was a decision about people and not business. We felt that it was the right thing to do, and that is what this world needs right now. We need to look after one another and figure the rest out once we get this under control. I can't speak to the safety measures and precautions that others are taking--and I'm sure they are--but the reality is we need to practice diligent social distancing."
"There is no doubt that this is going to affect the entire hospitality community in ways we've never seen before and may never see again. What is more important than the estimated financial loss as a result of our decision is the potential loss of life if we didn't act. India's healthcare system will be totally overwhelmed if we all don't take action now. There is no reason to have a restaurant if there is no one around to come and eat. I know it's morbid, but this is about as serious an issue as we will ever see and it is up to all of us to prevent a worst-case scenario", he added.
Meanwhile there are establishments that are open to serve and are following strict guidelines to provide the best services.
Riyaaz Amlani, CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants - a collective that runs SOCIAL, antiSOCIAL, Smoke House Deli, FLEA Bazaar Café, Salt Water Café, and more says that they will continue to serve by keeping up with the hygiene protocols, including the use of temperature scanners. However, he has also pointed out why they cannot go completely MIA. He states “We will be happy to close our restaurants and support the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, but the industry needs the support of the government in this. We have to ensure our employees get their salaries, and this can be done if the government assists us by nullifying excise fees and charges, VAT, and reduces license fees.”
‘Bombay Food Truck’ owner Ashish Sajnani, who is the founder of The Food Truck Association India and the director of OPA Hospitality, mentions that while their fleet of three trucks will be working keeping the safety measures in mind, they have partnered with Zomato for those who’d like to order. “We keep the safety of our employees and guests alike with regular sanitisation of our trucks and usage of masks and sanitisers and keeping the truck clean. We encourage people to enjoy their favourites being at home and socially distancing themselves, while ordering from home”, said Sajnani.
Similarly, Vanika Choudhary, who owns Sequel has also closed doors for indoor dining, and has partnered with delivery apps to keep her diner functioning despite the pandemic. She states "Restaurants, specially high cost ingredient driven ones like us, run on thin margins. 2-3 days of harsh monsoon can wipe out the month’s profit. So one can imagine the impact this temporary closure will have on the full year numbers! As of now, our business was only 20% lower than normal but some of us have to take a call before the government decides that it is unsafe."
Avik Chatterjee, who has created several brands such as Zoodles- Asian Street Wok, Hoppipola- Eat Drink Play, Gong- Modern Asian, POH- Progressive Oriental House, says "We haven’t taken a call to shut all operations among all brands. Only where we are compelled to, due to legal notices, we are following the rule. Our casual dining restaurants are open for now & will take bookings & open for deliveries. Rest are used We have taken necessary precautions & giving special training to make sure we are a safe premise for our diners."
Celebrity Chef Vicky Ratnani weighs in on how restaurants are coping at a time when logistics and purchase have affected due to the outbreak. “You’ve got two kinds of produce – one is the fresh lot, which is generally from the local market. However, the frequency of purchase and the logistics has been affected in a minor way. It also depends on how often or how local the restaurant is shopping. When it comes to frozen goods that are imported such as protein (fish), they’re safe because people have their stock in place. Besides that, there are dry goods, which aren’t potentially hazardous, such as sauces that can be stored. Then there’s the trick on menu planning, which will work if it’s more local”, says Vicky.
Travel, Lifestyle and Food Columnist Rupali Dean says that the restaurant industry is fronting tests that they have certainly not experienced before and they are doing their best to steer them with an amalgamated chi and energy, and that this too shall pass. She opines, “Service and hospitality is their DNA, however with all that is known about the virus, and scientific indication advising to cut non-essential social contact, most of the restaurants are making the most tough choice to provisionally close their restaurants until 31st of March. Every tiny effort counts and this will help the restaurant industry get back on its feet.”
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, Mumbaikars have turned to ordering food in a bid to not leave their homes. It’s a 50-50 scenario where everyone is a hero without a cape – be it those working to make ends meet, now that most of us have turned to ordering food in a bid to avoid going outdoors; or those who have adopted social distancing to not turn into potential carriers of this virus.