The restaurant business had just begun picking up the pieces after the lockdown and slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy. But the night curfew imposed by the state government from Sunday, wherein eateries are not allowed to stay open after 8pm, has left restaurateurs fuming. They say it is as good as a complete lockdown.
The owner of a restaurant chain in South Mumbai and the western suburbs, Shailendra Shetty, says their business only starts after 8pm, with families arriving for dinner. “Nobody eats at 7pm. The government has no sympathy for our business. We, along with the hospitality sector, suffered the most during the lockdown,” he says.
Restaurant owners recall how their staff, who had left the city following the prolonged lockdown, had returned once restaurants were allowed to open in early October last year. Many arranged for their staff’s train and air fares to bring them back. Now that the staff is all here, their salaries, food and accommodation has to be taken care of. To add to the costs are the roof-high rents in Mumbai and around 70 per cent of hotels operate out of rental premises. “The industry is over. The after-effects of this will be felt for two to three years,” says Shetty.
With offices adopting work-from-home and very limited staff working in offices, restaurant footfall had already been reduced. Mahendra Karkera, owner of a popular seafood restaurant in Fort, says that business once lost is lost. “You can’t eat today’s food tomorrow,” he points out.
Restaurateurs are not viewing the takeout or parcel service being permitted by the government as a relief. It constitutes only 10 per cent of the business. With restaurant aggregators and food delivery apps in play, a huge chunk of profits is taken away by these, in case of takeaways. Satish Shetty, owner of a Kandivli restaurant explains that while deliveries might grow due to the curfew, restaurants lose out on profits when people order through online delivery apps, as more than 50 per cent of the profits are devoured by these apps. “They ask us to give discounts for better display on their platforms. Earlier, people would directly order from us, but now they have become more comfortable ordering through such apps,” he says.
Shivanand Shetty, President, Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR), says the recent measure is “dragging down” the industry which has been doing its best to follow safety protocols during operation. The government is wrong to impose the restriction without consulting with the stakeholders, he says. “How can one keep the workforce in good stead and manage the show? We are already witnessing the work force shifting to alternate fields,” he says, emphasising that there are two crore families in the state directly or indirectly dependent on the sector.