Imagine you’ve just arrived in Mumbai on a late-night flight. You’re severely jetlagged, but excited to finally be in India and explore the city. Your hotel room service is either closed for the night or ridiculously expensive. So, you step out in the neighbourhood looking for a quick bite. And you aren’t disappointed.
Now, you won’t have to imagine.
The newly elected Maharashtra government recently ratified a law enabling shops and establishments, including malls, eateries and retail stores to remain open 24X7 in select areas of Mumbai. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) has been lobbying for this for several years now, so the change is a welcome one.
The provision is being rolled out on a trial basis in designated zones only, keeping in mind various factors, including the important aspect of not disturbing residents in a neighbourhood. Effective from January 27, 2020, licensed establishments in malls and some gated communities across the city, as well as food trucks in specified localities, will be permitted to remain open 24x7.
To clarify a few points, the law does not apply to selling alcohol beyond the excise permission of 1:30 am. However, establishments which have a bar license may continue to stay open 24X7, as long as they’re not selling alcohol beyond the cutoff time.
The political opposition has raised concerns about the lack of adequate infrastructure, such as police manpower to deal with the (assumed) anti-social behavioural repercussions of the extended hours. In criticising the current poor state of oversight and enforcement of licensing rules, the opposition has also suggested that while the hours for selling alcohol have not been extended, by allowing establishments which have the ability to serve alcohol to stay open, it will, in essence, present a loophole for diners, i.e. they could purchase alcohol before the cut off at 1.30 am, but continue to consume it till much later.
There is no doubt in my mind that a provision like this is progressive, and for a metropolis like Mumbai, long overdue. Inefficiencies in the municipal enforcement should not be a reason to curb the development and enhancement of Mumbai’s nightlife. In fact, taking a step like this should encourage the government to step up and improve law enforcement.
Extending operating hours not only gives people who work unconventional timings the option to enjoy the city beyond 12 am, but also reduces dependency on eateries and establishments that fall under the unorganised sector of the F&B industry. Such eateries don’t comply with laws and regulations, which the organised sector does, and that too at a high cost. Plus, from a consumer’s perspective, an unregulated eatery is also likely to have other issues related to hygiene and quality.
Further, having more people out and about at an otherwise quiet time of the day is likely to foster the culture of self-policing. Cities like London and New York are considered safer at night for that very reason. Restaurants could also play a role in ensuring safety and leverage it through tie-ups with taxi services and training their staff to help inebriated customers book cabs. However, there isn’t much that restaurants can do once a customer leaves the premises, so at the end of the day, broader safety and security measures will have to be responsibility of the government authorities.
From a restaurant’s point of view, the changes may have to be implemented gradually. Operating hours could be extended by a few hours to begin with, and on weekends only, for instance. They could have limited menus to avoid wastage and discounts can be offered as an incentive. Tying up with other establishments such as cinemas and gyms to offer attractive packages is also a possibility and late-night delivery is bound to be positively impacted by the law.
It will take time to see a change in social behaviour resulting in enough people going out through the night to justify the increase in costs that staying open round the clock will incur. That is a decision which depends on factors like the location of the restaurant and what else is open around it. Permissions to extend screening times beyond 1 am in cinemas is yet to be sought. In cities around the world, bars and nightclubs which stay open through the night are a big driver for people eating out late at night. Until this changes in Mumbai, it will remain to be seen how many people avail of this new opportunity.
My understanding is that most of Impresario’s restaurants will be open including Social, ANTISocial, Ishaara, Flea Bazaar Café, Smoke House Deli, as well as several outlets in R City Mall such as Grandmama’s Café, Starbucks, Frozen Bottle and TGIF. Many outlets are opting to stay open on specific days of the week and with slightly extended hours, instead of 24x7.
Other than the obvious increase in the cost of manpower and utilities in staying open, eateries may have to consider other factors, too. Transport facilities will also need to be increased at late night hours if people are expected to stay out late. For the government too, this is an experiment that needs to be observed over time. There has been some discussion of eateries being required to contribute an additional amount towards the city’s increased cost of late-night vigilance, we’ll have to see how that pans out.
The fact remains that establishments have a choice here, as do Mumbaikars. What is important is that the government has shown a desire to raise Mumbai to a global standard and a willingness to hear the industry’s perspective. This move will create an opportunity for an increase in revenue as well as growth in direct and indirect employment.
This is one of those cases where we will have to wait and watch, but Mumbai 24X7 is a step in the right direction for all stakeholders. For now, enjoy the fact that your 3 am cravings just got sorted.