On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the worldwide Novel Coronavirus outbreak – identified first in Wuhan, China in December 2019 – as an official pandemic. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), also known as COVID-19 has claimed 7,925 lives and infected 196,471 people across the world as of March 18. In India, the deadly COVID-19 has claimed three lives so far.
With social isolation being the need of the hour to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus and with health directives encouraging people across the world to practice social distancing – the restaurant industry that forms the epicenter of socializing has taken a severe hit across the globe. Closer home, several F&B establishments, such as restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune are dealing with the crisis.
On March 17, several F&B establishments took a united stand as restaurateurs in Mumbai collectively decided to shut down operations across their restaurants, bars, diners and pubs, voluntarily. These include popular restaurants such as, Bastian, One Street, Seefah, Masque, Indigo, Bonobo and Jamjar Diner, to name a few.
Speaking about this move, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) President and restaurateur, Anurag Katriar said, “NRAI sent out an advisory to all its members requesting them to shut down, but its their individual call. The whole idea is that, with all the employees who travel by public transport every day and the guests who visit these restaurants, we are running the risk of a severe health hazard.” Katriar further explained that while the Mumbai Police issued an announcement claiming that all “bars, pubs and discotheques” need to be shut, this did not apply to restaurants.
“These rules are a little vague. Bars, pubs and discotheques were asked to be shut till March 31, but restaurants were not. However, malls have been told to shut down, so establishments inside a mall are anyway closed. So, it was only a few restaurants in the standalone category that were left, but this is a huge health risk, and that’s why we issued this directive.”
Echoing Katriar’s feelings, Priyank Sukhija – who is at the helm of hospitality chain, First Fiddle and owner well-known restaurants like Lord of The Drink and Plum by The Bent Chair among others, across Indian cities – says, “There is a directive for NCR by the Health Ministry, which says that more than 50 people cannot be part of a gathering in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. But in a restaurant, staff itself adds up to 50-plus people. To ensure this is implemented, restaurants need to be shut.” He adds, “I am happy that most restaurateurs are on board with this and the idea is to flatten the curve, and the only way to do this is by social distancing.” Sukhija’s restaurants and bars were among the first to shut down across the country.
But the official government stance on this continues to be foggy. For example, like Mumbai, even in Gurgaon, the directive is to shut down bars, pubs and discotheques. So, for instance, with restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani’s hospitality brand Impresario, this rule applies to his bar-chain Social, which has outlets in Mumbai, NCR, Pune and Chennai, among others, but not to his standalone properties, such as Soufflé I S'il Vous Plaît or Ishaara in Mumbai. “From March 19 midnight, we’re looking at shutting most of our restaurants and establishments down until March 31. But first, we need to take permissions from the Excise Department. Wherever we can get government directions we will implement or else we’ll have to shut down on our own. For example, in Gurgaon, there is a directive for bars to shut down, so we’ll follow that, but there isn’t any clear definition on what is a bar and what isn’t,” Amlani shares. Commenting on whether his standalone restaurants in cities apart from Mumbai will shut down he says, “We’ll have to take this up on a case-to-case basis.”
Restaurateur Gauri Devidayal, who has fine-dines and a new delivery kitchen, all based out of Mumbai, too, has decided to shut operations down across all her establishments. Namely, Magazine Street Kitchen, The Table and the newly launched diner Mei 13 and delivery brand, Iktara. She says, “In the absence of a clear directive and in the interest of public safety, we felt that this decision was important. It will also help the government achieve its goal in flattening the curve and stop the spread of coronavirus.” Devidayal adds that while this decision is going to result in losses, in the event that a customer or staffer were to be infected by COVID-19, it would be “a very hard thing to live with.”
Speaking about the voluntary move to shut restaurants, chef and co-owner of Masque, Prateek Sadhu, says "Safety comes first for us. It is our responsibility to take care of our team who take public transport and also patrons who come to Masque, especially since we get several international guests. We have advised all our team members to stay safe at home, the business will definitely see a dip, but it is important that the team and the brand we have build is taken care of."
Lauding the NRAI directive, Karan Tanna, founder of Ghost Kitchens, a cooking and preparation facility for delivery-only model with operations in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Pune and primarily in Mumbai, said, “We are keeping our delivery-only restaurants on for a couple of more days to consume the existing inventory and plan the budgets towards fixed payable expenses. In the interest of public welfare and health we would like to avoid any medium of social interaction. We are making a call on whether and which operations to shut down after studying all financial implications.”
So, as it stands, your loved restaurants might be out of bounds until March 31, or longer. But as they say, better safe than sorry.
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