How is India Unlocking its Restaurants Across the Country

Here’s what to expect if you’re in Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata or Mumbai.

Suman Mahfuz Quazi

As the country traipses back to normalcy, citizens are getting ready for shops, parlours and their favourite restaurants to re-open, given that the government’s Unlock1 agenda allowed markets, malls, restaurants, places of worship and private offices to open again, starting June 8 2020. These relaxations are contingent upon state-specific mandates and compulsory safety guidelines for citizens, but also posit a host of functional impediments that many establishments, food and otherwise, are still figuring their way around. 


The general safety guidelines that include things like, maintaining social distancing (individuals must remain six feet apart from each other in public places), mandatory use of face masks, hand washing and use of the government’s COVID-19-tracking app, Aarogya Setu, apply to all public places. For restaurants specifically, there are additional guidelines in place. These include, use of disposable paper napkins and menus, regular temperature checks for staff and guests, mandatory hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance of restaurants, contactless ordering and digital payments, apart from a reduced capacity. The government hasn’t yet allowed bars to be operational and imposed a 9 pm curfew on restaurants, which means they need to shut before peak dinner hours that makes reopening them less viable. But what does this mean for diners like you and me? Let’s look at what the situation is like on-ground, in each of the metropolises:




Delhi

In Delhi, CM Arvind Kejriwal announced that all restaurants and malls will open as per the centre’s guidelines. And they did. However, to abysmally low footfalls. Additionally, since the mandate doesn’t allow the reopening of bars or places serving alcohol, this would mean, restaurants with bar licenses can only start their kitchen operations, which in turn means, no sale of alcohol. Priyank Sukhija, founder and CEO, First Fiddle Restaurant, which owns establishments such as Lord of the Drinks and Plum by Bentchair, feels that he’d rather keep his establishments shut. “It is economically more viable to keep restaurants shut, since it is difficult to cover our cost of operations [under these circumstances],” Sukhija says—a sentiment shared by many Indian restaurateurs. Some have had to take drastic steps of shutting shop for good such as, Smoke House Deli in the popular Khan Market, where reports suggest the closure of 40 per cent establishments. This includes Side Wok, Smokeys BBQ & Grill, the popular and much loved, Café Turtle, alongside the iconic Full Circle Bookshop. However, for QSRs it’s a different story. International fast food chains like, KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds had opened, alongside local diners, like Saravana Bhavan in Central Delhi.

What to expect:

Quick service restaurants, chain-outlets, cakeries like, The Big Chill Cakery to stay open and deliveries will be functional. Bars, Pubs and Fine-Dines will not be opening just yet. 


Bengaluru


In Bengaluru, local eatery Vidyarthi Bhavan opened with several safety guidelines in place.

Karnataka, too, opened up malls, restaurants and places of worship. Iconic eatery, Vidyarthi Bhavan reopened on June 8 with glass partitions hoisted on their tables. It is likely that eateries like Vidyarthi Bhavan will be able to leverage the relaxations allowed by Unlock1, but the same may not apply to fine-dines. “The smaller eateries will definitely open up. Firstly, because their requirement is less, in terms of manpower, when compared to a restaurant with a bar. Plus, their operational costs are lower, so it makes sense for them,” Chetan Rampal, partner Olive Group of restaurants explains, adding that keeping in mind the strict guidelines, like Delhi, in Bengaluru, too, concept establishments with a bar focus might take longer to open. Initially, there seemed to have been a confusion about restaurants not being allowed to keep air-conditioning on. However, the state has now, allowed restaurants to use their ACs but, the temperature shouldn’t be less than 24 degree Celsius. 

What to expect:

QSRs, local and regional eateries and establishments without alcohol to be open. A few fine-and casual-dining spaces like Cantan has opened and Fatty Bao might open soon. Food delivery will remain functional. 




Kolkata 


Given Kolkata’s love for food, it’s no surprise that the city's eateries seems to be busier than their counterparts in other metropolises. Several restaurants have opened here, such as, the iconic continental restaurants on Park Street, Mocambo and Peter Cat, modern casual dining space Salt House, Mughlai chain Oudh, Flury’s and biryani joint Aminia. However, like in other metropolitan cities, popular fine-dines remained shut on June 8, 2020 such, as those under Anjan Chatterjee’s Specialty Restaurants. They’re set to open soon, though. Chef at Sienna Café, Auroni Mookrjee informed that the popular cafés outlets at Hindustan Park and Park Street will remain shut as of now. “We don’t want to be in a start-stop situation. Right now, we’ve started delivery and we want to iron out all the creases to ensure we can have it up and running in a big way, because that’s where most of the business is going to come from in the next few months,” he shares, explaining that since there isn’t enough information out yet to ensure that dining in is 100 per cent safe, the team at Sienna doesn’t think its viable to open for dine-in and risk infection or jeopardise their on-going delivery model. 

What to expect:

Expect most of your favourite restaurants, cafes and diners to open with a 50 per cent capacity and a 9 pm curfew, along with other safety guidelines in place. Food delivery will remain functional as usual. 

Hip cafe, Sienna Store and Cafe will remain shut for the moment, but continue doing deliveries. 


Mumbai


Currently the worse hit in the country by the coronavirus pandemic, the sun is yet to rise on Mumbai’s dining horizon. Here, the restaurant industry is still awaiting a green-signal from the state-government authorities to open their diners. As of now most restaurants,  from fine-dines to smaller eateries, are only operational for delivery. When the government mandate does arrive, the situation is likely to be similar to Delhi and Bengaluru, where curfews, ban on liquor sale, rent-related blocks and unavailability of staffers are expected to discourage many restaurateurs from opening up their establishments. QSRs will perhaps open first. “We will continue to evaluate directives for Mumbai and reopen restaurants accordingly, all the while safeguarding the health and well-being of our team members and customers,” said Moksh Chopra, chief marketing officer, KFC India, indicating that if the regulatory allows re-opening for dining in, KFC will seize the opportunity. 

What to expect:

For the moment, most of your favourite restaurants will only be functional for food delivery and restaurants, if they open, might take longer than the official date, as they will require time to put all safety measures in place. 


Banner Image: Cantan; Inside images: Vidyarthi Bhavan, Sienna Store and Cafe 

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