At present, a bunch of restaurants and cloud kitchens have begun delivering food in major cities, like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. With few, even going further to reinvent themselves – Smoke House Deli, for example, has come up with DIY kits, following in tow with ventures such as, Mumbai-based Ether, which is delivering DIY baking kits; or Perch, based in Mumbai and Delhi, which is doing cocktail kits. NRAI has also launched Rise 4 Restaurants (R4R), a platform that allows diners to buy virtual cash by paying 25 per cent of the amount up front and redeeming the full amount by paying the balance once things are open again. The restaurant body is also working on developing a food delivery app of its own to compete with existing food aggregators, like Zomato, Swiggy and Scootsy.
All these initiatives seek to keep the industry afloat and safeguard jobs. However, the staggered extension of the lockdown, which is now in its third phase, only makes things worse. The future is perhaps still far. Even the immediate circumstances created by the closure of restaurants is proving to be cloying for employees.
Thankfully, Nirmal has been able to get back to work. On April 10 Woodside Inn started doing deliveries in Mumbai with a limited menu. Seeing that he lives closest to the Oshiwara outlet, Nirmal has been allotted the task of managing deliveries from the restaurant and has been living inside the outlet to ensure safety. Employees turning restaurant outlets and kitchens into makeshift homes has now, become a reality, with many owners insisting on this format to ensure safety. This includes joints like, Iktara and Saransh Goila’s Goila Butter Chicken, among a host of others that are following the same protocol.
Needless to say, this posits new challenges of its own, with employees having to stay cooped up inside their workspaces, often with colleagues they don’t know very well. But those on the other side of this, waiting to re-join work, would perhaps give a leg and an arm to be in their shoes.
This - the wish to go back to work - is a shared sentiment among all full-time working professionals today – from out-of-job parlour didis to street side vendors. So, what does a daily-wage worker or those in the lower rungs of our economic structure do to earn their livelihood in the current lockdown scenario?
In Mumbai, thousands of migrant workers flocked to Bandra station on April 14 demanding to go back home, despite the risk of getting infected by Coronavirus. Have you wondered why?
And this is exactly what the NRAI is demanding. On April 13, a day before the government officially extended the lockdown, the restaurant body wrote to Shri Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog and the Chairperson of Empowered Group for Co-ordination with Private Sector, NGOs & International Organisations for response related activities of Covid-19. Among other demands and suggestions, the letter also comprised recommendations for an unemployment pay cover to all employees covered under the Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; a request to extend the purview of the scheme announced by the Finance Minister wherein PF contribution of both employers and employees is being borne by the govt, to cover companies having up to 1000 employees; and the suggestion to extend moratorium on retail loans by employees to help them with their cash flows. Additionally, NRAI has also requested for a stay on rents to help fill the gap created in the absence of new cash flow.
“At the moment, the situation looks worrisome. If the Covid-19 crisis continues for a long time, there is the possibility of outlets shutting down. In that case, all employees at these outlets would also lose their jobs,” she worries. Chauhan and her peers at the managerial-and-chef levels, plus those at the corporate office at Degustibus have taken pay cuts, so that employees who are more in need can be paid. “Their families are completely dependent on this salary, and in this situation, they can’t even look for a new job. It is important that everyone has something in their pockets,” Chauhan opines.
In other words, without government intervention, the future of the F&B industry looks grim. With delivery services being allowed during the lockdown, many restaurant brands, are exploring food delivery as an alternate source of earning. However, the revenue from most of these operations can only account for a limited percentage of a restaurant’s earnings to make it worthwhile to call in their staff.
“I am 25. In this industry, that’s when you begin to get financially independent. But now, things are different. I am worried about my job, or even if there will be one to go back to,” Katyal bemoans, resonating the feelings of 7 million odd workers who are betting against the odds in the hope of serving you again.
Inside images: Woodside Inn, Social, Iktara and Hetal Chauhan.