New Delhi: Amid the second wave of deadly coronavirus cases in the country, several states have implemented night curfews and lockdown-like restrictions. This has largely impacted the food and the hospitality industry which is still reeling under the pressure of recovery from the first lockdown in 2020. The sector suffered massive losses due to the stringent eight-month lockdown that was imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic’s first wave in the country. Also Read - Maharashtra Bracing For 15-day Complete Lockdown? Final Decision Likely Today
India is battling second wave of coronavirus infections.
The gloomy days for the hospitality sector
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has impacted people’s lives in more ways than one. Since October last year, the struggling hospitality sector found some footing after bearing the brunt of the unforeseen coronavirus-induced nationwide lockdown for most parts of the year. But now again with the surge in the COVID cases, night curfews and stringent lockdown-like restrictions are in place across the country. Due to this, many restaurants are forced to shut shop permanently while some barely manage to keep their business afloat, albeit suffering immense financial losses. This has resulted in countless employees working at such establishments losing their jobs or facing unfortunate salary cuts, having no other place to go. Also Read - Hyderabad And Outskirts Report 70 Clusters Amid Soaring COVID Cases In Telangana: Report
“We are doomed this time around if we are expected to be both, shut for business and not receive any relief. Shut us but do justice to the owners, staff and their families. Take care of the salaries,” HRAWI recently said on Twitter.
Meanwhile industry expert and President – National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI), Anurag Katriar is of the view that night curfew serves no purpose and it is only implemented for the optics. He told India.com, “These measures are just decimating the industry because 75-80 percent of our business happens over dinner and now you are taking away that opportunity completely. How do you expect us to survive?”
He added, “A restaurant is already working in a very controlled environment with very limited seating, around 50 percent capacity and with all the COVID protocols in place. How is that dangerous in any ways? If an airline can carry six passengers in a row and that being safe and permitted, how is a restaurant operating at 50 percent capacity more dangerous? It is something which is done without much application of the mind and it’s not going to help in the fight against COVID but is going to break the back of the F&B industry.”
“Government has three options to curb the spread of the infection. One, if you want the masses to support you in any drive, you need to inspire them rather than scaring them. If that doesn’t work, then you need to look at regulating the inflow of people into commercial establishments. And if that fails too, then you put curfews and lockdowns. But what the government has done is that it has picked the last option as the first option because that is probably the easiest and the laziest option available,” Katriar added.
The hospitality sector had some glimmer of hope after first lockdown ended.
What are the industry leaders saying?
Aji Nair – COO – Mirah Hospitality, the company that owns and operates Bayroute, Hitchki & Rajdhani chain of restaurants, said, “Pandemic was one of the most disastrous events of the century and the hospitality industry was the most affected industry during this period. However, an array of hope was seen since October and the business was gradually picking up across the country. While few brands touched almost 70% of the previous year’s sales figures almost all brands have crossed 50+ sales. The proposed night curfew will adversely affect the business and it will go down to the level of 20 – 25% of Same Store Sale Last Year as both Hitchki and Bayroute as a format was more concentrated on dinner business.”
Experts believe that food and hospitality industry is now in an existential crisis.
Echoing similar sentiments, Dharmesh Karmokar, Director – Luciferous Ventures (Thangabali, Light House Cafe, Esora), said, “This will not only cripple the currently struggling n dying hospitality industry but will permanently wipe out 60% of local restaurant companies. The ones that will survive will be the ones with deep pockets, and those are the ones who have been serving 3 months frozen ingredients and other unhealthy food.”
He added, “The local restaurants who serve freshly made food buying from our local farmers and vendors will all be crippled. It’s a domino effect which will do all the way back to the local farmer.”
Meanwhile Pawan Soni, Food Writer and Gourmand – Indian Food Freak, is of the view that such knee jerk reactions of the Government will continue to plague the industry. He said, “Restaurants are in deep pain because of the night curfew guideline. Government wants to stop crowding but there is hardly any crowd at night except at party places. Instead, it can ask for 70% occupancy and no alcohol after 10pm to ensure lesser traffic at eateries. This will help restaurants to atleast get food sales and may be they can survive 2021.”
“Just when our business started to recover, we decided to open up a new concept cafe to cater to the ever-growing demand of Mumbai city. Our very first cafe Dreamery by Get-A-Whey just opened up to customers two weeks back. The concept cafe caters to healthy ice creams, smoothies, juices and smoothie bowls. With the increase in COVID-19 cases, we saw a dip in footfall within a week of its opening. The government norms have made it rather difficult for new cafes like ours to even survive since footfall for dine-in means giving a 360-degree experience to our brand which is not possible with just takeaways,” said Jash Shah Co-Founder at Get-A-Whey.
What is the government’s stance?
Speaking on the ongoing COVID crisis and measures taken by the government, Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Ministry of Culture and Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Ministry of Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel exclusively told India.com, “We are fully ready to tackle the challenges. And like before, we will ensure that everyone follows SOPs that are in place. This is unfortunately an act of God and we shall overcome this too.”
Well, experts are of the view that these measures have only triggered an existential crisis for the food and the hospitality sector.
Currently, India has registered 1,26,789 fresh Covid-19 cases. And in the last 24 hours, 685 deaths have pushed the total death count to 1,66,862 in the country.