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Restaurants wait anxiously for Delhi govt to lift curbs

Home-style cooked meals and ‘in-house delivery’ ecosystem might have saved the day for some restaurants in Delhi, but with dine-ins contributing “70-80 per cent” of the total revenue, owners wait anxiously for the city government to lift curbs after a six-week gruelling lockdown.

Dine-in facility has not been allowed in Delhi since April 17 — the day first weekend lockdown was announced — in a bid to break the chain of COVID-19 infections in the city.

The Delhi government had first imposed a weekly lockdown on April 19 which was later extended multiple times, last on May 23.

On Friday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Delhi has somehow gained control over the second wave of COVID-19 and the government will now start the process of lifting the lockdown gradually, starting with resumption of construction activities and reopening of factories for one week from Monday.

Opening of markets or restaurants were, however, not mentioned.

“The business has nose-dived as dine-in contributes to 80 per cent of our revenue. Since we can only operate for delivery given the current scenario in the country, the sector is on life-support once again and trying to survive only via deliveries and cloud kitchens,” Mayank Bhatt, brand head at SOCIAL told PTI.

“Like last time, the lockdown is likely to be lifted in phases, starting with 50 per cent inventory for restaurants. However, if the situation continues to improve and vaccinations are expedited, we would urge the government to allow us to open at 100 per cent inventory and not over-regulate on the timings as it directly impacts our business,” he added.

According to Dhruv Jindal, whose brand Black Bottle + Kitchen does not deliver food online, “delivery part can never fulfil the requirements of filling the cash register even for break even point for dining out restaurants”.

“The government should take steps to save the industry which has had the highest yearly growth rate for the last 3-4 years. The major point is that the ‘Input Tax Credit’ should be given to the restaurants for decreasing their losses. All these would be manageable only if the government and people as a whole stop this virus from spreading,” he urged.

Notably, restaurants in Delhi were shuttered from March to June due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown last year as well, and even when they did open up, they had to operate at 50 per cent capacity according to government guidelines.

Many restaurants — big and small — to keep their business afloat tweaked their food menu and started preparing just what the doctor ordered in the times of Covid — ‘home-style’ cooked meals or protein-rich ‘solo meal’ boxes for those fighting the virus.

So if Gastronomica owner Sumit Goyal made his staff whip up “solo meals” focussing more on nutrition than taste to help his patrons heal faster, Bharti Sanghi, founder LIFE Artisanal Foods, put her weight behind healthy munchies like “Thepla and Soya Katori” for deliveries.

“Earlier the food and beverage industry was serving traditional food to customers, but after the pandemic, many people have shifted to more home-style meals. People now prefer survival food over artisanal food as they are not looking for any decorative mithai or fancy snack,” said Sanghi.

“Yes, once a week, people do order something non-traditional because some have children at their home who do not want to eat only homemade food, but want snacks or pasta, which I try to make as healthy as possible by adding wheat flour in it,” she said.

Jumping on the home-style bandwagon are the five-stars too.

For example, Hilton Garden Inn, New Delhi and Saket, which has introduced a new menu, including dishes from ‘Chef’s specials’ to ‘Ghar Ka Khana’, that can be relished in the comfort of home.

Hilton’s home-style cooked “Chicken/Mutton curry” has garnered maximum orders till date, claimed its food and beverage manager Sourabh Chandna.

“We see inclination towards healthy packed meals as people prefer safe and hygienic dining experience where Hilton has seen an upside in the food delivery business, said Chandna, who added that relaxation in the curfew would be the best outcome for the industry.

He stressed for “easing of dine-in restrictions with proper do’s and don’ts” — especially in the evening hours.

To save on commissions charged by the food aggregator apps, many restaurants including Gastronomica or Impresario Handmade Restaurants — which run popular dining formats such as Social and Smoke House Deli — have started direct ordering via their own tech-enabled platforms.

Impersario Handmade Restaurants, which recently launched two cloud kitchens BOSS Burger and Hung Li, said they have witnessed “300 per cent” growth in the number of consumers ordering directly from the brand last month.

“When a customer orders directly from us instead of an aggregator app like Swiggy or Zomato, we save a big chunk of money that would otherwise have gone as commissions to them, sometimes as high as 25-30 per cent.

“Customers can order directly from us and avail 25 per cent on every order along with free delivery. We have seen the rise of direct-to-consumer businesses in recent months. The numbers are growing month on month,” said Bhatt.

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