Restaurants across Delhi may have reopened their doors a month ago after being allowed to resume their business post the COVID-19 lockdown, but are still grappling with decreased sales, staff shortages and few dine-in customers. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, many restaurants have not commenced dine-in facilities and are relying on takeaways to drive their business.
According to Rohit Aggarwal, director, Lite Bite Foods, post 'Unlock', the situation has not been "very motivating, walk-in numbers are extremely low and the operational cost is soaring".
"The highest number of dine-in guests we have served on a single day after opening following the COVID-19 lockdown is just 15 at Punjab Grill's Saket outlet. We are hoping to serve the same number of guests we had before very soon and are positive that this number will go up eventually. We are making just 20 per cent sales of what we used to do. Dine-in sales account for just 25 per cent of the existing 20 per cent sales and rest all are delivery and takeaway orders," he said.
Aggarwal said people are still apprehensive of stepping out and going to confined public places such as malls and restaurants.
Currently, only two restaurants under the Lite Bite Foods portfolio are open for dine-in -- YouMee (GK2 Delhi and Bangalore outlets) and Punjab Grill (four outlets across Delhi-NCR ) -- but both are experiencing extremely low footfall, Aggarwal said.
With movie halls shut and restrictions on liquor service, customers have no motivation to go out and eat. Even the restaurants in mall are finding it difficult to attract dine-in guests, he added.
The shortage of staffers, many of whom had gone back to their hometowns, are also the reason behind many restaurants opting to open takeaways.
"Our workforce is the biggest concern as most of the people are from different cities and we need time to call them back. Our prime concern is and will always be the safety of our staff. With most of the state borders still closed, we don't want to take any risk. The other pain points are not being able to serve liquor and to operate with less than 60 per cent seating capacity to maintain social distancing," said Joy Singh, co-partner, Raasta and Yeti restaurants.
As late hours make up the lion's share of our revenues, the 10 PM deadline will further hurt business, Singh said, adding that with the given restrictions, they are still contemplating whether it's worth opening up at the moment.
"Currently, we are focusing on home deliveries with our brand Yeti," he added.
Karan Tanna, founder Ghost Kitchens and co-founder BroEat, also echoed similar reactions and said expenses have begun but business is down by 70-75 per cent.
However, he said the silver lining is all this is that there is a week on week increase in footfall and due to precautions taken by restaurants, customers are slowly feeling confident to eat out.
Ashwin Jain, co-founder, Instapizza, said they have seen a reasonable recovery in sales in the last four to six weeks, and consumers have looked to their favourite and most trusted brands in-home delivery to find a little bit of respite from the ongoing challenges of the crisis.
So the question arises -- when do restaurants think of resuming dine-in facilities, asked Chef Irfan Pabaney, country head, SodaBottleOpenerWala and added that the restaurants might resume dine-in facilities within a month or two. He said restaurants are relying on takeaways currently but they hope that the situation will normalise in some time.
Pabaney said the major challenge for their workforce is maintaining social distance given that they have to interact with each other during the preparation of dishes. They maintain social distancing and regularly wash hands, he said.
Aggarwal also says the coronavirus pandemic has changed consumer behaviour forever. "'Contact-less dining' seems to be the buzz of the future with customers' hesitation for sociable activities and they being more cautious about their health. At Lite Bite Foods, we have revamped our menus thoroughly in the lockdown period. Although, all the high sellers and most of our specialities have been retained, the overall menu size has been decreased. This is to ensure that our chefs also maintain proper distancing at the workplace," he added.