Just when the restaurant industry was getting back on its feet, the recent curbs imposed by the Maharashtra government following the surge in the Covid-19 cases in the state is likely to push industry to the wall. On Sunday, the Maharashtra government restricted the operations of recreational activities in the state, including restaurants and bars, till April 30. While bars and restaurants are allowed to operate only within hotels; home delivery services are permitted for 13 hours (7 am to 8 pm) throughout the week. Takeaway is allowed only on weekdays, and within specified timings.
Anurag Katriar, president at industry body National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI) said that there's going to be bloodbath. "We feel that we have been singled out. There are a lot of sectors (trains/buses and construction) which don't operate within in a controlled environment. Our business is conducted under the controlled environment, and we can ensure proper safeguards if needed," he says.
Mumbai is the largest restaurant market in the country with 87,650 outlets (organised and unorganised) out of the total size of over 5 lakh. The dine-in services form a bulk of restaurants' revenues, and within that, the dinner segment is over 75 per cent of the overall revenues. "Allowing home delivery services are not going to help since lunch deliveries are largely for offices where the demand is already suppressed," says a restaurant owner.
Since March 2020 when the nationwide lockdown was imposed, nearly 30 per cent restaurants have shut shops, as per NRAI estimates. Those who have managed to survive; their cash reserves have dried up. With the recent prohibitions, the restaurants in Maharashtra are going back to a situation where some will be forced to shut down. "Till February, the restaurants were doing well despite restricted seating capacity. The industry had almost reached to about 70 per cent of the pre-Covid level. But over the past few days, the sentiments have dampened," says Katriar.
For instance, on March 20, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said that it would conduct random rapid antigen tests for Covid-19 infections at malls. Restaurateurs say that consumers clearly didn't want to go through the ordeal of testing while eating out. Then, on March 28, the Maharashtra government imposed night curfew (between 8 pm and 7 am) after the spike in cases.
"We understand that the cases are going up but there should be a level-playing field for restaurants. The sharp recovery of the past few months has been undone by this one move," says a restaurant owner quoted above.