Happy hours no more: Coronavirus changed rules of eating out
As it crept slyly into our lives, coronavirus upset all the apple carts possible. Beyond the staggering number of people it has killed, the virus has also brought economies to a halt, affecting most sectors. The booming restaurant industry is also facing the heat, as foodies choose to stay indoors fearing the infection. Here's understanding how eating out will change, for good.
With rules of lockdown eased in India, the government allowed takeaways. However, the sitting areas of restaurants, which previously remained abuzz, are mostly awaiting customers. Even after more relaxations are handed over, customers would prefer getting food items home-delivered, rather than eating in a potential coronavirus hotspot. According to an ET report, four out of ten restaurants may never open again.
Around the globe, restaurants are facing the same crisis. In New York, Manhattan's Paris Bar and Soho's Lucky Strike shut shop. In France, 18 chefs wrote to President Emmanuel Macron saying the country's "famed" dining culture is on the verge of being decimated. Britain's restaurant business is impacted too. Many of the staff members were fired and they aren't looking at reopening until July.
Closer home, according to the National Restaurant Association of India, the sector employs seven million, and during the lockdown period, two million lost their jobs. The migration of workers to their home states will also affect businesses as these laborers were crucial for all eateries. Moreover, with social distancing being the motto, restaurants will face problems sustaining themselves with fewer patrons.
Explaining that running restaurants with fewer guests won't be feasible, the brand manager for Daryaganj Hospitality, which owns four restaurants in Delhi, said, "Our restaurants are 50-70 covers only, so for us, it would not be viable to operate at 50% capacity." And Zorawar Kalra, founder of Massive Restaurants, which runs Farzi Cafe, said they might have to reduce the items on their menu.
The way restaurants greet customers will also see a massive shift. The "no mask, no food" policy will be followed, and reaching the reception area would also be a daunting exercise. Customers will have to sanitize their hands, get temperature checked, and follow the less-contact policy of outlets. On their part, the restaurants will not only have to wash items but also sanitize them.
In the pre-coronavirus days, dining out qualified as a way of social bonding. Even without any companions, people sat inside coffee houses and made friends over drinks. But that might become an alien concept soon. In fact, it already has. In Hong Kong, restaurants aren't letting strangers sit next to each other. Tall clear plexiglass sheets were also installed atop tables in most outlets.
In Sweden, for instance, a restaurant named Bord for En (Table for One) has done away with waiters. The food is served from the kitchen directly using a pulley. The pandemic has also forced restaurants to think about the "open kitchen" model as customers want transparency. Naturally, it will be long before these changes are inculcated. Right now, businesses are worried about sustaining themselves.
Some outlets came up with innovative ideas. A popular eatery is delivering DIY kits to customers. All they have to do is open the kit, mix the pre-cooked items, vegetables, and prepare the dish at home. In Dubai, outlets are considering creating alternate digital platforms that could level the field between delivery websites and restaurants. Indian outlets could swing the same way.
The Embassy in New Delhi, which hosted renowned people like Lord Mountbatten, Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra, and Arun Jaitley, is putting all its energy into survival. Savar Malhotra, the third-generation owner of the 70-year-old outlet, said anti-CAA protests affected the business earlier and it was leveled to the ground by the pandemic. The eatery deferred salaries for an uncertain time, reports Business Insider India.
Amid the gloom, some are looking at the bright side. Thomas Fenn, who runs Mahabelly, one of Delhi's most popular restaurants, feels customers will appreciate them more after the pandemic ends. "We pull 15-hour shifts of hard labor - cutting, cleaning, chopping, cooking, serving. Perhaps people will emerge from the lockdown with a greater appreciation of the work," he said. Perhaps, we all will.