Maharashtra has again become the hotspot for COVID-19 cases in India with the second phase of the Coronavirus wave. The news from the Maharashtra government on closing down dining services and allowing takeaways only till 8 PM has left the F&B industry in the lurch. While stricter regulations are needed to curb the spread of the virus, the recent guidelines introduced by the government have left the F&B industry in Maharashtra in uncertainty and chaos.
After the complete lockdown in 2020, restaurants and malls were allowed to open in October itself, and during that period the F&B industry suffered huge losses. This year, they were hoping to bounce back and recover. But, the alarming rise of cases in Maharashtra, implementation of the stricter guidelines have thrown them off the road to recovery
On asking about the new government guidelines on restaurants to be opened for only Takeaways, Megha Datwani, founder of Poco Loco Tapas & Bar replied, “The need for social distancing is urgent. But most responsible brands kept a safe distance between tables and adopted all the safety precautions. I also believe the sudden decision will result in substantial losses. Also, it will cause a loss of excess inventory, resulting in wastages. The sudden announcement hasn’t given anyone time to prepare or think this through.”
Saransh Goila, founder of Goila Butter Chicken also weighed in on the need for some necessary guidelines to be placed. But he is unhappy with the F&B Industry becoming easiest to restrict and hence, bearing the brunt. “Given the circumstances, we understand that the restrictions have been imposed for our safety only. However, restaurants, hotels, and malls are always easy targets for the government in such circumstances. Even now, the delivery and the takeaways are allowed till 8 pm which makes sure that we do no business. We are allowed to be open when we do the least amount of business in a day. So, the government has structured the restrictions in such a way that it looks like we are operational but the reality is not alike.
Most of us are thinking about whether we should be running restaurants or delivery outlets or not because this is definitely not favourable for us. Now when people won’t be allowed to come to restaurants, I don’t see a point in closing even the delivery services at 8 pm. Hence, it’s a complete shutdown for us. It just looks like it is not, but it is difficult to sustain and bear costs.”
The night curfew implemented in the state will gravely impact the F&B industry of Maharashtra, and many professionals believe it to be the last nail in the coffin.
Ankit Mehrotra, CEO & Co-founder, Dineout shared his thought on the unfortunate development, “Most restaurants are taking COVID-safe measures by adopting contactless tech in their daily operations to ensure the least possible contact and risk while living through the pandemic. These measures to close dining out and operate only for takeaway & delivery will leave no room for their survival. It’s high time that the government acknowledges the loss and step in to bail out the industry from this collapse.”
This is no news that the peak hour in the F&B industry is after 8 PM and the industry believes barring dining in and allowing takeaways to be operational till 8 PM is not going to do any good or support them to survive the industry through another mini lockdown.
“We’ve worked very hard in the last few months to regain consumer trust for dining-in at restaurants. Things were finally looking up and the hospitality industry had only just started to recover when the night curfew and weekend lockdown got imposed again. While we understand that the government has imposed the curfew keeping in mind public safety and rising numbers, this will probably be the final nail in the coffin for the F&B industry.”, says Riyaz Amlani, CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants.
He further added, “About 75% of our business happens during dinner hours, and now with an 8 pm curfew, even home deliveries have been hit hard. We urge the government to increase vaccination drives so that more people can get vaccinated. We would also sincerely urge customers to order directly from restaurants rather than aggregator apps to help us tide through what is once again going to be a hard time for us.”
Impact on the Industry
Megha Datwani believes the impact will not only affect the restaurateurs but also the related businesses in the industry. She says, “The hit again, especially after many have already paid the entire license fee, will affect us badly. Not only will there be a lot of piled-up bills and will also adversely impact our employees, but it will also have an impact on a lot of vendors, suppliers, and other people who rely on restaurants. We, as an industry, are one of the largest employers and a lot of people will suffer due to this.”
Riyaz Amlani, further said, “Delivery and cloud kitchens will in no way, shape, or form help restaurants survive another lockdown. There’s no thought behind restricting industries like F&B and retail once more. We’ve had a gun pointed at our heads and an expensive license. The taxes have been paid, and yet we’ve been forced into a lockdown once again.”
This time, even the big outlets that are supported by investors and have big pockets are on the verge of facing a good loss since we had not recovered fully from the first lockdown, says Saransh Goila.
Saransh Goila adds, “Even last time, the owners were really making it hard to survive. Their patience was tested with no support from the government. I think, this time, it’s really going to hurt us with many of them going to be permanently closed. There is a big chance that many industries in Mumbai will not make it this time. This is also directly proportional to the people losing their jobs, or facing pay cuts “
Ankit Mehrotra, expresses, “Dining out contributes 80% of restaurant revenues, with over 60% of the business happening on weekends. Given the restaurants in these cities are already operating at around 60% of pre-COVID numbers, 20% of outlets were forced to convert to Dark Kitchens while 30% of the restaurants in Mumbai & Pune have shut down permanently.”
Alternatives to complete closure
Considering the spike in the cases, the government needs to take some stricter actions to control the spread and the Industry realises the need of the hour, the current guidelines and restrictions are not conducive for restaurants and delivery kitchens to sustain and survive.
Saransh Goila suggests, “The government could have allowed deliveries post 8 pm as that could have given us some relief. Apart from that, we definitely need a stimulus package. We need 50% of our expenses to be covered by the government like rental, salaries of employees, taxes, etc.”
We are always taken for granted and, hence, I also feel that younger people need to voice it out, says Saransh Goila.
“If they don’t give this support to us, it indicates that the F&B sector is their major target as it has already happened before. It will also lead us to beg for the stimulus packages which is also not fair. Unlike other countries, we are treated differently in India. Even if we contribute more than the entertainment industry in terms of revenue. The hospitality industry is not taught to take out protests and ask for their rights. It’s very important to protest online, if not offline, due to COVID. That’s what the industry is doing right now.”
Megha Datwani proposes maintaining strict rules for 50% occupancy, responsible dining, constant checks for hygiene practices being maintained along with social distancing, longer time to make it easier to maintain distance and accommodate people, and delivery takeaway should be allowed post 8 PM.
Seeking Support From The Government
The F&B industry in Maharashtra believes the second lockdown will be enough to put a dent or halt many businesses. They believe if businesses are under lockdown for 6 months. It shouldn’t mandatory to pay the full license renewal fee for bars and pubs. The government could have easily planned the lockdown by also considering the industry’s concerns.
“The standard thing that has been done across the globe is that owners have been offered to bear just 50% to 80% of the salary of their employees depending on the country that they are living in. Then, they have been offered to let go of taxes. They have also received support for the rentals for the lockdown months. There has been relaxation for licenses. But here, there is no such thing from the government’s side.
To be very specific, one of my friends, who runs a restaurant had to renew their alcohol license on March 31. Since he knows that the government is planning on a lockdown, he requested them to postpone it. But they received relief in return. So, if we’re under lockdown for 6 months, why is it mandatory to pay the full license renewal fee for bars & pubs? The government could have easily planned the lockdown by also considering our concerns. This is been very unfair for the whole F&B industry in Maharashtra. “
Megha Datwani expects the government to allow the opening of restaurants with strict social distancing rules, allowing delivery till 1 AM.
Waive off license fees for the period they aren’t allowed to operate along with payment in installments. Waive off property taxes, vaccination to be expedited for the industry workers, some reliefs for the industry to enable them to take care of their employees completely as well as manage to stay afloat.
Riyaz Amlani says, “It’s about time the government starts giving this industry the relief that it so badly needs. They also need to tell us how they intend to vaccinate our front-line workers like delivery staff in order to provide essential services like food delivery.”
Steps to tackle the situation
Saransh Goila says, “Since it is hurting us, we have already intimated our employees for a pay cut. We had to give a 30-day notice to some of the employees as there is no other option. We are looking for a 25% to 30% cut in our workforce in a situation like this. Also, we are also going to request our landlords to re-adjust our rents. Also, we will look for alternative sources to run our businesses. This means branching out to other forms of food and not just restricting ourselves to running a restaurant. “
Hopefully, the need of the hour is to control the spread of the Coronavirus. And, some of the restrictions are necessary for the state. We are hoping this time the lockdown is a shorter one. We hope that the Maharashtra government relaxes some of the restrictions imposed on the F&B industry. And supports them with needed rebates for their survival.