Mumbai restaurants down shutters till March 31 for safety of workers

Updated: Mar 18, 2020, 07:29 IST | Phorum Dalal, Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Some restaurateurs have decided to voluntarily down shutters till March 31 to support the government in its fight against the spread of Coronavirus.

Lord of the Drinks will shut from midnight today. File pic
Lord of the Drinks will shut from midnight today. File pic

Despite the state government announcing closure of bars and pubs across the city while allowing restaurants to remain open, some restaurateurs have decided to voluntarily down shutters till March 31 to support the government in its fight against the spread of Coronavirus. However, given the situation, the city's hospitality and dining sector has started to feel the heat.

On Tuesday, Priyank Sukhija, proprietor of brands like Lord of the Drinks, JLWA and Plum By Bent Chair, announced that he would close his restaurants to support the government's effort to encourage social-distancing and self-quarantine. "Shutting all our restaurants midnight today to help contain the virus. Hope others also join in and be responsible about our staff and guests and govt. takes out directives @NRAI_India. Humanity before business," he posted on Twitter. Speaking to mid-day, he said, "Sooner or later, the government will shut the restaurants. I am doing it with immediate effect for the safety of my staff and patrons."

Reacting to the Dubai government's decision to shut all bars, pubs and lounges, Riyaaz Amlani, CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants, tweeted, "India, too, should follow suit but will need support and assistance from the Govt Authorities for the employees of bars and restaurants."

The Bombay Canteen has said it will down shutters till March 31
The Bombay Canteen has said it will down shutters till March 31

While Chennai's Mount Road Social has shut operations, the outposts in Mumbai continue to operate. "We will be happy to close our restaurants and support the fight against the spread of Coronavirus, but the industry needs the government's support in this. We have to ensure our employees get their salaries, and this can be done if the government assists us by nullifying excise fees and charges, VAT and reduces license fees," he said.

However, not everyone is waiting for the government to back them up. The managing committee of National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) discussed the issue today and decided to voluntarily halt operations.

Confirming the same, Anurag Katriar, president of NRAI and executive director & CEO, deGustibus Hospitality, said, "We held a conference call with restaurateurs and took an unanimous decision to shut shop at least till March 31. We will send the advisory to all the members. Of course, it won't happen overnight but over the next couple of days. We have five lakh people working in the city's food and beverage industry – they are at high risk. We have requested them to take a salary cut so we can avoid layoffs. Next, we will speak to landlords to deal with rents. We will further request the government to give us a tax credit on GST."

AHAR to wait
The Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR), on the other hand, has chosen to hold their horses. President Shivanand Shetty said, "We have decided to keep restaurants open until the government tells us to stop operations. Business is down by 60 per cent. We have requested the CM for a 15 per cent licence fee hike waiver."

For those who continue to run their outlets at a time when there is a steep decline in patronage, it's a rocky road ahead. The Bar Stock Exchange (TBSE) at Bandra's Linking Road, which sees packed crowds through the week, was deserted around 9 pm on Monday. The handful of guests that did eventually arrive had to go through mandatory temperature checks with a contact-less, infrared thermometer. "Footfall is down by 25 to 30 per cent," said co-owner Mihir Desai of Corum Hospitality Pvt Ltd. "Guests are concerned about safety measures taken by the restaurant." He plans to introduce the infrared thermometre at all the 20 BSEs as well as two Bar Bank properties. "We've been investing heavily in safety equipment. Our profits have shrunk and costs have skyrocketed," he said.

Playing it safe
Hospitality establishments have been issuing a slew of press releases citing their adherence to safety measures and hygiene practices mandated by the National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI).

Navin Gurnaney, CEO, Tata Starbucks Private Limited, said they have temporarily removed items from the condiment cart, including stirrers, sugar packets and seasonings, making them available upon request. At Andheri's Yazu, a team has been deputed to look into the sanitisation of tables. "For instance, if four guests come in, we have a housekeeping staff who disinfects the table in front of them. There's a bottle of hand sanitiser available on each table," said partner Ranbir Nagpal.

Huge losses with events
Meanwhile, event cancellations have led to huge losses for five-star hotels as well. Suhail Kannampilly, CEO at Concept Hospitality, that runs The Fern hotels across India, said, "In Pune, we were asked to cancel all banquet functions. In fact, one event had to be cancelled after the guests had arrived. We have incurred losses worth R1 crore due to cancellations of banquet events alone."

Suved Lohia, managing partner of Barrel and Co, Curry Tales and B Kitchen and Bar, said, "Cops have been visiting bars in the evening asking us to down shutter. Overall, there is paranoia. As a restaurateur, we are facing an economic standstill. I have 500 employees, which means 3,000 people to feed. We have a moral responsibility."

Real-estate expert, Chirag Maru, said, "Upcoming resto-bar brands are also in a fix because even if they open, they will not see footfalls. Business has dropped 50-80 per cent. Hence, they have decided to postpone their launches." "Every business has a sustainability capacity. If the closure is prolonged, things will get difficult. In Rome, the government has shut down all restaurants and has exempted the restaurateurs from paying rents, VAT, salaries and mortgages. Can that happen in India?" he added.

The opening of Nau Se Barah, which was slated to be launched at The Orb in Andheri East on March 23, has been put on hold. Owner Monica Raju and Bhavya Raju, said, "We are following the protocol to contain the virus. The health and well being of the staff and community is important. We do not want to open our restaurant in such a critical situation."

5 lakh
No. of people employed in the F&B industry in Mumbai

50-80%
The drop in business in the hospitality industry since Coronavirus outbreak

Restaurants that have voluntarily shut down

Some of the restaurants that will down shutter till March 31 include Jamjar, The Bombay Canteen, The Clearing House, Indigo, Iktara, Mag St Bread Co, Lord of the Drinks, Tamasha, JWLA, Masque, Younion, Hotel ShangHigh, Qualia and Irish House.

Chirag Maru

'Every business has a sustainability capacity. If the closure is prolonged, things will get difficult. In Rome, the government has shut down all restaurants and has exempted restaurateurs from paying rents, VAT, salaries and mortgages. Can that happen in India?'
Chirag Maru, real-estate expert

Anurag Katriar

'We held a conference call with restaurateurs and took a unanimous decision to shut shop at least till March 31. We will send the advisory to all members. Of course, it won't happen overnight but over the next couple of days'
Anurag Katriar, president of NRAI and executive director & CEO, deGustibus Hospitality

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