Mumbai Unlock 5.0: Here's what it is to eat out in the new normal
Restaurants and patrons take the tentative step as eateries reopen after six months with disposable cutlery, spaced tables, omnipresent sanitisers and digital payments
Dine-in services in the city finally resumed after six months, with some restaurants going all out and others playing the waiting game. Across the state, more than four lakh restaurants opened their doors on Monday with every safety measure in place. mid-day's team of reporters fanned out across the city, visiting 10 restaurants for a feel of what pandemic dining is like. Eating out may never go back to what it used to be.
The owner of Arya Bhavan, Matunga East, said only two people are allowed to sit at each table
Mumbaikars were a cautious but excited lot as restaurants reopened for dine-in, even if at reduced capacities, on Monday. Many acknowledged with relief how 'normal' it felt to be out again, even for just a cup of coffee. Read on to know more about citizens' experiences and how restaurant owners faired.
A waiter wearing a face shield at Durga Restaurant and Bar, Matunga East, on Monday. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
La Gwa at Versova did not score high on safety as, among other things, seating was not reduced to enable social distancin
La Gwa is a tiny café in Versova that gained popularity soon after its launch last year. While this place had a foot-pedal sanitiser at the entrance, there were no temperature checks, nor were patrons' details taken. The seating remained the same as pre-COVID times, despite the café being very compact. The two staff members on duty were not wearing masks or gloves. Yet, during mid-day's visit, four sets of customers flitted in and out within 30 minutes.
The Lotus Café, JW Marriott, Juhu
The buffet at JW Marriott Juhu's The Lotus Cafe
At JW Marriott, this reporter first had to get the Aarogya Setu app checked. There was a 1 pm reservation at The Lotus Café and this reporter was allowed inside only when the app reflected green.
The café had a contactless auto sensor sanitiser, an attendant who sanitised patrons' bags, checked temperatures and took contact details.
A few guests were seen loitering without masks.
Cutlery was laid at The Lotus Cafe after patrons sat
There was no sanitiser inside the restroom. Before being guided to the seat, this reporter had to give contact details at the café's reception. Inside, the staff was preparing for the buffet. All food was covered with cloches, the staff wore hand gloves and face shields, the menu was to be accessed on the mobile through a QR code, the link also served for online payment.
Tables were laid out with cutlery and glasses were filled only after this reporter was seated. The café's 210 seats have been reduced to 73.
The hand sanitiser at JW Marriott Juhu
A gong went off every hour, reminding staff to sanitise their stations and tables. The buffet did not have cold salads and most of the items were live counters. A server manned every counter, patrons were not to touch the utensils and would be served on their plates.
In the afternoon, most restaurants were empty. mid-day took a seat at the outdoor section. Patrons were not allowed to sit for more than 30 minutes. However, there was no digital ordering, no sanitiser or temperature checks and this reporter left.
Customers wait for their takeaway order at Sequel
Sequel, a casual dining eatery that specialises in organic, local food, was one of the first few Bandra restaurants to reopen on Monday. At 3 pm, this reporter was the only patron. There were temperature checks, hand sanitisers. Tables were arranged at a distance of three feet. The mood was relaxed and the servers wore masks and gloves. mid-day was offered a choice of filtered or bottled water. However, menus were physical and cash payments were accepted. Chef and entrepreneur Karishma Sakhrani, who had stopped by for coffee, said she is looking forward to dining out again.
The floors were regularly cleaned and each table was sanitised as diners came and left. Founder Vanika Choudhary said that although there was some apprehension about consuming raw vegetables at the beginning of the lockdown, most diners have eagerly ordered salads and smoothie bowls since. She expects the trend to continue for dine-in.
mid-day's Shunashir Sen at Leaping Windows, Versova. Pic/Sameer Markande
Leaping Windows at Versova was armed with a foot-pedal sanitiser, temperature checks and was taking patrons' details. mid-day visited the laidback Versova eatery an hour after it reopened.
Every alternate table had a pile of books on them, which reduced the seating capacity and showcased titles on sale for charity. The restaurant offered QR code-based menus. For those who don't have the requisite app, the restaurant asked patrons to check it on Zomato.
Leaping Windows had allowed for ample space for distancing
A host of new items have been added to the menu that co-owner Bidisha Basu revealed they worked on during the lockdown. While the servers wore gloves and masks, the restaurant also urged patrons to pay on Google Pay.
Basu added that they opted for a soft reopening to get all the nuts and bolts in place again. Once that is done, soon there may be regular patrons flocking back to Leaping Windows.
Madhavi Rao, actor who visited La Gwa and Priyanka Charan, writer and actor
Durga Restaurant and Bar
Umesh Shetty, owner of Durga Restaurant and Bar with his son Anish. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Anish Shetty, 25, whose family owns and runs Durga Restaurant and Bar said they were hosting selective customers, they would be fully functional on Tuesday. The restaurant checked temperatures and oxygen levels, gave a Google document to fill personal details and kept diagonally opposite tables functional. "We are serving only packaged water. There will be no salt, vinegar or side serves as small containers cannot be properly sanitised. We have also removed raw vegetables usually served before or with the food," said Anish.
For an old-school restaurant like theirs, menu is not a problem. They have a digital menu and an oral menu where waiters tell the customer what is available. Anish added that while they offer payment options like GPay, Paytm and other UPI modes, customers are most comfortable with cash.
The biggest challenge, according to Anish's father Umesh, 58, is to operate with one-fourth staff. "From 30 staffers, we are down to 8-10. This is will make service slower. We expect 10-15 per cent of our original customer base to come in the first few weeks, but even that is a challenge." The staff has also been retrained to take on new responsibilities.
Arya Bhavan, Matunga East
A patron gets his temperature checked at Arya Bhavan restaurant in Matunga East. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
The 11-year old Arya Bhavan restaurant had a fairly long queue on Monday. It had a hand sanitiser dispenser, temperature and oxygen level checks, staff wearing masks and only packaged water.
Navin Muthu Krishnan, owner, Arya Bhavan
"Our space is small so it is difficult to maintain one-metre distance. We have reduced occupancy of each table from six to two," said its owner, Navin Muthu Krishnan, 30.
The Village Shop, Bandra
The Village Shop at Chimbai had created space by stacking away chairs and tables at one side
The Village Shop in Chimbai had stacked tables and chairs at one side to create space. Its staff, too, checked temperatures, asked patrons to sanitise hands, and recorded patrons' details.
The crockery was replaced with disposable items and menus were paper printouts. Customers had to dispose of plates, cups and menus after dining.
The restaurant trimmed its menu and has kept only trusted staples. Servers also mentioned that many customers are shying away from salads and other raw vegetables, preferring thoroughly cooked food.
The mood was optimistic and three other tables were occupied when mid-day visited. The staff was polite but firm in restricting customers' movement. Some customers had brought laptops but restricted their stay to the duration of a cup of coffee.
Blogger and marketing professional Rupesh Kadam said that he had been looking forward to visiting restaurants. "I have been ordering in throughout the lockdown. I intend to dine out at least twice a week, focusing on hygienic restaurants and cafés. It gives a much-needed sense of normalcy," Kadam said.
Coffee By Di Bella, Juhu
Coffee by Di Bella gave the option to order and pay online
Coffee By Di Bella had only one table occupied. The place looked dull and in need of a spring clean. Every alternate table was cordoned off, there was the option to order and pay online.
While the staff was efficient and worked in tandem, mid-day chose to leave with a takeaway as the place looked beat.
Juhu-based blogger, Sucheta Thakur who visited Marine Plaza at Churchgate on Sunday, recounted her experience to mid-day. "A friend and I visited Marine Plaza where our temperature wasn't checked, the bottle of sanitiser was nearly empty. While only one-third of Bayview restaurant was operating, five tables were placed in a cluster. The restaurant took our contact number to send us the menu but there was no digital payment so we paid in cash. The experience did not feel completely safe."
Sunny H, a radio professional was satisfied with his experience at Swadesh, popular for its South Indian fare, in Versova. "We stopped for a filter coffee at 9:30 am. The restaurant was full and the staff was making efforts to sanitise the premises. Food was served in disposable containers and packing up leftovers was banned. Tables were reduced. It was great to be able to go out, eat fresh food at a restaurant. I could see that the staff was struggling to adapt, but they impressed us with their efforts," Sunny said.
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