Restaurant owners protest against the shutdown; fear mass exodus of staff

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Ever since the government announced to keep restaurants and hotels to remain shut, the decision has not gone well with many restaurant owners in Pune. Thousands of restaurant and hotel owners in Pune have decided to protest against this unjustified decision taken without considering the suggestions from the industry.  In Pune, on April 5, 2021 the restaurant and hotel owners association decided to install banners stating the injustice done to them as well as the patrons. 

The new lockdown imposition that states complete lockdown of the restaurant and allows only delivery is hampering the industry especially the standalone restaurants, making it very difficult for them to survive. Most restaurants are receiving only 20% of the revenue and it’s already hard to sustain. The previous lockdown saw the closure of many restaurants. The industry has experienced heavy losses and no reimbursement or a lawful consideration in terms of financial aid was provided by the government. To further understand the gravity of the situation we spoke to a few industry leaders and restaurateur. 

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Akanksha Dharmani 

Ganesh Shetty, president, Pune Restaurant and Hoteliers Association (PRAHA) said, “As a protest against the unjustified decision of the government to keep the restaurants and hotels shut, all the restaurants and hotels have put up banners. In the first lockdown we all sat at home with absolutely no business for around eight months. Why are only restaurants and hotels singled out, when there are other sectors who have equally been responsible for spreading Covid19. Infact, hotels and restaurants ensured that all Covid19 appropriate protocols were followed to perfection. We have already written to the state government to roll back the decision. We have also suggested them to allow us to operate between 9 am to 3 pm and 7 pm – 11 pm. With only home deliveries we cannot even recover our expenses. With over 1 lakh labour which is employed in the city’s hotels have suddenly become unemployed. There are more than 850 members and 5000 restaurants in Pune city who have joined hands to protest against this decision of the government.”

Rajjeet Chandra, Director at  Kara Asian, Mekong Folks being an award-winning restaurant of the year 2021 says ‘I don’t understand how are other public places which are completely in an uncontrolled environment safer than restaurants which are in a relatively much more controlled environment? We sanitize, our staff is fully trained compared to open markets that are riskier.’ He also expressed his deep concern about supporting his staff whose families are dependent on the salary provided by the restaurant and barely manage to meet ends. Mekong Folks did support its staff by providing financial aid earlier however, he says “There is only so much we can do, the government must reconsider the plight of the standalone restaurants that work on limited capital investment. There is no share market where we can raise money from we have to self invest and we have limited resources. No financial institutions are supporting where we can raise money.” 

The owner at Pind Punjab Chirag Malhotra, seeks help and some relief on fixed expenditures such as rent. He says ”This new lockdown might be good for preventing COVID 19 spread. I totally understand the gravity of the situation but most things are allowed to run their operations during the day in this particular lockdown. With the decision of ‘Closing restaurants down,’ we won’t be able to survive. Even home delivery is only allowed till 8 pm. Where the main business hours are 9pm onwards for dinner. WE WON’T BE ABLE TO SURVIVE. This will adversely impact our staff and lead to increased unemployment.  We will join the protest against the lockdown. Please help us. If the government still wants to enforce the lockdown it can! provided it gives us some relief like no rent, no salaries and no expenses to be paid during a lockdown and also relief on taxes. It can’t just shut us down” 

“The new lockdown norms is a complete setback, totally unprecedented and it is surprising!   We were still reeling from the losses of the past lockdown and we actually don’t know where to go. Our staff has been asking us ( sir ab kya hoga), a complete disaster as we would say. Our landlords are in no mood to give us any more discounts and vendors have been now following up for the dues, this is going to pile up on my debts and create more uncertainty in our minds to even think about reopening our restaurants.  Government has to rethink the strategy of lockdown and provide us with a breather if they want us to sustain in the business. In Europe and America, the government has been supportive in rents and staff salary also provoking guests to come and dine over 50% discounts, the 50% was borne by the government,  we are far far away from the same. To summarize,  even we are clueless as to when this would actually end. NRAI, AHAR  and FHRAI  are in talks with the ministers to ease  down the lockdown rules. A lot of restaurateurs won’t open, as honestly running a restaurant on covid times has been an act of charity ..An entertainment and Indulgence for clients and salaries for staff whilst we give them jobs and run their families and no profit for us. It seems we are running an NGO” Says Eshita Deoskar, Co founder of Kynd Cafe and Bar

“If you compare the current numbers in the restaurant business to Pre Covid numbers, the business has dropped to 15-20% after the new restrictions were imposed in March 2021. After the new lockdown norms, we have seen our business take a major hit, to an extent wherein we may have to shut down. We have been running our shifts with a reduced staff and seating capacity, even after paying full rents and statutory fees as well as our utility bills. We have always been paying the staff in full since the first lockdown, but without permission for dine-in or restrictions on hours, there isn’t much room to function. The major hindrance we see is the confidence in our staff. The staff is scared that last year’s misfortune would repeat itself. And considering that the lockdown is only in Maharashtra, our staff is more inclined to move to other states where there is an equal opportunity of employment. With home deliveries and take away only, we have decided to stop operations completely, ” said Sandeepraj Salian, Co founder of Farmaaish resto-lounge and bar. 

To conclude, after understanding various issues that cause a threat to the survival of the restaurants we totally sympathise and agree that the government must reconsider its decision and look at providing some relief through financial aid or ease the lockdown allowing the restaurants to manage the operations. On second thought we feel the government can ease it by increasing the vaccine allowance to 18-year-olds and above and make it compulsory to be vaccinated before enjoying any dine-out experiences. ‘Shut down’ is a harsh decision leading to very high unemployment and heavy losses in the hospitality industry.