The Covid pandemic in India is now seven months old and counting. To analyse the impact of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown on various industries, Newslaundry organised a webinar to discuss the fallout and future of India’s restaurant industry.
The webinar brought together Ritu Dalmia, celebrity chef and co-owner of six restaurants and a catering vertical, and AD Singh, founder and managing director of the Olive group of restaurants and a veteran in the industry. The discussion was moderated by Newslaundry’s Jayashree Arunachalam.
The conversation kicked off with Jayashree listing some quick statistics: how one in four restaurants in India will probably never open again, and most dine-in restaurants will lose 50 percent of their revenue this year.
AD said, “These predictions might just come true if the pandemic continues, given how Covid has decimated incoming cash flow.” Ritu called these statistics optimistic, as they do not account for small businesses, street vendors, and restaurants unrecognised by the National Restaurant Association of India.
On preparations in restaurants for the economy being “unlocked”, Ritu said the industry has been quick to comply with Covid rules for hygiene and sanitation. Some customers have been cautious and kept away from eating out, though, while others have been “difficult”, she added, “refusing to wear masks, use sanitiser, or get their temperature checked”.
Has the government provided any support to the industry during this period? Not at all, Ritu said, and AD agreed. There has been no support in tax, rentals or revoking licencing and statutory fees, which he described as being “so exuberant that they are unheard of anywhere in the world”.
“The government should be incentivising the business to keep workers and vendors employed instead of offering benefits after they’re laid off,” he said. “They are the most vulnerable and, in most cases, the only breadwinners in their families.”
Ritu added that the loan scheme for micro, small and medium enterprises is a “joke”. She contrasted the government’s support, or lack of it, in India with the situation in Italy, where the government has ensured 60 percent tax credit and pays 50 percent of salaries, among other measures.
But will the pandemic fundamentally change how people view food and eating out? Not really, according to AD and Ritu, because nothing can compare to the experience of dining out. Customers will return because even in a recession, eating will always be prioritised. Until then, they’ll have to tighten costs and minimise losses to get through these times.
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