It does not surprise me any longer when friends from the hospitality sector say they are on “leave without pay” or that they have been “furloughed”. These words tell me more about the state of the industry than the dire statistics that the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) President, Anurag Katriar, keeps sharing with us.
His latest is that 40-50 per cent of the people working in restaurants, who are mostly in their 20s and early 30s, have lost their jobs. We don’t see them because they have gone back to the small towns and villages that they came from. This is of course true not only about the hospitality sector. Across sectors, young Indians have been forced to turn their backs on what has been the most desired form of social mobility.
Restaurant owners meanwhile are fighting losing battles against landlords and quietly shutting shop; some are trying very hard to stay afloat by pushing home deliveries, gourmet and DIY sauces, but they have been struggling with numbers. It is becoming clearer with each passing day people have not yet gained the confidence to go to restaurants, or to order in from restaurants. No amount of publicity by restaurants highlighting their efforts to sanitise their operations and go ‘contactless’ (I still haven’t figured out, though, how the business of eating out can go ‘contactless’!) has had the desired effect of driving footfalls back to their old levels.
As a result, when I ask restau rant owners how much of their old business they’ve regained, their numbers vary from 20 per cent to 60 per cent (the latter, I believe, is an optimistic inflation of numbers actually being registered at the doors of restaurants).
The erratic return of lockdowns after they are lifted has not helped. Worse: At a time when people are being forced to accept pay cuts, if they are not losing jobs, discretionary spending has seen a precipitous drop, which, in turn, is getting translated into declining footfalls at malls and restaurants
For the hospitality sector, this has been the longest downturn in living history. And the longest dry day, for because of some strange logic, restaurants and bars cannot serve alcohol, although liquor shops can sell. That is like reading out a death warrant of the restaurant business, because restaurants that are licensed to sell liquor, depend on booze for at least 30-40 per cent of their earnings.
Liquor, being an effective social lubricant, also ensures restaurant patrons stay longer and order more.
Why, then, are state governments stopping restaurants from serving liquor at the tables, which is now the accepted practice across the world? Like so many other whimsical acts, like Mumbai restaurants operating out of malls being allowed only to do home deliveries and takeaways, this one too defies logic. The State has yet again let down a sector of the economy that has given it truckloads of revenue, and us, as we watch helplessly, so many memorable moments of joy.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)