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NEW DELHI: Impresario Handmade Restaurants, that runs the Social and Smoke House Deli chain of eateries, is set to open 16 new outlets this year, with an estimated Rs50-60 crore in investment, as the pandemic-battered dine-in business moves from survival to a revival phase.

The company, however, has scaled back its expansion plan of opening 18 outlets said Riyaaz Amlani, MD & CEO, Impresario Handmade Restaurants, who set up the company in 2001.

Of the 16, Impresario will open 12 outlets of Social, in both small and large cities, and four of Smoke House Deli.

Impresario runs over 58 restaurants in the country across casual-dining, cafe-bar, and other formats.

Last month, the company opened a Social in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, in a joint venture with a local partner.

“Recovery has been more solid in non-metros. But that's not what's influencing our strategy. We always had tier-2 cities on our radar, it’s always been part of our plan, it has not changed because of covid," he said.

More outlets are expected to come up in Lucknow, Mangalore, Goa, Nagpur and Guwahati as Amlani capitalizes on the consumer appetite for chained outlets in non-metros.

"Covid derailed and delayed expansion but business is now coming back, and we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," he added.

Covid battered India’s eating out market, wiping away a chunk of smaller, unorganised players. As a result, for many delivery became the mainstay of their business for months.

However, recovery in eating out has been promising as India has seen a steady decline in caseload, barring in a few states. Long confinement indoors has also pushed diners to step out and eat, a situation that is likely to improve as the vaccination drive picks up speed.

India’s organised dine-in restaurants are likely to report a 40-50% decline in revenues this fiscal, as per estimates by Crisil Research. Organised restaurants account for 35% of India’s restaurant industry, pegged at Rs4.2 trillion in FY19.

Amlani said recovery rate in February stood at 80-85% of pre-covid levels; in January it was 75% to 80%. “Second wave notwithstanding, it's been good," he said. However, social distancing measures are still prohibiting restaurants to operate at full capacity.

“We are seeing three types of customers, those who are very confident about restaurants, those who have just begun to come out and are still a little careful. We also find people who just will not go to a restaurant. That is about 15%," he said.

New restaurants are also set to have larger kitchens, as the company is expanding its cloud kitchen business, using space in new restaurants as backend for delivery-only brands. Amlani said while delivery business will continue to grow much ahead of dine-in, for Impresario's restaurant formats, it will only be an added layer to its core dine-in business.

Last year, the company let go of five properties over disagreement of rental negotiations. It is in talks to reopen some of the outlets, he said.

Amlani expects dine-in business to reach pre-covid levels by May—considering a second wave of covid infections does not hit the country and the cases move in a downward direction. “With the rollout of vaccines, and the fact that so many people have got covid already, we feel a little bit more confident," he said.

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