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Fresh curbs on gatherings, stricter enforcement of covid rules and the fear of catching the virus seem to be casting a shadow over Christmas and New Year celebrations at restaurants that were on the recovery path over the last few months.

Several restaurant operators said they expect crowds thinning for these occasions even as various state governments enforce a 50% capacity rule at eateries. Some enterprising eateries are, however, offering take-out celebratory boxes with set menus to compensate for the loss in revenue.

Until last week, restaurants said they were inundated with calls for reservations for New Year’s Eve. However, with new covid restrictions coming in, most people are now looking to avoid crowded places and are also refraining from stepping out.

Yum Yum Tree Restaurant, which runs chains in Delhi such as Yum Yum Cha and tbsp.Tablespoon, will cooperate with the authorities though the rules will adversely affect revenue across the board, managing director Varun Tuli said. “In our more than 10 years of being in the food industry, we have noticed more and more people coming out for New Year’s Eve celebrations, barring last year because of the pandemic. While we predict a good turnout this year, the new variant is definitely leaving things up in the air," he said.

Managing restaurants has become a huge challenge with new restrictions being implemented every few months and the lack of clarity and support, contended Rakshay Dhariwal, founder of Pass Code Hospitality, which runs restaurants in Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, and Kolkata.

“It’ll definitely affect our revenue, especially during the festive season when everyone wants to go out and when businesses actually make very good revenues," he said.

“As the seating capacity at restaurants is restricted to 50%, the bigger tables, which were mostly reserved by youngsters and couples, are now gone. As a result, the reduction in revenue is more than 50%," said Ajit Shah, partner at White Panda Hospitality, which has three restaurants in Delhi, including Kiko Ba and Tera Vita. To overcome this loss in revenue, the company plans to offer takeaway boxes with special meals for these occasions.

Bars and pubs have been hit harder. The Karnataka government has disallowed DJs and special events at clubs and pubs. Hotels and restaurants will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity on New Year’s eve. Geist, the Bengaluru-based brewery, which opened its premises for dine-in last year, did not plan a New Year’s eve event at its beer garden or taproom anticipating such a situation. Instead, it will only have a special menu for the season and it will be business as usual.

In Mumbai, party organizers must seek clear permission from authorities and the gathering must be limited to 200 people.

The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has disallowed Christmas and New Year gatherings. The move has come as a setback to the hospitality industry in the capital, said Akshay Anand, co-founder at restaurant-bar Ophelia. The resto-bar will operate at 50% of its capacity and move to pre-bookings rather than entertaining walk-ins as in previous years. Anand said they are keeping away from elaborate events.

“Everybody was expecting good business this year because last year we couldn’t do much. However, we need to be cautious because of Omicron. The two days of Christmas and New Year’s Eve are significant for the restaurant and hospitality industry. It was a bit of a disappointment because everything was coming back," he said.

However, Rahul Singh, founder of The Beer Café, said there is really no change. “There will be stricter enforcement now as there was some relaxation in the previous months. A new provision curbing Christmas and New Year events has been put in place." he said.

This is clearly a setback for the industry when it was recovering, he said. “Brands such as ours have scaled to 120% of pre-covid numbers and are just on the brink of revival, as an industry. However, this is a looming threat. We’ve already been battered by two waves; and a third wave was unexpected. But this is a global threat and we all have to give priority to health and safety. Economy’s well-being depends on us being well, “ he said.

Siddhartha Chaturvedi, general secretary of the Event and Entertainment Management Association (EEMA) said it was disheartening to see these selective rules banning live events or DJ parties to target the urban elite while several other markets that see large crowds, are permitted. “A large part of our business that involved international travel and artistes, is out of the question. But it is disappointing to see domestic business operations disrupted, too," said Chaturvedi, who estimates that the loss from cancellations in Delhi and Karnataka alone would run into a couple of crores.

Suneera Tandon & Lata Jha contributed to this story

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