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NEW DELHI : Strained by months of restrictions, restaurants across cities have started opening up to diners, albeit with caution, while expanding their delivery and takeaway business.

However, the numbers are still sombre for the industry that, not long ago, was begging the government for a lifeline to help them tide over the shutdown of businesses.

Social, a chain of cafe-bars re-opened its outlet in sector-7 Chandigarh in June, welcoming customers to brunches and dinners, without alcohol. Since then it has opened two more outlets in Delhi-NCR, and is pushing deliveries via aggregators and its own ordering platform. Some outlets are also allowing takeaways.

At the outlets, the dine-in business is at 15-20% of pre-covid levels, but improving week-on-week. “It’s a decent number considering that you’ve gone through four months of a lull and then re-started again in the middle of a pandemic," Mayank Bhatt, brand head Social, part of Impresario Handmade Restaurants, said.

India allowed restaurants to open in July, but with restrictions, such as timing and strict social distancing. They were barred from serving alcohol, which brings in significant revenues. However, some of these restrictions have now eased with curfew on night timings gradually lifted, but bars and nightclubs continue to remain shut. However, not all restaurants have resumed dine-in service. A report by online food delivery platform Zomato estimates that only 17% dine-out restaurants are currently open for business.

The Delhi government on Thursday directed the excise department to give necessary permits for serving of liquor in hotels and at tables inside restaurants.

While dine-ins have begun in many cities, the numbers are yet to inspire confidence among businesses. “There was a spike in the Eid and Rakshabandhan weekend —we all got a little excited," said Anurag Katriar, president, National Restaurants Association of India. “Overall business is still disappointing, we are clocking 15-20% of the pre-covid number in terms of dine-in."

Aware that the new normal means fewer in-store diners, restaurants are also pivoting to deliveries. Lite Bite Foods said overall business, including dine-in and deliveries, hovered at 25% of pre-covid levels and people are trickling in to some of its outlets in Delhi and Bengaluru. It opened its first cloud kitchen to boost deliveries.

While dine-ins have begun in many cities, the numbers are yet to inspire confidence among businesses. “There was a spike in the Eid and Rakshabandhan weekend —we all got a little excited," said Anurag Katriar, president, National Restaurants Association of India. “Overall business is still disappointing, we are clocking 15-20% of the pre-covid number in terms of dine-in."

Westlife Development, that runs the McDonald's outlets in west and south India, has opened over 50% of outlets for dine-in. "We are seeing an encouraging trend with foot falls increasing consistently week on week," Saurabh Kalra, senior director, strategy and operations, McDonald’s India (West and South). The chain has taken measures to ensure social distancing and increased sanitization. "While customer preference is still skewed towards the convenience channels that include delivery, take-out and drive-thru as they enable minimal exposure and help drive assurance along with convenience, in-store is definitely recovering steadily," said Kalra.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suneera Tandon

Suneera Tandon is a New Delhi based reporter covering consumer goods for Mint. Suneera reports on fast moving consumer goods makers, retailers as well as other consumer-facing businesses such as restaurants and malls. She is deeply interested in what consumers across urban and rural India buy, wear and eat. Suneera holds a masters degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi.
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