In Focus

Restaurants delay dine-in, struggle with limitations

By A Draft Colaba Correspondent

As Mumbaikars waited with bated breaths for restaurants to resume operations on 5 October 2020, many were left disappointed as most restaurants didn't open their dine-in facilities. Colaba, in particular, the hub for all touristy activities, felt the pinch the worst.

The state government had allowed 'restaurants, cafes, canteens, dining halls and bars to reopen from 5 October 2020 with 33 per cent occupancy' after more than six months of lockdown. 

In Colaba, while most restaurants and bars had started food parcel and delivery services from June 2020, almost all have postponed reopening owing to unavailability of staff and logistical inability to follow the 'new' guidelines.

HOPEFUL: Locals eagerly await the actual 'opening' of restaurants like Kailash Parbat

Restaurants and bars, in an attempt to adapt to the new normal and maximise their operations, introduced a slew of measures. These include stringent time slots for the arriving customers and limited items on the menu list for better implementation of the SOPs and ensuring quick service by reducing the waiting time for the next lot of customers.

One of the oldest restaurants in the area and famed for its North Indian cuisine and chaat, First Pasta Lane-based Kailash Parbat Hindu Hotel had been providing food take-away and delivery services throughout the lockdown. "We began providing food parcels since June 2020. But, despite government SOPs to ensure dine-in service from October 5 itself, we'll take another two weeks to start. Our biggest hurdle being the shortage of staff that haven't returned from their villages yet," says owner Manohar Mulchandani as he supervises his "limited staff" along with manager Manoj Thakur.

BUYING TIME: (From left) Owner Manohar Mulchandani and manager Manoj Thakur
prepare to 'open' Kailash Parbat Hindu Hotel in two weeks' time

Despite the government nod, the logistical and personnel constraints persist, making it difficult for Mr Mulchandani to throw open the restaurant for public. "While the ground floor seating, limited in numbers and located right behind the chaat counter, is open. Yet, our restaurant on the mezzanine floor remains shut. We are still awaiting the arrival of about 25 of our workers, including cooks and waiters, from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and will be able to reopen the restaurant only when they arrive," he maintains.

Proprietor of Hotel Saurabh Sitaram Shetty and manager Taranath Shetty had been struggling throughout the lockdown to provide food takeaway and delivery services. "I have just five workers now at the hotel. I'm expecting twenty more to return from their homes in Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar," says Sitaram Shetty. "They all left for their villages when things went out of hand in Mumbai. And, now for them to even reach their nearest railway station in the absence of local transport turns out to be an exorbitant affair. That apart, there are as good as no trains plying from their states into Maharashtra as of now."

IN WAITING: Hotel Saurabh proprietor Sitaram Shetty (left) and manager Taranath Shetty

Vistarit Amdar Niwas Uphargruha aka Hotel OCH near the Museum at Regal Circle is facing the same predicament in reopening the restaurant for public. Supervisor Manohar Kasare and Managers Uttam Kharat and Suresh Shetty have been overseeing the food parcel and delivery services ensuring social distancing amid the customers, proper sanitisation and hygiene among the limited staff working at the restaurant, throughout the lockdown. 

TRYING TIMES: (From left) Manohar Kasare, Uttam Kharat and Suresh Shetty at Hotel OCH
in South Mumbai manage food parcel and delivery services with limited staff

"Most of our staff belong to Orissa and Assam and are still stuck there. Only those from Maharashtra could come back and have been working since 8 June 2020 when we started providing food parcels," says Manohar Kasare. "Only when the long-distance trains will start plying will our staff be able to return to Mumbai. Till then, we cannot start dine-in operations. We're all just hoping it happens soon enough," offers Uttam Kharat.

Mumbai, the city of opportunities, witnessed one of the largest movement of migrants and labourers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kalpana Restaurant and Bar, opposite Sassoon Docks, thronged by locals and fishermen, day and night before the lockdown, has been lying deserted now for over six months. 

WAITING: Waiter Bhaskar Moolya of Kalpana Restaurant and Bar awaits fellow workers

Waiter Bhaskar Moolya, working here for the past 20 years, had left for home in Mangalore on 10 March 2020 but got stuck there due to the national lockdown. "I could return only in August. Even now, 12 workers and cooks are stuck in their villages as there are no trains to ferry them to the city. There are only four of us now and we're helping with food parcels and selling liquor to the customers," says Bhaskar. “It’s just not possible to throw open indoor services for the public, as yet,” he maintains.

Strand-based Shubh Sagar Veg Restaurant is facing the same predicament like the other restaurants in the zone. Manager Jagdish Kumar Ram says, "At present, we're working with five odd workers for food take-away and delivery services. We're waiting for eight more to return from their villages in Jharkhand, Orissa, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh." Jagdish, a native of Bihar, himself "joined on 1 October" after the lockdown and is eagerly waiting for the rest to join.

SINGLED OUT: Shubh Sagar Veg Restaurant Manager Jagdish Ram mans the deserted restaurant

Manager of Kailash Parbat Veg Restaurant Arvind Singh says, "We can’t open up, despite government relaxations, owing to acute shortage of staff. We have been offering take-away services since April but will open up our dine-in services only after our workers, who left for their homes mostly in Uttar Pradesh, return."

UNCERTAIN TIMES: Kailash Parbat Veg Restaurant manager Arvind Singh with a lone staffer

"The option to reopen restaurants comes as a big relief. Although it is a good development, not all restaurants are geared up to reopen today itself. We expect only around 30 per cent of the restaurants to open and the rest will reopen only gradually through the month,” offered Senior Vice-President of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI) Pradeep Shetty on the move.

Most restaurant owners and managers feel there are too many guidelines and not enough workers to be able to implement the same. Sanitisation of seats at frequent intervals, time limits for customers, ensuring social distancing and other precautions will be the new normal now.

Restaurant owners that are already facing shortage of staff to serve the customers in the first place are now burdened with the additional responsibilities of following the SOPs in the post-COVID world.