Only Disposable Cups To ‘Leave It At The Door’—How Restaurants Are Coping With Coronavirus
Patrons have lunch at a restaurant in New Delhi, India. (Photograph: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg News)

Only Disposable Cups To ‘Leave It At The Door’—How Restaurants Are Coping With Coronavirus

As the number of people infected by the novel coronavirus rises steadily in India, restaurants and fast-food outlets are tackling the threat by temporarily shutting down, making delivery safer and improving hygiene.

The National Restaurant Association of India, which represents more than 500,000 food outlets and restaurant chains across the country, advised its members to shut eateries, bars, pubs and cafes till March 31 to help contain the spread of the virus since workers use public transport and run the risk of infection. The lobby will work with all stakeholders—from landlords to government departments, banks and financial institutions—to seek their support in mitigating losses.

India has started closing public centres like malls and multiplexes across major cities, including Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai and Bengaluru, as a precautionary measure against the virus that’s already affected at least hundreds of people and put many others under quarantine.

First Fiddle F&B, the operator of nearly 32 restaurants in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, including Lord Of The Drinks, Warehouse Cafe, Tamasha and Flying Saucer, has decided to shut all outlets. “We have to ensure the safety of our staff, as they’re hesitant to travel in public transport,” Priyank Sukhija, managing director and chief executive officer of the company, told BloombergQuint over the phone. “These are times when we need to think about our staff and patrons more than our business.”

Still, not all restaurants are shutting outlets. Some are curtailing operations and cutting costs, while others are ramping up hygiene and sanitisation. Here’s a look at some of the measures the food service industry is taking to tide over the crisis.

Leave Order At Doorstep

Hardcastle Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., which runs the burger chain McDonald’s stores in western and southern India; Jubilant Foodworks Ltd., which operates the Dominos Pizza store chain; and food delivery apps Swiggy and Zomato are introducing “contactless delivery” that would prevent people from mingling—a primary reason for the spread of the virus.

Delivery persons wouldn’t come in contact with the customer when they deliver food. They would leave the package at the doorstep and wait at a distance till the customer picks it up.

Jubilant Foodworks said customers must update the Domino’s Pizza mobile app and opt for “zero-contact delivery” while placing orders.

McDonald’s said customers can opt for their deliveries to be hung on their doors, while Swiggy said customers will have to call the delivery person and request for their order to be placed at a distance. The company said in a blogpost that it’s working on upgrading systems to include the contactless delivery option.

Zomato is also offering the option of keeping deliveries at the doorstep, but this won’t be available for those who opt for contactless delivery.

Speciality Restaurants Ltd., which runs a chain of different format restaurants, including Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta, looking at options, including converting their eateries inside malls into delivery outlets, Rajesh Mohta, chief financial officer of Speciality Restaurants, told BloombergQuint. It’s done so at the Mainland China restaurant at Infiniti Mall, Mumbai. “Some malls aren’t allowing even delivery boys inside malls, so we’re looking at ways in which we can use these stores.”

Also read: Coronavirus Update: Maharashtra Orders Partial Shutdown In Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur

Closed, For Now

Massive Restaurants Ltd., which runs brands such as Masala Library, Faros Café and Made in Punjab, has been forced to shutter nearly 80 percent of its outlets as they’re located inside malls that have already closed over fears of the virus spread.

“We’re following the guidelines of the authorities,” Zorawar Kalra, managing director the company, told BloombergQuint, adding that they might temporarily suspend restaurants at some locations and cut operating expenses by stopping marketing and advertisement spends and request landowners to reduce rents in the interim.

“The overheads shall remain the same or less, yet the revenue is down significantly by over 70 percent due to the closures of stores in malls and the general consumer sentiment,” Kalra said. “People are apprehensive to go out due to the fear which is understandable.”

Pranav Rungta, who runs the Café Royal, Headquarter and Tamak restaurants in Mumbai, faces a similar situation as revenue and footfalls have nearly halved. Rungta said he’s looking to shut the first two restaurants, which also serve alcohol, but run the third at reduced expenses.

He plans to cut costs by requesting landlords to reduce rent for a temporary period, and cut down on utility expenses. Marketing and advertising expenses have already been brought to zero, he said.

Sukhija of First Fiddle F&B said that footfalls at his outlets have dropped by 40 percent, urging the government to provide some aid to the industry. “We have initiated talks with landlords claiming Force Majeure—or unforeseeable events preventing someone from fulfilling contracts—as we can’t safely operate in the present circumstances.”

The restaurant operator has paid salaries in part to its employees to avoid disruption. “We have paid the salary till March 17 and to 31st or till we’re shutting down, we will be paying a percentage of salary,” Sukhija said. “For lower salary bracket, we might pay full, and for others a percentage will be paid.”

Hardcastle Restaurants said its delivery orders have witnessed a marginal decline in some states and orders have declined over the previous week. “We had to shut 60-70 of our stores located inside malls, but are currently looking at starting deliveries from these outlets,” Saurabh Kalra, director of strategy and operations at Hardcastle Restaurants, told BloombergQuint.

Sanitise, Sanitise, Sanitise...

Starbucks said in a statement that it has increased hygiene levels at its cafes across India. Besides screening visitors for temperature at its store entrances, it moved away its condiment carts, which include stirrers, sugar packets and seasoning—these will only be given on request.

The café chain operator also said that it would stop dispensing beverages in tumblers brought in by customers—for which it was offering a discount of Rs 10—and its own in-house cutlery. It would instead provide beverages in disposable cups. “We’ll continue to honour the Rs 10 discount for anyone who brings in a personal tumbler or asks for “for here” ware.”

Domino’s Pizza said it’s screening all its employees, including delivery staff, who will have to wear masks at all times and wash hands every hour for 20 seconds. The pizza chain is also sanitising its delivery bikes, bags, bike boxes and outlets every four hours, it said in a statement.

Hardcastle Restaurants has also started temperature screening at entry points to its stores and has given sanitisers that delivery personnel need to use each time before dropping food. The operator of McDonald’s outlets is sanitising delivery bags every two hours, it said in a statement, adding that its kitchen staff will use gloves while handling food.

Rebel Foods, which sells rolls under the brand name Faasos, said it checks employees’ temperature everyday, sanitises its kitchen and makes cooking staff sanitise hands every hour.

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