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Delhi eateries pledge to fight crafty landlords



NEW DELHI: Restaurateurs in the city started a chain message titled ‘Pledge of Solidarity’, where a recipient states ‘I Pledge’, adds the name of his or her outlet and forwards it to colleagues in the profession. The pledge states that at a trying time when the food and beverages industry is at a standstill and restaurateurs are fighting multiple battles, they mustn’t be done in by real estate manipulations. Many restaurant operators will be forced to vacate premises either on their own or under duress, the pledge cautions.
With the commercial arrangements finalised in the pre-Covid era no longer relevant, the message adds, many landlords may use pressure tactics such as non-refund or deduction of deposits and court cases. “In these circumstances, the least we can do is to take a pledge to not allow the landlords to take advantage of the situation and collectively agree that we will not poach each other’s premises without obtaining an NOC/Go Ahead from the vacating fraternity member, either directly or through the landlord. We also must pledge to never work with real estate consultants who show our occupied premises to prospective new tenants at the behest of our landlords without the above-mentioned NOC or Go Ahead,” reads the pledge.

Within 12 hours of floating the message on Friday, over 300 restaurants signed their support for the cause. While indications of resumption of business from hospitality outlets was heartening, many restaurateurs said that non-cooperation by landlords and state and central governments could kill Delhi’s lounges and bars.
Even though most food-centric spaces are reopening and Yogeshwar Sharma of Select Citywalk asserted that the food court there was resuming work, the reluctance of diners to visit even ‘credible spaces’ could prove challenging for lounges and bars. Priyank Sukhija of First Fiddle, a company that operates popular, ‘high-energy’ outlets such as Lord of the Drinks, Tamasha, DragonFly Experience and Diablo reported that sales are mere 7% of what they were last year. Since social distancing protocols are already in place, Sukhija felt allowing alcohol service could be a step in the right direction.

One of the signatories of the pledge, Sukhija argued that if alcohol was not allowed to be served, many outlets would think it financially unviable to reopen. “The closures and joblessness will actually happen now. Without alcohol sales, many restaurants, lounges and bars cannot muster the courage to reopen and survive,” he asserted.

Navneet Kalra of Town Hall echoed Sukhija’s views and pointed out that even though diner confidence was improving by the day, resumption of alcohol service would bring the business earnings back to at least 60% of pre-Covid days. Kalra felt this was the time for authorities to be supportive and to allow terraces to reopen and alcohol to be served because all outlets were running at reduced capacities due to social distancing regulations.
Jasjit Singh of Tenali the Andhra Kitchen said the initial response to his food space reopening has been heartening, but he still hasn’t thrown open the doors to his other two outlets, Shibuya and La Latina Tapas Bar, both of which rely heavily on alcohol sales. “The industry is totally dependent on the support of the administration and the landlords right now,” Singh said. “Food places and unique concepts are able to stay afloat somehow on dine-in and home delivery services, but bars have it tough at the moment.”

Permission to serve alcohol will also enable many restaurants to return to functioning with full workforce. Almost the entire bar staff in most of the outlets are currently on leave without pay. A lounge operator disclosed that he had 60 employees, but only needs 12 every day to run the place because of the reduced daily footfall resulting from the alcohol ban.

And yet, restaurant operators see hope in the regular enquiries they have been receiving from their patrons. Restaurateur Ashish Begwani, who runs two of the most buzzing spaces in the city, Ophelia and Toy Room, revealed he got round 25 calls a day about the reopening date. With both his outlets located in five-star hotels and reliant on alcohol sales, Begwani says he will be ready to resume business the moment alcohol service is permitted in five-star hotels.

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