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Eateries, bars expect trade to pick up fully this month



NEW DELHI : Restaurants, cafes, bars and fast-food chains reported steady recovery in February, but remained concerned over large office complexes, which drive sales, remaining shut. Restaurants enjoyed brisk business in the December quarter that came to a halt in January when the omicron virus struck. Most chains said momentum could pick up in March as more states ease restrictions and consumer mobility improves.

Cities like Delhi have only recently rolled back night curfews in what restaurants owners said could help business progress towards normalcy. Delhi was observing a curfew between 11pm to 5am.

Anjan Chatterjee, chairman and managing director at Speciality Restaurants that runs restaurants like Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta said with the Omicron wave now receding and timing restrictions being lifted in several cities, the company is seeing “respectable traction”.

He said some days are not as good but others, especially, weekends are really good. “But yes, I could say from where we were, it’s much better,” Chatterjee said.

Chatterjee said restaurant chains that were hammered by prolonged closures in 2020 and 2021—remain in wait and watch mode.

“We should not get gung-ho in terms of getting into some action which can hurt us. We’ve been able to get into a revival mode from survival. So, we are waiting and watching,” he said.

Others said recovery has been “slow and steady”. “So, there were restrictions—till the time they are not fully removed, you will not see a full recovery happening. It’s not yet complete,” said Sagar Daryani, CEO and co-founder, Wow! Momo Foods Pvt Ltd. Daryani said business in February was 20% lower than December.

While consumers are returning to stores, most are not spending longer hours inside malls and restaurants, especially during dinner time. Deliveries, he said, were holding strong and helping the chain tide through. “The working crowd is not coming to malls on weekdays. When they come, they are dealing with timing restrictions,” he added.

Office complexes, a big draw for restaurants, cafes and even pubs were still empty—said others. This, they said, remained an area of concern.

“Recovery is pretty much there because during the third wave business was not heavily impacted unlike the first two waves when 70-80% of the business was directly impacted. February 10th onwards, we have seen a stable recovery. From March onwards, I think it will be pretty much stable and back to pre-covid numbers except some of the corporate centers, which will still take time,” said Rajat Agrawal, COO at Barista Coffee Company.

Kabir Suri, co-founder and Director, Azure Hospitality who is also the President of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) said revenues during the January-March quarter will be “weak”.

January was impacted by Omicron while February has only 28 days and also had timing and capacity restrictions, he said. However, he added that historically January sales are lower compared to December. “March normally is the month of board exam and after that is when the business really picks up. But we’re in sort of a new territory based on the fact that we’ve just come out of covid-19, what we are noticing is that it is obviously the unlocking in places like Delhi which will help us,” Suri said.

Different cities are reacting differently, he said. “If I look at Delhi specifically, obviously the unlocking is going to support business. The removal of occupancy restrictions and timing restrictions is going to help. As a result of that, we will see a spurt of March for sure,” Suri said.

Others in the industry said while things were normalizing, they are hoping for a longer window of normalcy with no further covid waves and resultant restrictions.

“February has been better. Things are getting better, it’s a slow and steady progress. But we need a longer window of a few months where things continue to remain like this,” said Dhaval Udeshi managing partner at restaurants like London Taxi, Butterfly high and Bigg Small Cafe and Bar in Mumbai.

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