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Eateries revive on dine-in, orders



India’s restaurant chains have clawed back as much as 70% of their pre-pandemic sales since they began reopening their outlets on 1 June.

Renewed confidence and receding restrictions have brought customers back to restaurants, even as home delivery still remains the preferred option for a large number of people.

Restaurant chains in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Indore and parts of Punjab have made a robust comeback, while those in the large markets of Delhi-NCR and Mumbai continue to grow slowly. As social distancing norms and fear of infection keep many people off physical outlets, restaurant owners are considering compact outlets, delivery-friendly locations and delivery-only brands.

“This month, we’re back to 70% of pre-covid numbers,” said Sagar Daryani, co-founder and chief executive officer of Wow! Momo Foods, a quick service restaurant chain with 360-odd outlets pan-India across formats. Its restaurants in malls have been the slowest to recover, while those in high streets are on the way to normalcy.

“We came down to one-tenth of our business in April, so that was tough. From there to come back to 70% in the month of October is super-positive,” said Daryani. However, Daryani said there is still a “fear psychosis” when it comes to dining in.

“What is driving our business is the delivery and takeaway part, and not people coming into our stores and spending time,” he said. Wow! Momo clocked over 300,000 deliveries in September. It has shuttered 25 outlets since March, and plans to shut 10 more. It has also opened 39 restaurants since 1 June.

The restaurant industry has had an erratic return to normalcy. The Centre allowed home deliveries even in April and May, while dining-in was permitted from 1 June; however, lack of local permissions and staff shortage kept many shut, as customers stayed away. Delhi allowed restaurants to open in June, but with a maximum capacity of 50%; liquor was allowed to be served in September. Maharashtra, which has had the highest number of covid cases, permitted restaurants to reopen only in October, with strict norms.

Industry estimates indicate the March lockdown forced 30% bars and restaurants to shut.

Coffee chain Barista said its restaurants in non-metros were surprisingly ahead of pre-covid levels as reverse migration fuelled demand in small cities. “A few pockets are improving at a much rapid pace compared to others. At a business level, we are back to almost 80% of pre-covid levels; a few markets are doing even better,” said Rajat Agrawal, chief operating officer and head of corporate finance at the coffee chain that has over 250 outlets.

For Barista, business in parts of Punjab has crossed pre-covid levels, while in Gurugram, it is at 60-65% as residents have moved to their home states. For the coffee chain, business is still led by dine-in (80%) and takeaways. Share of delivery to overall business is still below 10%.

For Massive Restaurants—which runs fine dining and casual dining restaurant formats such as Farzi Cafe, Pa Pa Ya and Bo-Tai—Hyderabad, Indore and Bengaluru are reporting promising business. Gurugram, which typically does well due to a corporate crowd, is lagging, said Zorawar Kalra, founder and managing director. Kalra plans to launch a delivery-only brand soon.

“Definitely, things are getting better. But we are still far from reaching 100% of last year’s numbers,” Kalra said. The food services firm also has a presence overseas with restaurants in West Asia and London. “The best green shoot would be Hyderabad, Bangalore and Indore. Delhi is next, and Gurugram hasn’t picked up as well as we thought it would,” said Kalra, whose restaurants began home deliveries via aggregators and its own platform only once the pandemic hit the dine-in business.

Lite Bite Foods, which operates restaurant brands Punjab Grill, TRES, You Mee, The Artful Baker and Zambar, has seen business resume across most outlets, barring a few at airports, director Rohit Aggarwal said.

The company has more than 200 restaurants in India spread across malls, high streets, and airports.

“Most of our outlets are now open. We are at about 50-55% of last year’s business,” said Aggarwal. Of this, dine-in is around 20%, while significant contribution comes from delivery and takeaways.

Meanwhile, as covid reduces the dine-in business, most restaurants are looking at delivery-friendly formats and reconsidering opening in high streets and malls.

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