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Fine-dine chains report sales trickling in, but say alcohol ban undoing gains



NEW DELHI: Fine-dine restaurant chains and malls said footfalls were starting to pick up with night curfew being lifted, but the continued ban on serving alcohol was undoing the gains of Unlock 3.0 for them.

“We are waiting for alcohol permissions to come. Bars not being allowed under Unlock 3.0 is our main pain point. With night curfew being lifted, we are at 10% of our weekend sales,” said First Fiddle chief executive Priyank Sukhija, who runs restaurant brands such as Lord of the Drinks, Tamasha and Warehouse Café. First Fiddle, which has 24 restaurants pan India, has reopened four of its dozen outlets in Delhi, but none in Mumbai and Bengaluru.

The home ministry’s guidelines for Unlock 3.0 have lifted night curfew from August 1 and allowed yoga institutes and gymnasiums to reopen from August 5. Schools, colleges and coaching institutions will, however, remain closed.

“Footfalls are trickling in but it’s very slow in some of our restaurants. While the relaxation of curfew will increase trading hours and this may help, liquor service should be allowed for the dine-in restaurants at least,” said Lite Bite Foods director Rohit Aggarwal. His company operates Punjab Grill and Tres, and now has the exclusive catering mandate for the Delhi Golf Club.

Most restaurant chains had remained closed or were operating at 50% capacity even after the government started easing lockdown restrictions. For this, they had cited the ban on serving alcohol and the 9 pm deadline to close the restaurants.

Kylin managing director Saurabh Khanijo, who also operates the Wanchai food court brand, said most of his outlets were operational but liquor remained a key consumer demand.

“Lifting of night curfew has helped but diners are asking for liquor. Liquor is the only way out to get restaurants back in action,” Khanijo said. He said his chain of restaurants had done good business in markets like Punjab and Delhi on Saturday, especially in malls such as Ambience, Promenade and Select CITYWALK.

Industry estimates show the Rs 4.25 lakh crore restaurant sector potentially losing about 2 million jobs, with many brands having to deal with permanent closures or fighting a battle for existence.

Whisky Samba and The Kimono Club promoter Ashish Kapur said there had been a steady week-on-week increase in footfalls, but since they were restarting from zero, numbers were still 30% of pre-Covid. Kapur has now launched a new business of providing disinfectants for airports, malls and restaurants.

Riyaaz Amlani, the chief executive of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality, which operates brands such as Social and Smokehouse Deli, said the chain had reopened its Bengaluru outlets and just one of eight Social outlets in the National Capital Region. “We still haven’t got clear guidelines from states. The earlier curfew was very unfriendly but easing night restrictions should help,” he said.

Amlani added that opening up again needed “lot of investment and that in Bengaluru, for example, they were allowed to open and then had to shut again.”

Malls, on the other hand, said footfalls were healthier. DLF Shopping Malls executive director Pushpa Bector said footfalls had gone up over the past two weekends and reached 30-40% of previous levels.

“Certain international luxury brands have registered sales 75% of pre-Covid levels; this may be due to no international travel leading to consumption increasing domestically,” she said.

Nimish Arora, the chief executive at Select CITYWALK, said: “Footfalls are gradually returning to pre-Covid months. However, as we have placed restrictions on capacity, these will take time to scale up to pre-Covid numbers.”

He said the mall was open with almost 90% occupancy, and that the turnout had gradually increased since re-opening, with each successive easing of restrictions leading to a surge in footfalls.

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