Wanna get our awesome news?

Subscribe to our newsletter!


Actually we won’t spam you and keep your personal data secure

As the voice of the Indian restaurant industry, we represent the interests of 500000+ restaurants & an industry valued @ USD 4 billion. Whether a chain or independent restaurant, the NRAI is here to help every step of the way. Join us!


How Covid-19 has ravaged dreams and livelihoods of small restaurant owners, staffers



It is as if aliens came from outer space and decided to totally destroy restaurants,” chef David Chang told The New York Times recently, apprehending the total destruction of mid-level and small restaurant business in the US.

As Covid-19 sweeps across the world, extracting a heavy toll, restaurants in India too are in a similar apocalyptic crisis. The National Restaurant Association of India has sounded the alarm bells, apprehending huge revenue losses for a sector pegged at Rs 4.5 lakh crore in annual revenues, and big job losses among the 7.3 million people working in food services in the country.

Behind these numbers are personal stories of loss that people employed in the restaurant business are already grappling with — one month since restaurants across India had to shut to keep the coronavirus from spreading. (Most restaurants in the metros had closed on March 18, seven days ahead of the nationwide lockdown.) Chefs, line cooks, service staff, bartenders, watchmen and entrepreneurs — some of whom took loans to finance their dream restaurants — are all staring at a dark and uncertain future.

No one knows how living expenses are going to be met, and whether they will have jobs, careers and businesses at the end of it all.

Krishna Singh, 23, a baker at Mumbai’s Mag Street Kitchen, counts himself lucky to have been able to make his way back from the mega city to Basantpur village in Deoria district of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

As Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf, owners of the kitchen which supplied bakery goods to many restaurants in Mumbai, shut the place till March-end, Singh decided to return to his village. “My rented accommodation in Mumbai did not have a kitchen. I used to get all my meals at work. So I decided to go back because it would have been difficult for me to find food,” he says.

It was a good call. The lockdown was not in place then, and panic-stricken migrant workers had still not flocked to railway stations. That would come just a few days later.

Singh earned Rs 37,000 per month. Most of the salary was sent home to look after his family, comprising of parents, a brother and a sister. “My father is epileptic and has never been able to work in any permanent capacity. I had to take over the family responsibility early in life,” he tells me on the phone. Though his dues have been cleared for March, there is no certainty of what comes next. “I am not thinking about it for now; they (the business owners) have also suffered a loss,” he trails off. Unlike Singh, 27-year-old Deepak Kumar Behra, who used to work as a chef in the Japanese section of the snazzy Kimono Club in Delhi, was not able to return home to Saralia village in Balasore district of Odisha. “I tried to find trains but nothing was available,” he says.

Behra used to share a rented house with three others in Mohammadpur village near RK Puram in Delhi. As his other housemates left, Behra found himself unable to make the full rent. He temporarily shifted to a friend’s place but, as he points out, “for how long can you stay with friends and not contribute?” Behra has now taken shelter in the home of a well-known senior chef, who is helping him out in an individual capacity. “I used to earn Rs 25,000 per month, and would send most of it back home for the education and expenses of my siblings,” he says. “As the eldest son, I have many responsibilities.”


While several restaurants are fighting to retain their employees by at least paying partial salaries, some, especially those not funded by investors with deep pockets or private equity firms, may not have enough buffer to tide over even April, people in the industry I spoke to say.

“Restaurants have less than 30% food cost. Main costs are fixed— rent, staff, excise fee, etc. We live on a day-to-day basis and on cash flow,” says chef and restaurateur Ritu Dalmia. Dalmia’s company, coowned by industrialist Analjit Singh, has effected a 15% salary cut for senior staffers and 50% for Dalmia herself. But salaries of junior staffers have been left untouched.

“It is the worst for junior staff,” Dalmia says. “I am determined to protect my staff ’s salaries till the time I am able to, even if it means emptying my personal bank accounts.” Other restaurateurs are not as determined — or able. There are stories of layoffs and non-payments. Some restaurants have started deliveries to help pay staff wage bills but these are inadequate and temporary measures.


“We have just paid salaries for March. We will now start doing deliveries of Kashmiri food, and then sell sauces. We have to do something to survive,” says chef Prateek Sadhu of Masque, whose restaurant was designated Asia’s 50 Best One To Watch on March 5, just before of the Covid-19 crisis.

The worst hit, unfortunately, will be small, individualistic and underrated restaurants that made our eating out culture so vibrant and diverse.

In 2019, chef couple Jamsheed Bhote and Hanisha Singh, left their jobs with other restaurants and opened their own dream restaurant at the unlikely Malviya Nagar. They ended up investing Rs 85 lakh from their combined savings and after taking a bank loan. Plats, their restaurant, was doing well, garnering acclaim and a loyal clientele without the advantage of an expensive liquor licence or fashionable location, till the virus struck.

The duo is now left trying to sort out how to pay 18 staffers and make rent till the time they open again — if they do. So many dreams deferred and dashed.

Recommended for you