TD Conversations: Ankit Mehrotra, CEO, Dineout

The tech platform’s CEO gets candid about lockdowns, the challenges posed by the associated restrictions on restaurants and asks from policy makers to help an industry in crisis.

The tech platform is ready to support the restaurants industry survive this fresh spate of lockdowns, just like it did last time. But there are some asks from policy makers that would go a long way to help.

As the pandemic rears its ugly head again, several states in the country have been forced to impose a new round of lockdowns. The restrictions, in many cases, are seen as unduly harsh by industries worst affected by them, such as restaurants, bars, hospitality and entertainment. We had a chance to speak to Ankit Mehrotra, the CEO and co-founder of tech platform Dineout, about the current scenario.

“When the lockdown happened last year, it was an unprecedented event. Never before had restaurants, as an industry, completely shut down. Once lockdown was lifted, restaurateurs weren’t sure how quickly people would return. To boost confidence, they put in place several health and safety measures, adopting tech in many cases to eliminate physical contact. These measures worked and by December last year, we were back to pre-Covid levels of diner footfalls. This was good news for the restaurants industry, which is the second largest employer of human capital in the country with 80 lakh people working in it,” says Mehrotra.

Navigating these troubled times weren’t made easier through policy either, with little support from the government. Which is why this current lockdown is also being seen as harsh and puzzling in terms of effectiveness.

“This current lockdown seems a little bizarre. When restaurants were open in December and January, cases were going down. There seems to be no correlation between the two. In fact, restaurants were probably one of the few places where safety and hygiene guidelines were being followed to the T. So, despite being so cautious about SOPs, it’s strange that restaurants are bearing the brunt of this lockdown.”

There are some major differences between the last lockdown and this one though, perhaps the reason why there is a little more optimism this time around. There are vaccines being rolled out and most are prepared to deal with the current scenario owing to the lessons learned from last time.

“Dineout undertook several initiatives to support the restaurants industry when the lockdown happened the last time. We started a campaign, supportrestaurants.in where diners could buy vouchers for their favourite restaurants which could be redeemed for a period of 12 months. The money from these voucher sales were transferred to our restaurant partners immediately, and this helped them tide over for a period. We also wanted to help the people stranded on roads, on their way to their homes in various parts of the country. We partnered with an NGO to provide relief to them, where our restaurant partners were preparing fresh food daily to supply people stuck at borders, etc. Overall, we were able to distribute around 6 lakh meals.”

We started a campaign, supportrestaurants.in, where diners could buy vouchers for their favourite restaurants which could be redeemed for up to 12 months. The money from these voucher sales helped our restaurant partners tide over the extremely difficult initial two to three weeks

Ankit mehrotra

Technology also had a major role to play during these times of crisis. Contactless dining had become the norm by the end of the year, and Dineout aside from helping with this, also gave away its software to restaurant partners for free for a period of six to 12 months. This time around, the severity is expected to be less and the measures to deal with this lockdown are also different.

“Restaurants will be open during the day this time. We are trying to help them efficiently manage their operations and deal with diners as well. On our platform, we are promoting various deals, highlighting those who are following high safety standards, among other measures.”

One of the biggest issues for the industry has been the lack of government support through policies. While in many other countries across the world, there were a number of moves that governments undertook to support affected industries, in India, no such policies were adopted.

“The biggest pain points for restaurants are the statutory dues, such as license fees, electricity bills and rent. While restaurants had to operate at 50 per cent capacity, there was no corresponding reduction in license fees. The ask from policymakers is simple – reduce these dues for a period or provide relief to landlords for property tax, etc, so that these benefits can be passed onto restaurants.”

We’re at a juncture where the future remains uncertain, at least in the short term. How we navigate these troubled times will determine how we emerge on the other side of lockdowns. While curfews and lockdowns might be the official means of controlling the spread of the virus across a population of our size, it is also imperative, on the other hand, to provide support to industries that are deeply affected by these restrictions.

Watch the video to catch the entire conversation with Ankit Mehrotra as he speaks about the issues facing the restaurants industry currently and the ways to lessen the impact of the lockdown.

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