With Delhi restaurants opening up today and Mumbai and Gurgaon already open, we spoke to Zorawar Kalra, Founder and MD of Massive Restaurants which owns brands like Farzi Café, Made In Punjab and Swan about getting patrons back into restaurants and the future. Edited excerpts:
TD: Delhi government has finally given the go-ahead for opening of restaurants in the city. Your reaction.
ZK: We are very excited to be reopening our restaurants and are eager to be welcoming our patrons to dine with us. Last week we started our operations in Gurgaon and now we plan to re-open in Delhi. We have seen a very strong response in Mumbai which is the other city we have re-opened in. Over the weekend in Gurgaon the response has been very good. Way better than expected. We expect a similar response in Delhi. People are raring to go out to their favourite restaurants and revenge consumption is likely to come into play. We will ensure that the best safety and hygiene standards are maintained like always. 50 per cent seating capacity will be followed as per the government norms and we will further increase the distance between tables to ensure a higher sense of safety for all patrons. Though with 50 per cent seating capacity tables will be limited, so it is highly recommended to make a reservation in advance. Our biggest challenge right now is getting people over the fear psychosis that exists in the system. We have got all our staff vaccinated and the restaurants have been sanitised and fully prepped in anticipation of the relaxation of the lockdown. Both restaurants and patrons will need to serve and consume responsibly to ensure that the situation continues to improve. We are fully geared up for delivering a stress-free dining experience to all our patrons. Restaurants will leave no stone unturned to ensure the complete safety of the patrons as their very survival depends on it.
TD: Any expectations from the government?
ZK: We are hopeful that we get longer extended timelines for operating as dinner time is crucial for the survival of a restaurant especially in Delhi where diners eat out late. This helps all stakeholders – the patrons, employees, restaurants and the government. Longer operating hours means reservations can be spread out over a longer time thereby making social distancing even easier. Employees benefit as multiple shifts means more employment per restaurant. And the added revenue and the tax collected helps the industry as well as the exchequer. Patrons are benefited as they can now enjoy their dinner in a safer environment as per their own timings rather than being rushed.
TD: Any challenges that you are likely to face?
ZK: A lot of our staff has returned to their rural homes. There are connectivity and logistics issues regarding their return. For example, trains from these rural places to the main cities or hubs are restricted. Opening a restaurant is fairly easy when most of the workforce comes from the local area where the restaurant is based. But that is not the case with most of the industry. We have been in touch with our staff throughout the lockdown. We have developed very good communication channels to engage with them. Most of the employees have been with us for a really long time and they are very keen on coming back. As long as it’s logistically possible to do so.
All those who are already at the restaurants have been vaccinated. Those who are returning will be vaccinated at camps that we are setting up for our employees.
The number one enemy right now is the fear psychosis. Since the virus impacted a younger demographic this time and that is the target clientele for most restaurants, we need to fight the fear factor. The only way to ensure that the restaurant industry recovers quickly is to do vaccination on a war footing. As long at the restaurant employees are vaccinated and the patrons are vaccinated, I think the industry will recover very quickly.
TD: Recently Delhi government announced that restaurants in the city will be allowed to serve liquor in open spaces. Your comments.
ZK: We have about three restaurants in Delhi that have outdoor seating/ open air. So it is going to benefit those. But in general, it is a proven scientific fact that the transmission of Covid is significantly reduced when you are dining in open air. It’s a very positive and proactive move that will help the beleaguered restaurant industry recover faster as it will help increase footfalls.
TD: How was this lockdown different from the first one?
ZK: We were better prepared this time. Also last time there was lack of knowledge about transmission of the virus through food. That has been cleared this time round and as a result the delivery business has been significantly better than last year.
TD: What are your future plans? What exciting things can we expect from Massive Restaurants?
ZK: We have a lot of exciting things planned. Five new restaurants will be opening including three in Delhi and two in Goa by September-October. These are in the final stages but there are a few more. Plus we are looking at opening cloud kitchens in about nine cities in the next six months for a delivery-only model.