Eating out in Covid times: Glass walls, disposable crockery, hygiene champ

Topics Coronavirus | KFC | Lockdown

A glass partition at Peter Cat in Kolkata
Lunch, dinner, or anytime between, there are usually 10-15 people chatting and jostling at the porch of the iconic Peter Cat on Park Street in Kolkata waiting for their chance to tuck into the age-old specialty ‘Chelo Kebab’. That imagery could well be missing when the restaurant opens its doors after an extended lockdown on Monday, as social distancing norms and standard operating protocols take precedence in a post-Covid world.

Crosses and circles would be drawn outside Peter Cat so that guests could maintain social distancing while waiting to be seated. Inside, alternate tables would be left vacant to keep the mandatory six-feet space between tables. If that’s not enough, glass partitions are being put in place to give diners an added comfort of safety.

Nitin Kothari, owner of Peter Cat, said, disposable menu cards would be made available. Peter Cat has a seating capacity of 170 but 50 per cent would be allowed in accordance with the government norms for now. Kothari also owns Mocambo and similar protocols would be followed there.

At Trincas — once a symbol of nightlife in Kolkata — about 100 metres from Mocambo, preparations are in full swing to restart later in the week.

“Thankfully, we have a huge space, between the Ming Room, Tavern, The Other Room and Trincas. So, maintaining social distancing is not an issue,” Anand Puri, the third-generation partner, said. 

There is a buzz, too, at Hindustan Park in South Kolkata, which houses about 100 eateries and cafes. The popular Oudh 1590 is all set to restart with eco-friendly, disposable plates and cutlery. A PDF version of the menu will be forwarded to the mobile number; if the mobile doesn’t support then the menu is also printed on the table mats. 

The biggest challenge at this point for the industry is addressing customer paranoia and restaurants are going all out to allay fears. So a contactless dine-in experience, as far as possible is being ensured. 

At KFC India , a contactless dine-in experience would start with a ‘hygiene champ’ helping sanitize customers at entry; pre-order — through mobile site/ QR code/ app and digital payment — is encouraged and customers pick up the food from the counter; store representatives will place the food on the counter and step back before the customer picks it up. Sitting with family is allowed but a gap of at least 6 feet (2 meters) is to be maintained between tables. Lesser the contact, the better it is.

Similar practices are in order at Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Smita Jatia, managing director, Hardcastle Restaurants, which owns and operates McDonald’s India (West and South), has implemented a stringent 42-pointer checklist for dine-in, delivery and take-out  services. “We have also gone a step ahead and ensured that equally stringent processes are being followed at our suppliers’ end and that all our ingredients have 100 per cent traceability to the farms.” 

Feasibility of distancing and safety standards

As restaurants follow sanitization drill and protocols, will the cost be passed on to the customers? Oudh has put the sanitization charge at Rs 50 per person. Nitin Kothari said there would be no increase in prices for the time being, but eventually, it could be hiked marginally as raw material prices have increased sharply. 

In Tamil Nadu, though the industry is in dire straits, there is no scope for price hike. There are more than 10,000 restaurants in Chennai, said, K T Srinivasa Raja, managing director of Adayar Ananda Bhavan Sweets, which runs around 120 restaurants under the brand A2B Vegetarian Restaurants and Honorary President of Chennai Hotels Association.

Maintaining social distancing means that the intake will be less. Moksh Chopra, CMO of KFC India, said, distancing measures would bring down the number of customers — at least by 33 per cent. 

Restaurant owners expect the number of people to come down by 25-40 per cent because of social distancing and hygiene measures.

In Bengaluru, while restaurants have been allowed to reopen from Monday, majority are going to abstain for multiple reasons. The eateries have been asked to run without bars and stick to the curfew timing of 9 pm when most of the footfall is seen. Restaurants are also struggling with staff, most of whom have left for homes post-lockdown. 

In Tamil Nadu, the industry is on a wait-and-watch mode. They may start with a small capacity and scale up to the 50 per cent capacity. Most standalone restaurants in Kolkata, however, are readying to open from Monday or in the next few days. But some that have outlets in malls may not, as negotiations with mall owners on rentals are still underway.

Manu Chandra, who is the Bengaluru chapter head for the National Restaurant Association of India, said, “I would be keen to open a few restaurants like — Toast & Tonic and Olive — in a few days time which have large spaces to maintain social distancing.” 

Cafes such as Chaayos and Tata Cha are also resuming services from Monday in Bengaluru. So far, Delhi, Haryana (only standalone outlets), UP (with district-wise rules), West Bengal, Chandigarh, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Assam etc. have allowed reopening of restaurants from June 8 and many are looking forward to restart.

Kumar Saurabh, executive director, Burman Hospitality (master franchise partner for Taco Bell in India), said currently there were 17 active restaurants out of 58 for delivery and he was closely considering reopening of outlets wherever possible. 

Srinivas Adapa, CMO of Burger King, said the chain was gearing up for reopening and taking all possible safety measures. 

Merrill Pereyra, managing director, Pizza Hut Indian Subcontinent, said it would ensure contactless dine-in but the number of in-store customers would surely go down by 20-40 per cent. We would be able to accommodate 25 per cent of customers, he added.

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