For diners in the city, the choice is to either be like Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets or let the restaurant staff take charge. Taking your own cutlery to the restaurant might seem extreme but that is off the table. Restaurants are gearing up for a new normal as the relaxation in the lockdown comes into effect giving rise to concerns regarding the spread of the pandemic. The new features one could expect are staff and diners in masks and gloves, acrylic partitions and unoccupied chair between the diners. As of now people are happy with mostly takeaways.
The food and beverage industry will be adhering to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) notified by the health ministry along with the hoteliers and restaurateurs, who are keen to stick to them for the safety of their guests and staff.
Standalone food establishments are not looking at dine-in for a few months. Sampath Srinivas Tummala of Spicy Venue says, “It’s not an option until we feel it is safe. We have a 360-degree change in the way we function. It begins from the moment raw materials are received to the time it goes out for delivery.”
Apart from being monitoredfor temperature and wearing of masks, Sampath’s kitchen staff will also work with safety overalls. To make it comfortable in the kitchen the establishment is redoing their vents.
Pivoting to new demands
Are restaurateurs apprehensive about opening dining-in due to the fear of no show by customers? “Not at all. On the contrary, if we open gates for dine in, we are sure to get a huge turnout. While that sounds exciting for the revenue, it won’t be safe for most of us,” says Nishant Sinha, founder of The Roastery Coffee House.
Also part of the new normal is to maintain a log book of contacts of the customers who drop in for self pick up. The log is to be maintained daily to be able to trace them back if any of the staff is found to be infected with the virus.
If this is how standalone food establishments plan to function, bigger players have bigger plans that involves an improvised safety protocol.
Prashant Chadha, GM, ITC Kohenur explains, “These are unprecedented times and as always, our priority is the safety and well-being of the customers. ITC Hotels have launched an initiative on health, hygiene and safety called ‘WeAssure’. The programme ensures that our hotels have hospital-level hygiene and safety standards which further enhance the existing cleaning protocols across ITC Hotels.”
Ever since the lockdown, teams at ITC worked to realign themselves to a contact-light and safe-distancing protocol. The many levels of SOP adopted by different businesses to stay safe also involves going digital. “One can get easy access to our digital menus with a dynamic QR code and other facilities like digital newspaper, guest service directory and more. Our culinary associates wear protective shields and adhere to strict hygiene protocols. Our restaurants have redefined seating layouts with a minimum distance of six feet between the tables. Guests can also safely indulge in some do-it-yourself cocktails (crafted by our mixologists),” says Vikash Sharma, General Manager at Sheraton Hyderabad.
The process of welcoming guests with confidence also involves no-contact check-in service, mobile key technology and digitalised menus for a secure and comfortable stay. “Each of our guest rooms undergo a thorough fumigation and disinfection following international hygiene standards prior to guest arrival. Our restaurants will be adhering to the new social distancing guidelines, with a redefined seating layout and contactless service and payment options,” adds Sudeep Sharma, Complex General Manager Hyderabad Marriott Hotel & Convention Centre & Courtyard by Marriott Hyderabad.
A few food places also admitted the takeaway option works best for the business with the lack of support staff. As migrant workers chose to go back home, restaurant business owners were left high and dry. “A lot of kitchen and support staff come from places like West Bengal and Odisha. After they left, we are forced to look at an alternative arrangement to function, given the SOPs guidelines by the government,” says one owner of a restaurant who chose to remain unidentified.
Quick service restaurants like KFC and Taco Bell are concentrating on disinfectant measures as they plan to open dine-in options. “KFC 4 X Safety promise comes with the offering of a limited menu, which means we are operating with smaller teams even in the kitchen. And our food cost remains the same. As we open for dine-in, our restaurants will have sufficient messaging and floor stickers to help customers and delivery riders maintain a safe distance of minimum six feet, as they queue up for orders,” according to Moksh Chopra, Chief Marketing Officer, KFC India.
KFC also modified the restaurant designs to reinforce social distancing and are implementing measures like distanced seating arrangements, demarcated waiting spots in the queues and controlled customer inflow.
Almond House has adopted safety measures that include UV light disinfectant for take away boxes. A short video shared by the 30-year-old sweet house reveals shutting of their ice cream and cake counters but a roll back with Indian sweets and snacks. They are aggressively promoting social distancing by asking customers to do a driveway pick up or opt for delivery. “‘Spend less time at Almond House’ is our campaign for safety for all,” says Chaitanya Muppala, CEO at Almond House.