Covid-19 has hit the culinary world the most. With sudden travel bans and closing down of eateries, the crisis took everyone by storm, resulting in massive layoffs and revenue loss. Will the sector revive? Here’s what the industry insiders are saying.

 

The busiest streets which lead to the great Indian food bazaars are now empty.  The eerie silence and silhouettes of bleak future constantly linger upon the hospitality industry across the globe. The coronavirus pandemic has crippled India’s rising culinary business and nobody knows what lies at the end of the tunnel. Hospitality stalwarts, celebrity chefs, and business experts are now eyeing at new ways to adjust to the ‘new normal’.

“These are tough times and we don’t know what is going to happen in the future. Whatever we say is pure guesswork. We just hope things normalise soon. Looking forward to better times ahead” says Manish Mehrotra, Corporate Chef, Indian Accent Restaurants.

The pandemic hit the culinary world the most. With sudden travel bans, closing down of eateries, the crisis took everyone by storm, resulting in massive layoffs and revenue loss.  Well-known celebrity chef Kunal Kapoor, who is famous for his appearance in TV show MasterChef India, says that the future of this industry looks jeopardised which is saddening. He says, “The industry is going through a difficult time. There have been job losses. People are not being paid. So, at this point, the industry has taken a huge hit. Most of the people who were working down the line in kitchens or those who were associated with the industry like fruit suppliers, vegetable suppliers, cleaning staff, maintenance workers, transporters, etc are also hit. The majority of people, who were working in restaurants are now looking at odd jobs like driving Ola/Uber cabs, delivering food, etc, which is not encouraging.”

Talking more about the situation of the restaurant workers, nutrition and wellness panelist at Get a Life Fitness (GALF) and celebrity chef Ajay Chopra says, “A majority of the staff is not there because they’ve gone back to their family in their homes, and majorly, people have stopped stepping out of their home. So, it’s a challenge between the need and the want, and demand and supply, so it’s going to be very difficult for the restaurants to go back to normal unless life comes back to being normal.”

The outbreak of the Coronavirus not only brought the entire globe to an indefinite halt but has also instilled fear and confusion within the masses.  The government did ease many lockdown restrictions with Unlock 2.0 but the businesses are still in jeopardy because people are reluctant and afraid to go out and eat. Chef Kunal feels that due to this lack of confidence, more than 50 percent of restaurants are still closed. “The confidence of people is pretty low. This situation has given rise to home delivery but that comes with its own set of problems like hygiene issues or doubts like whether the food is Covid-safe or not. In totality, the confidence is not there. I don’t see restaurants and clubs going back to the same kind of businesses very soon,” he says.

Ease in lockdown restrictions, guidelines after guidelines, and the much-hyped relief package were supposed to help the hospitality world but didn’t. ”Just to give an example, a restaurant’s rent would be around Rs 15 lakh for a 3,000 sq ft area and including GST, it would be around Rs 18 lakh. Suppose you have built a restaurant with a seating of 120 people, but regulations during lockdown permit only 60 seats, so that puts you in a position of confusion as to what to do now?” elaborates Ajay.

Running restaurant business, however, for owners doesn’t seem feasible at the moment for many.”It’s difficult for even the government right now. Guidelines are changing based on the day to day situation. As per the current guidelines, restaurants have to close by 9 pm and have to operate at 50% capacity, which means the restaurants cannot have dinner service. Financially this may not be viable for most restaurants”, says Manish.

“It’s a double-edged sword. We have to understand that whatever we do now will have a positive and negative impact. Today, if we open our industry, the positive side is that restaurants and the industry will start reviving but the flip side is that there will be chances that more people will get infected and vice versa,” adds Kunal.

However, the ongoing pandemic has made chefs and restaurateurs navigate new ways to keep going. Celebrity Chef and TV show judge Ranveer Brar tells that the situation has allowed him to diversify himself into online content production and other verticals that go beyond direct food consumption. “The new normal will be different but things will normalise. It’s a time when small businesses work. People are looking at smaller places or smaller restaurants to eat. I think it is a great opportunity for chefs who are working on cloud kitchen models, meal kits, etc. It’s a great opportunity to work from home. As chefs, we get too occupied with jobs more than the profession. It is time to look more at the profession than the job,” says Ranveer.

The food industry has majorly changed over the past months, and it is due to change even more, with more and more focus on DIY kits (do-it-yourself kits), rent-to-eat food, retort packaging food and food that can be quickly churned into a gorgeous meal without much effort, because the business has not gone out of our lives, it has been added with lesser. “I have seen lots of chefs taking to social media as a source of their recognition and trying to make a business out of social media by sharing recipes, planning menus, taking classes like webinars, personal chefs, etc,” says Kunal.

With things now opening up, there are a few steps that should be taken to avoid risks of infection and run the business smoothly during a pandemic. Every organisation should make sure that each of their employees is scanned for their body temperature, washing hands every hour or half-an-hour and before and after they’ve touched something that could be contaminated. The organisations should make sure that the employees; their hands, their clothes, their workplace, and everything else are sanitised. They should also make their employees change their clothes whenever they’re coming back from outside.

Basically, on some level, they should try and function like any Biotech industry would function with regards to sanitation and hygiene because this is what this pandemic has come to demand of us. They also have to make sure that they’re cooking safe, with clean utensils, packing food into sanitised containers, and doing as much as they can to ensure that the food has minimal contact with any foreign element or environment.

Ajay says, “The whole pandemic has taught us that God has made a life cycle of products and we must respect that. Stretching things beyond what God has allowed creates a disturbance, and this is what we need to see during this pandemic.”