The kind of impact that Coronavirus pandemic has had on the food and beverages industry in Tamil Nadu, can be gauged from the fact that at least 30,000 restaurants have shut shop in the state in the last two years, owing to curbs on dining out.
Now, amid the third wave, the restaurant industry has sent an SOS to the state government against any move to impose lockdown again and to spare them from the present 50 per cent dining restrictions.
Mr Gandharv Dhingra, a restauranteur in Chennai had to shut down five of his ten cafes amid the pandemic. His company “Roll Baby Roll” lost more than Rs 30 lakh, other than the income lost during the two total lockdowns and a series of curfews and curbs on dining, particularly over the weekends.
As a last ditch effort, he has now started a cloud kitchen to keep fires burning.
“We are not able to utilise the capacity because of the 50 per cent restrictions on dining. That’s the cost you save, plus you save on the manpower cost, as now you directly interact with customers,” Mr Dhingra told NDTV.
Ms Rekha Dandey, who launched Chennai’s first pet-themed restaurant “Twisty Tails” in 2018, lost Rs 60 lakhs after two lockdowns. Hit hard financially, she had to close down and revived it in 2021 only after giving up 30 per cent of her stake. Now the third wave is scaring her.
Explaining the difficulty, she said, “we had plans to open six franchises in different cities. We had to hold back and stop that completely. Till now there are no plans to start that again.”
While food delivery aggregators like Swiggy and Zomato see a new high in business, restaurant owners say these players have also eaten into their margins.
Mr Shriram Rajendran, director, Cassandra Foods, explained, “We get lesser profit compared to customers dining at restaurants, because aggregators take a huge commission.”
When asked how much is the commission component, he added, “anywhere between 25 per cent to 30 per cent.”
At least 30,000 restaurants have closed across Tamil Nadu through the pandemic since 2020, according to the industry. Consequently 50,000 people lost jobs. Though the industry was crippled by revenue loss, restaurant owners had to keep paying property rentals, salaries and debts despite loss of business. Now the industry has sent an SOS to the government asking not to impose lockdown and to be mindful of their condition.
Talking about the industry’s fears, Mr Japtej Ahluwalia, Chennai president of National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), said, “the worry is with the third wave coming in and stricter restrictions leading to losses ballooning up. Since fresh capital is unavailable, it will create a huge crisis.”
The last two lockdowns have been a double whammy for restaurants across India. While it’s a tightrope walk for the government amid rising cases in the third wave, the restaurant industry feels the government ought to address their concerns with empathy before it’s too late.