When will the restaurants reopen after lockdown 

That has been the question which has been going on in everyone’s mind. With the restaurants reopening after lockdown, what will be dining scenario ? When I wrote this piece for a noble cause, I had predicted that no crystal gazer can even answer the question. The noble cause is the cause of Durga Puja artisans. That doesn’t mean the artisans of Kumortuli only, its about all the artisans involved in Durga Pujo from West Bengal.

A collection of poetry , photographs , interviews , food writing and many more representing current times. A platform where more than 200 kind hearted creators come together. Won’t take any particular name but some of the biggest names in Kolkata who have come forward for this and together we dreamt.
I wrote about Eating out in new Universe and shared my thoughts and anxieties about restaurants and street side vendors . In collaboration with Forum for Durgotsav and Kumartuli Art Forum
Please come forward and buy this magazine and support the cause. The link is at the end of the write up. If you can contribute, it will be great and help these artisans. Link – http://www.madhukari.creocraft.in/ 
One of the best things that atleast all of us can do is a note of thanks to all the restaurants
Restaurants opening after lockdown -1

The article which came out

restaurants opening after lockdown

Madhukori cover

Here is a glimpse of what I have written on possible dining scene after lockdown

The uncertain future

In any product life cycle, the Value Added Services today become hygiene and must have feature tomorrow. In this case, we are speaking about Hygiene itself in restaurants post Covid Era. At this point of time, we are still passing through the mayhem and till it ends or comes to a milestone, it will be tough to assess the future. As a food enthusiast, who loves eating outside, it’s a sense of panic about uncertain future, which bothers me more. You don’t need an expert to predict the food scene across the globe will change. As you read this – the slow change is happening all across.  

Menu planning, purchase power of the customer, govt regulations, import of ingredients, all will play a key role in the future. For a customer, the biggest area of concern will be the hygiene part. In future, the adherence to health and safety norms, following advanced hygiene norms will become a key part  for the restaurants, perhaps, the most important part. Whatever we assume today it’s fluid in nature, as we are through the current phase now and once the vaccine gets discovered, it will be the next phase.

What happens when the restaurants reopen after lockdown?

In case you want to challenge a fortune teller – ask the question when will restaurants reopen? 9 out of 10 or all of them, will fail in predicting that. Whenever it opens, it will be in a new world. The social norms will change, we will do a namaste rather than a handshake. Many like me will need time to gain the courage to step out to a restaurant and have a meal.  When I finally do, I will prefer going to a place which has reduced touchpoints/ interface with guests. I need the person opening the door of the restaurant to spray sanitizer on my hands, there shouldn’t be any waiting time or waiting space either.

I am sure, no guests would mind getting their temperatures checked. It does not only help the restaurant to maintain the hygiene standards but also pass on the confidence to the guests. The wait staff maintains a social distance, I order from my handheld device and KOT reaches the kitchen, the list can be endless. The open visible kitchen increases the transparency. This may sound paranoid but this pandemic has turned you to one for sure. It does not end here.

The lifeline of many restaurants for dull days and an essential part of dining out – Buffet services will possibly be stopped for some time now. The glorious long line of diners filling and refilling their plates will be a folklore for now.

Basic expectations from restaurants reopening after lockdown

What do I expect from the restaurants? Display of a third party independent daily audit report covering the health reports of all the restaurant staff members including the dishwasher, at a visible place. A report on the santisation of the restaurant at regular intervals, including the tables and the chairs when one service has ended should also be shared and displayed. The technology involvement will be at a higher level and contactless payments will be perhaps the only mode of payment. Every possible measures taken and adhered to for the safety of its employees and guests should be made available to the diners. There is no end to this list and I predict that the hygiene standard norms will evolve with time.  It has been heard that giants like Oberoi’s, Hyatt and many others are setting up new hygiene standards with a possible new role of Chief Hygiene Officer.

The impact on business on restaurants

Each one has put on their thinking caps and every day, there is a new possible theory coming up on revival and new SOP of a restaurant reopening after lockdown. Food for many, is comfort and love and for many, it is also a mode of socialisation and a social connector. The changed social norms will mean increase in operational cost per table for restaurants. It will also mean additional expenses on hygiene tools, gloves, sanitisers, methods and operations.

A possible contactless operation will involve more investment in tech tools. How will they balance out the expenditure? Reduction of manpower will top this list. There will be layoffs and a possible multi skilling of existing staff members. Another way to maximise the revenue will be for a quick turnaround of tables, where the guests can even order their food before reaching the restaurant and when they reach, they get the food. Again a strong possibility indeed.

Cloud kitchen vs Stand Alone restaurants vs 5 stars

What were you doing when life was happening?  Till such time the restaurants open, it’s going to be delivery all the way. While some places in Kolkata have been open throughout the quarantine period, it was a matter of time when the biggies jumped in too. Taj Bengal has started a premium service called Hospitality at home, which will have selected food which can ‘travel’. For a high end restaurant, not many of their classics or signature dishes can travel miles without losing the flavour. The challenge will lie in reinventing the menu. Chef Sharad Dewan, Area Food director of The Park Hotels, has identified a need based menu, where one can order for lunch, evening snacks and dinner. One can order Pizza, Steak Biryani and Kosha Mangsho too.

Hyatt Regency International has started sending DIY packages of their signature dishes from various restaurants to home and one can make them at ease. Outlets like 6 Ballygunge place, Chowman, The Coastal Macha, Snacking, Cup E Bong, The Blue Poppy Thakali, the list is endless and everyone has started delivery. The dilemma is, what will you look for when you order, the brand or the price? There will be a price war in this segment as the most frequent ordered dishes gets replicated by all, even the cloud kitchens and at a lower price. 

You cannot send the signature dishes which needs to be made fresh and served so whats the way out? The trust and confidence that the brand has built with the guest over years come into play now like never before. Contrary, its also a possibility to reinforce and build trust with your customers. When we ordered the first home delivery this season, the outlet sent us a personal message on how its careful about the hygiene and safety, before the food was delivered. It was the first gesture and one which is worth remembering.  You can refer to the restaurants doing home delivery in Kolkata here 

Dilip da r Phuchka , Shankar da r fishfry ……

The biggest threat looms over the street side vendors. If hygiene and packaging will be the differentiators in the coming days, how can they spruce up the game. What will give us the confidence to go back to Victoria Vada wala in front of A C market, or Kusum rolls in Park Street or Fish Fry in Aponjon. Disposable plates will become a norm for everyone. Many customers will demand disposable plates which comes sealed. Bottled water or water pouches from trustworthy brands. Each dish made in front of the customer will mean more time per customer and less business during the whole day. Will it be possible to make the Phuchka Tamarind water for every customer? Perhaps No. 

Have you tried out Shankar’s fishfry yet ? 

A Business process re engineering? Yes. Will we never see a heap of chowmein boiled and lying in that cane basket? Perhaps never. Gloves, Masks, Sanitizers, will become mandatory. It’s easier to implement the hygiene and safety norms in the structured sector of restaurants and 5 stars but how do we implement the same in the unstructured sector of Street food? We, the customers, can only do that by each playing a mystery shopper and a strict auditor to the places which we love most. We don’t have to do anything else but the fear of the pandemic will make us reject the places which don’t comply the health and hygiene issues.

At this point, it’s the journey. A journey of three phases.

There will be three phases of this journey. The current one, where almost all predictive analysis of the numbers, its peak and supposed flattening the curve is getting reworked every day. The second one, where the virus will exist yet the slowdown phase will have the restrictions lifted from the restaurants and the ultimate phase will be the one, where a vaccine will be discovered. The turnout to the restaurants will be directly proportional to these phases however, for the next two years, dining out won’t be same. If challenging times are opportunities, then there can never be a better time than this to up your game. It all depends on what we want to look at – half glass empty or half glass filled?

Now that you have read, please come forward to contribute for the well being of the artisans of Kumortuli