Closely on the heels of the Prime Minister’s announcement that restrictions are in place for outdoor gatherings of 500 people, comes a similar announcement that indoor gatherings of more than 100 people will now not be permitted. The restaurant industry is already reeling under these new regulations in response to the coronavirus outbreak. While restaurants owners in the community understand the urgency of such a step, some feel they might not be able to bounce back once the spread is stemmed.
CHARUTA JOSHI spoke with restaurateurs on Indian Link Radio to see the strategies they are putting in place to adapt.
Sarvesh Kumar (Itihaas Restaurant, Parramatta)
I’ve seen a drastic drop in business. Everyone is afraid to go out in public, and restaurants can be a prime place of infection because of the close interaction. We are not surprised to see this downturn at work. The panic buying has definitely affected us. I typically keep a month’s stock in the restaurant but in the last two weeks, with business seeing a downward trend, my problem is what do I buy! Prices have gone sky high. The fresh produce I buy for $300 – $400 is now costing me $800. Paper towels which I cannot do without in the restaurant, cost me $14-$15; I’ve just paid $60. There’s also a drastic jump in meat prices whereas business has rapidly gone down. What are my options? Well, we’ll wait and watch – for another week maybe. If we find we are unable to survive, we will just have to close down. I have ten full-time staff, and they’re all concerned. I’ve assured them they’ll still be able to pay their rents, and as for food, they’ve been told they can cook at work for themselves, there is enough grocery for now. There’s not much else I can do! As regards clients, some regulars who’ve been dropping in for the last 2 – 2 ½ years are still coming and we are thankful.
Let’s hope the situation gets better soon. I believe the experts: it will come under control when the border is closed and there is a complete lockdown. I do think people should stay home for a while. And if someone is unwell, they should be immediately taken to the hospital. It’s hard for me to advocate for a lockdown, because I’ll be losing $20K – $30K a week, but saving human lives is more important.
Nirav Desai (MD and owner, Dosa Plaza)
Everyone’s in the mood currently to look after their daily necessities so going out to eat is not such a priority. But I’m seeing a mixed pattern in the restaurant business. I can say Harris Park area is very badly affected. In the current scenario, diners are preferring to eat vegetarian food, so the veg business is not affected as much. At this stage I would say, business is surviving; can’t comment on the future! Besides the visible drop in dine-in numbers, I’m also seeing people highly conscious of hygiene, sanitising etc. It can be a challenge to win customers in these circumstances, but if you do the right thing I think any business can survive.Home delivery services can be an option now. We’ve outsourced our home delivery services since Day One, and I can now see a jump there because people are beginning to avoid gatherings. Regarding green grocery the local produce continues to be the same for now at least, but Australia completely relies on some Asian countries for some fresh vegetables and these are not available right now.
The strategies we’ve adopted to handle the current situation include firstly, a much stricter cleaning regime. We’re ensuring that our place is properly sanitised and clean as the customers walk in. We give them a sense of surety that when they are on the premises they are safe and secure. We’ve had to raise our standards .
Rohit Choudhary (Manager Grand Bawarchi, Parramatta)
I’m seeing lots of sanitisers on our tables! Especially people with kids. The general directive these past few days has been to avoid going out to places where there could be crowds or gatherings, so it is definitely affecting the hospitality business. People are preferring to stay home and eat home cooked meals. It’s a very tough time.But people are aware that the virus doesn’t spread through food, so I’m sure it will pick up, particularly in home delivery. Our restaurant is completely ready. We have tie-ups with all home delivery companies.
For the moment though we are concentrating on cleanliness. The government is trying to do their best to safeguard all of us no doubt, but we also believe the experts who say the condition could get worse, till we do not get a vaccine for this.
Gunjan Aylawadi (Founder, Flyover Fritterie, Sydney CBD)
We are in the Sydney CBD area, where most people have already started evacuating or working from home and so our business is impacted. We were expecting this situation when over the weekend the government informed people on not going to the CBD area. Since then we have experienced a serious drop in our numbers. Our regulars even informed us that we might not see them for a few days. So we are holding tight. The panic buying and stockpiling that’s going on has impacted us too. Yes, we’ve had to go out and buy milk and more at retail prices. In terms of plans and strategies for the short term, we know our customers well and want to give the customers what they want. As you probably know, the quinoa khichidi is one of our top selling items. Our clientele goes for healthy eating options and we are truly supporting them at this time. We’ve started adding complimentary turmeric shots in our chai. We are launching more immunity-boosting items on our menu. This is our plan of action, to change with the times. If we want to provide Indian food, we will do it with a complete focus on health.
Regarding an expected shortage of fresh produce, thankfully Indian cooking can adapt itself to whatever fresh vegetables are available. We are not a chain with numerous stores to manage, so we are confident we can keep up quality. We have a very open communication channel with our suppliers. They tell us what is fresh and we use them happily. We change our menu every week based on what’s fresh and seasonal. Even though certain items are running out, we are what’s available in abundance and providing fresh food to our customers.