There’s no denying that the restaurant and nightlife industry is bleeding since the time pandemic hurt the country. From one in every four restaurants closed in top cities in India to many still wondering if they would be able to survive the next wave, almost 25-30 per cent restaurants and bars in the country have shut shop permanently.
Also if we look at data, as per experts, 90 per cent of the restaurants in the country are operated on lease of which 20 per cent of the organised restaurants are located in malls, and the remaining on high streets and commercial areas. Depending upon the format, restaurants pay anywhere between 15 and 30 per cent of their income towards rentals. Some restaurants pay an extra 5-6 per cent of CAM if they are located in malls. CAM costs can be as high as Rs 2.5 lakh per month for a 3,000-sq ft outlet. However, lease cost is the largest fixed cost component for a restaurant besides payroll, and energy expenses, which together account for 20-25 per cent of the overall costs.
With continuous lockdown and phase-wised opening for the sector where restaurants are allowed to operate till 10 pm max, the nightlife industry has been the major victim.
“The definition of nightlife has changed drastically due to the timing restrictions, people are stepping out for a drink earlier than usual and it's more of conversational evening’s rather than high energy dance sessions, shared Manish Sharma of Drunken Botanist who is focusing on things that can be controlled, doing new menus, running attractive offers to lure customers to come out to have a safe dining experience.
For Arpan Gupta who operates two of the most happening bars like AIR and TOs, the business has been really slow since the industry was hit by COVID-19. The nightlife culture and late-night parties had to be almost shut down because the opening hours were limited to 10 pm. Most customers drop by 9 but now that the last order is taken at 9:30 PM, the sector has suffered major losses. “We are trying to host live performances in the evenings to lure guests. And it is worth mentioning that the artists have been very supportive in terms of money. They’ve adjusted well with lesser work hours and pay, which we are very thankful about. We even start the DJ by 6 PM now, which earlier started at 9 PM,” he added by pointing that the brand has transitioned themselves by offering fruit-based drinks and pure juices from mocktails that have artificial flavouring as they want to focus on serving healthier alternatives to make the customers feel safe.
Learnings from the pandemic
No one would ever deny that one of the worst phase in life actually make you the strongest or take you through the greatest innovation of the time. Similarly, we have seen restaurants and bars innovating themselves during these tough times.
“The pandemic has taught us to be adaptive and be ready for changes. None of us could have ever imagined for things to happen the way we did and yet we all bounced back. We are now focused on our food coming up with unique flavors rather than just partying. We are also improving our delivery standards and packaging to make sure that people enjoy the experience even in their house,” pointed Udit Bagga and Udit Bhasin, Co- owners, OTB Courtyard for whom nightlife is not what it used to be. It has changed a lot since the pandemic. People have adjusted and adapted to the restrictions.
Commenting on the same Sharma added “the greatest learning from the pandemic is to always ensure that your over head costs are in check and to save something for times like these.”
LTO’s to lure customers
Despite the phased opening of restaurants around 30 per cent restaurants in different parts of the country’ are still not operational. Also, places that are opened are coming up ways, methods to get their customers back to a pre-covid level.
“We have come up with daytime offers on food and drinks to lure customers. Most restaurants prefer to promote night offers, but because of the restrictions, we want to focus more on afternoon hours. We are also running ladies’ night and giving FLAT 50% to front-liners like doctors, health workers, army members, etc,” commented Gupta who is also planning to launch another property in Central Delhi under the AIR and TOS brand that will be serving Turkish cuisine. “We wanted to do it last year, but things slowed down because of the pandemic,” he further commented.
From making restaurants and bars a safe place to hang out, they have maintained social distancing, adopted all covid protocols to overcome the losses and make customers find it safe to visit a restaurant.
“Currently, we are running Monsoon offers and a Pizza festival wherein customers can enjoy their favorite pizzas with a side of drinks and appetizers. We try to keep coming up with new LTOs. In winters we come up with warm cocktails, and we have IPL offers during the tournament. We work around the seasons to make sure that there's something new and unique throughout the year,” added Bagga who is planning to open more restaurants and coming with Pan Indian cuisine restaurat National highway 44. “We will start with North Indian cuisine and the focus will also be on deliveries. We are strategizing to be located in high-density areas so that the demand for food is always high,” he added.