In the beginning, pandemic brought images of vast trenches of rotting onions, piles of abandoned produce, and lakes of wasted milk, dumped by farmers who no longer had restaurants to buy their products. Now, restaurants are filling up again, and the surrounding streets and stores feel busier than they did a year ago. But even as life inches closer to ‘normal’ for some diners, the inner workings of packed restaurants remain anything but ‘normal’.
Supply chains during these times have faltered: an outbreak at a meat-processing plant or on a large farm; not enough drivers to make regular deliveries to restaurants; holdups at ports where materials or ingredients are offloaded.
Shortages and sourcing issues are becoming the new normal for restaurant operators. Diners might not notice these shortages as many restaurants make it their mission to operate in a way that obscures any difficulties in the kitchen, but if looked closely, menus are slimmer, because ingredients erratically come and go from suppliers’ lists. Sometimes, items that appear on menus may not actually be available, the ingredients left out of the delivery that day.
“The shipping shortage globally did challenge us initially, as raw materials imports were on pause because of the pandemic. We've been able to create direct channels of import, so that has sorted out issues for us,” informed Keenan Tham, Director, Pebble Street Hospitality.
New restaurants, even from the most seasoned operators, have pushed their opening dates back further and further, as they wait for lumber and other raw materials that are now in short supply. This is, for now at least, as close to normal as it gets for restaurants navigating the pandemic.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly placed unprecedented stress on us, from coping to opening our place to tackle the major issue of storage and shortage crisis because of the strict government regulations. But as it’s said every cloud has a silver lining, with the same spirit and more research on how to stock our products back, we found local substitutes of good quality that could be at par and do justice,” shared Udit Bagga, Co-owner at Out of the Box who is trying to make sure that the guests have a similar or better experience, from stocking products to changing and revamping their menu.
According to reports, as operators raced to meet constantly changing guidelines, materials that were once in abundance, like reflective tape, and once cheap, like plywood, were not only hard to find, it was sometimes still impossible to have them delivered. Same happened with the equipment transport from states like Gujarat for those who were planning new openings.
“Also, the way that the vendors have started treating small businesses has been overwhelming and crazy. They’ve cut their delivery dates and times pretty dramatically. They’ve raised prices, and their minimum is now higher than it used to be. So for a small business like us, being forced to spend more making us difficult to make profit,” a small cafe owner situated in Amar Colony Delhi commented on condition of anonymity.
He said that his friends and colleagues who own restaurants nearby are facing similar issues, but the ones who own bigger spaces and place larger orders have more leverage with delivery companies; when orders are bungled and the chefs threaten to close their accounts, they sometimes see service improve.
Many suggest that the smooth operations would take one to two years to resume. However, many owners strongly opine that even while dealing with shortages, food quality or portion sizes will never be sacrificed. As the demand goes down after the upcoming holidays, many hopes that the shortages will get better.