With a fresh set of SOPs and a seven-month-no-show, Mumbai’s restaurants, cafés, and bars have now been allowed to operate. But what is the general mood of the hospitality industry? Restaurant owners reveal their plans

Just the thought of grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend, albeit with precautions, is a lucrative offer right now. However, two days into the week that the government has given the go-ahead to allow dining in, the response is relatively lukewarm. On the F&B side of things, some hospitality stalwarts have decided to welcome all diners allowed with open arms (figuratively), while some want to take it easy, and unlock with utmost care.

Founder and managing director of Olive Group of Restaurants, AD Singh, says while they have already opened their restaurants across the country, their popular restaurants Monkey Bar, Fatty Bao, and SodaBottleOpenerWala in Bandra will open this week. “Olive will only open in two weeks as we have brought in a new chef, and are introducing an all-day menu as well, for the first time in 15 years,” he says. Even Ayush Arora, Product Manager and Head of Business Development for Fountain Hospitality that runs Flamboyante, Hammer & Song, Fountain Sizzlers and Boardwalk, says they have opened all their outlets.

Most places are taking this week to ease opening up. Keenan Tham, Managing Director of Pebbles Street Hospitality that has KOKO And Foo, is in the process to ensure all the SOPs are in place to open up shortly. Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and MD of Impresario Handmade Restaurants, describes his plan of opening outlets in phases. October 9 onwards, Colaba SOCIAL, Carter Road SOCIAL, Powai SOCIAL, Versova SOCIAL, Vashi SOCIAL and Capital SOCIAL will all be opening up, as well as all the Smoke House Deli outlets across the city. Other outlets will follow. Nick Harrison co-owner of Slink & Bardot and Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît, says while Soufflé will open on coming Monday, Slink & Bardot will open up a week after, to ensure seamless functioning. Colossal Kitchens plans to open any day this week, while Yazu, and Woodside Inn will also open up as soon as they’re through with all protocols.

However, Rahul Bajaj, Director, and Conceptualizer at Out Of The Blue and Deli By The Blue, has decided not to open restaurants till things get better. “Considering the current situation wherein there’s a rise in the number of cases, we won’t be opening the restaurant until the situation gets better. We will continue with our delivery services and would open the restaurant for dine-in when the effect of the virus is not as intense as it is now,” he explains.

Other than the SOPs issued by the government about sanitisation, the BMC has allowed 33 per cent occupancy, even though the State says 50 per cent, as they’re waiting to see if all the procedures are properly observed before increasing the occupancy to 50 per cent. Restaurants are trying to make their own changes to ensure safe dining. Contactless dining with QR codes are one such measure, and so is making sure everyone who visits, gives their details, with consent. Singh says that while typically, a meal at Olive is a long, languorous affair with lots of conversation and laughter, they have now introduced their all day menu for people to be in and out in a shorter time. “Our layouts have been changed in line with all the norms for social distancing and seating capacity, and we have removed all provisions for standing customers,” he says.

Yazu has removed booths, tables, and chairs to meet rules requiring two meters (six feet) or more between tables, and has rearranged restaurant entrances for spacing, add floor markings, and signage. They have also made employee workstation adjustments to provide one meter (three feet) or more between staff. Amlani describes the quirky SOCIAL changes, like sanitiser bottles being placed on every table which reads #sanitizekarona. “Seeing an acrylic partition between the bar and you can be quite boring. So we’ve added the line, ‘This is a window of opportunity’ around the opening through which you can get your drink. Floor stickers marking social distancing say, ‘In this together, but six feet apart’. So we’ve tried to keep things light and continue to give people the vibe that they know and love,” he adds. They have also reduced menus by about 30 per cent to accommodate the social distancing needed in kitchens.

At Soufflé, acrylic dividers are installed along the entire bar counter, guests are encouraged to watch their drinks being made, but beverages will only be served on tables. “The cutlery will arrive at your table sanitised and sealed in a pouch, thus eliminating any physical touch. Salt, pepper, sugar, straws, cocktail stirrers all will be pre-packed in individually sealed sachets,” Harrison details.

Reopening is not all that easy either, given the staff that went back home after the lockdown was announced. Restaurants are now trying their best to make it work with staff that is already available, and bring back staff that they can, in phases. While Harrison’s core team is in Mumbai, staff is being encouraged to travel in their own vehicles. “For those who don’t have one, we are making provisions to stay at the restaurant, thus eliminating any risky public transport,” he says.

Pankil Shah, director and co-founder of Neighbourhood Hospitality — Woodside Inn, says, “A lot of staff is concerned about coming back due to the high number of cases in Mumbai and Maharashtra. We are working on getting accommodation close to our restaurant premises so they don’t have to worry about travelling and staying.” Ranbir Nagpal, partner at Yazu, explains that the restaurant has arranged for the travel tickets, necessities, etc. of staff that has gone back to their hometowns, so that they can return in good health, and are prepared to work under the best conditions.

Some were prepared. Vaishali Sanghvi and Vishal Karia, partners at Colossal Hospitality, launched Colossal Kitchens with five kitchens in July this year, and already had some staff coming back for the same. “We had expected the government to announce this unlock move any time now, so we called back the additional staff for opening the restaurant,” they say. Current reports suggest that the response of customers has also been tepid, patrons are reluctant to visit restaurants too. Mihir Desai, co-founder of Corum Hospitality (Bar Stock Exchange), says that pre-Covid, they would see 80 per cent occupancy, but on reopening, they saw almost 40 per cent. “People already seem to have adapted to what we call the new normal,” he adds.

With restaurants trying to do everything in their capacity to hit the ground running, here’s hoping everyone is responsible enough, and that cup of coffee won’t cost more than what’s mentioned on the menu.