Calcutta’s once-favourite food corridor is struggling to serve it up and dish it out. Smarting under a sweeping “30 per cent slump in business” and steadily losing ground to a smattering of speciality eateries in the south, restaurants on Park Street have now been hit where it hurts.
A 10 per cent hike in litreage fees on liquor sales, slapped with effect from January 2003, has dimmed the lights on any possible turnaround early into the New Year and sent the restaurants rushing to the government door, with a review-and-rollback plea.
In a joint petition to state excise minister Prabodh Sinha, owners of 13 Park Street eateries have urged him to “kindly consider withdrawing the levy”. Moulin Rouge, Oasis, Kwality, Olypub, Trincas, Bar-B-Q, Magnolia, Silver Grill, Peter Cat, Shenaz, Waldorf, Floriana and Gangaur have all put pen to the petition, copies of which have been sent to the commissioner of excise, West Bengal, the collector of excise, Calcutta (South) and the Hotel & Restaurant Association of Eastern India.
“We already have our backs to the wall, with little cheer in the last one year,” laments Nitin Kohli of Shenaz. He feels the burden has to be passed on to the consumer sooner or later. “We are in a no-win situation, running the risk of losing more customers if we revise our rates, and draining our resources if we don’t.”
But Park Street won’t tax the tippler just yet. “True, it’s a difficult burden to bear in this depressed scenario, but no one can afford to pass it on. We will wait and watch,” says R.K. Bhatia, general manager, Kwality Restaurant. The restaurateurs concur that the litreage fee hike is another “debilitating blow”, coming in the wake of the peg measure increase from 50 ml to 60 ml last November.
“How often can we revise the rate card in these lean times'” asks Charles Mantosh, who owns Moulin Rouge, Magnolia, Waldorf and Floriana. “In any case, taxes on food and liquor are among the stiffest in West Bengal, if you add up the sales tax, litreage fee, yearly lump fee and other levies,” he adds.
In another letter, Park Street eateries have requested the excise minister to also consider relaxing the dry days on Holi, Id-uz-Zoha and Muharram and allow them to stay “open after 4 pm on the above days”. Says Kohli: “Earlier, we had only four to five dry days in a calendar year. Now, almost every religious festival has been declared a dry day, which means we lose an entire day’s business.”