Decoding the new dining experience
As strict rules have mellowed in the first phase of unlock, some of the city eateries have upped shutters to welcome guests. But there is still a lot of apprehension in the mind of the diner about stepping out and visiting a restaurant or a cafe, as the virus rages on. With safety and hygiene being the keywords in the F&B scenario now, The Telegraph decodes the new dining experience.
Let’s face it, temperature checks and routine sanitisation of hands have become a part of our lives wherever we go. Masks are also mandatory in most places but when you are going to have dinner, restaurants are allowing their guests to take off their masks while eating. The handful of places that have opened are focussing on proper sanitisation of their outlets and mandatory temperature checks of their staff. “Temperature reading for the entire staff is taken daily upon arrival and the same procedure is used for all guests coming in for dine-in or takeaway. The entire restaurant is sanitised with fogging machines twice a day for better upkeep of hygiene and safety protocols. Sanitisers are a must for each and everyone working and are also offered to the guests. This is the new normal and we all have to take the best measures and follow them to ensure customer and staff safety,” said Aayush Killa, franchisee owner of Pa Pa Ya.
Modern European restaurant The Salt House on Shakespeare Sarani followed a meticulous plan before restarting their restaurant from June 8. “Besides the usual measures like sanitisation and use of gloves and masks, before opening the place our staff were called back in private cars from their corona-free villages and are staying on our premises after being quarantined for the necessary 14 days. No one is allowed to leave the building. They do not interact with Zomato and Swiggy riders who have to wait outside the building. Each and every one of them has the Aarogya Setu app where it is compulsory to upload all details every day,” explained Saloni Jhunjhunwalla, co-owner of The Salt House.
Gastro pubs in Sector V like Refinery 091 and The Spirits are ensuring guests feel safe right from the beginning. “At Refinery 091 we are introducing automatic sanitise tunnel for our guests and staff. That aside, there are things like automatic hand sanitiser stations, thermal checks and even sanitiser sachets on each table, which are regularly cleaned,” said Ramesh Agarwal, co-owner. If you are planning to grab lunch at The Spirits and enter with any big bag, there are some key points to remember. “If a guest walks in with any handbag or any kind of luggage, the same will be fumigated at the entrance along with their shoes. We are offering fresh masks and gloves at the reception desk and not allowing anyone to enter wearing old gloves,” said Sohon Saha, owner, The Spirits.
Roastery Coffee House that has CCTV surveillance across the premises and kitchen area since inception is keeping a close watch on the safety measures being carried on properly. Sanitisation of elevators at Scrapyard and washroom door knobs at Marbella’s is also being carried on. “We are encouraging hand wash as much as possible and we are sanitising our washrooms after every use,” said Nikhil Chawla, co-owner, Marbella’s. At The Salt House, you can exercise the choice to use air-conditioning or not. “We switch on the AC only if the customer wants and we have stand fans. We also have outdoor seating so many are finding it safer to sit outside with fans,” added Saloni.
While Chai Break is operating with a shorter menu to ensure they are able to “maintain social distance in the kitchen”, Pa Pa Ya “doesn’t want to limit the entire experience of Pa Pa Ya which is best enjoyed only by the variety of Asian food” that they serve. The Salt House, too, had to cut down on some of the dishes but good news is, they have extended their bakery menu instead. “We have added to our bakery offerings as right now people want to cook at home. Our pizza bases, pav buns, loaves and bagels are doing very well. In addition, we have launched DIY kits for pizzas, handmade pastas and eggless cookies,” added Saloni. “From our menu, we are not serving any cold salads or mutton dishes for the time being, rest the menu stays intact,” said Anirban Dasgupta of What’s Up! cafe on Southern Avenue.
If you have been craving biryani, Oudh 1590 has good news. “We have introduced four new varieties of biryani to our menu — Kolkata Chicken and Mutton Biryani and Special Kolkata Chicken and mutton biryani. We are planning to introduce immunity-boosting dishes in the menu very soon,” said Shiladitya and Debaditya Chaudhury, partners, Oudh 1590.
Vegetarian or not, we can have dosa for breakfast, lunch or dinner and for that Dosa Coffee on Sarat Bose Road has opened up and are offering their entire menu. “Rasam is our best immunity booster on the menu and a must-try,” said Siddhant Dalmia, owner.
Seating and staff
The last time you went to Pa Pa Ya before Covid-19 happened, you could probably guess what the guy at the next table was typing on his phone but all that is history now. “Before this outbreak we hardly had 3-4ft distance between the tables to create a more energetic atmosphere among the guests but with social distancing measures, the tables are now placed with at least 6-8ft distance between each of them. We have reduced our seating ratio to about 40-45 per cent to adhere to the social distancing norms now,” said Aayush. As per guidelines, all restaurants and cafes are maintaining the 6ft-apart norm and some have even put restrictions on the number of people at a time. If The Salt House is not letting in more than 25 people at a time, Oudh 1590 and Scrapyard are looking at a maximum of 50 per cent occupancy at a time.
Cafes like Roastery Coffee House and Marbella’s have no such restrictions. “As long as no one is beside you or immediately behind you while you’re seated we are okay. We are trying to maintain an empty table or at least that much distance between two diners,” added Nikhil. “Tables being used once will not be allotted to other guests immediately... rotation of tables is being done, which is the safest way to keep your outlet hygienic. We are always trying to maintain distance between two tables so that guests feel safe,” said Ankit Madhogaria, owner, Scrapyard on Camac Street.
There has been some lay-offs of staff too to maintain social distancing norms, overcrowding and, of course, as a cost-cutting measure in some places. “We have applied an alternative work day policy. It was one service staff for two tables before but now it is one staff for four tables and a total of eight kitchen staff only on a particular shift,” explained Sohon. Refinery 091 and What’s Up! have brought down their staff ratio to 50 per cent, while Oudh 1590 and Chowman are working with 50 per cent of their staff inside the kitchen to maintain social distancing norms. “If in pre-Covid times we were operating an outlet with 30 employees, then now we are operating with 10 employees. At outlet level, we haven’t done any lay-offs,” said Aditya of Chai Break.
Besides working with fewer staff inside the kitchen, the heart of the restaurant also has some new norms to be followed. Gloves, masks, face shields and head covers are a must for the staff to maintain proper hygiene. “We are using vegetable disinfectants to wash the veggies and except for chefs in proper gear, no one is allowed inside the kitchen at Scrapyard,” added Ankit. The Spirits is keeping its raw materials in well-sanitised rooms for a considerable amount of time before getting them inside the kitchen. Refinery 091 that boasts of one of the prettiest and coolest bars in the city, has extended safety to the bar too, where they are serving only non-alcoholic beverages for now. “We are taking every possible safety measure as much as possible. To minimise direct interaction with the guest and the staff at the bar we have got a glass shield at the bar top for safe communication between the two,” said Ramesh. Chowman has their own noodle factory and every employee entering first needs to maintain all safety measures at the entrance and then needs to undergo a complete uniform change besides wearing gloves, face shields and masks. The body temperatures of the chef making the food, the delivery boy and food packer are mentioned on the food parcels.
Cutlery and table linen
Disposable plates, cutlery and napkins are a part of the new normal at most restaurants. “Customers are given options of using disposable cutlery and crockery but menus and napkins are completely disposable and no choice is given there,” explained Saloni of The Salt House. Cutlery at Refinery 091 is being disinfected with gallons of hot water and chlorine bleach, while What’s Up! cafe lets a guest bring their own disposable cutlery too. “We have enough cutlery and crockery to serve more than 500 people. So that’s not an issue with us. Customers are also allowed to bring in their own disposable cutlery, should anyone choose to do so for their own safety,” said Anirban. Oudh 1590 has discontinued use of their regular cutlery and crockery. “We are giving a fresh set of eco-friendly, disposable plates and cutlery to our customers and also encouraging self-service to minimise contact,” said Debaditya.
Contactless Menu and payment
Cashless and contactless are the new F&B mantra for menu and payments. While most of the restaurants have opted for QR menus that will let the customers scan the QR Code on their phone to view the menu, places like Scrapyard are also sharing the menu on WhatsApp. Oudh 1590 and Chowman have introduced disposable mats that also serve as the menu card, which are thrown away after every use. “More emphasis on digital mode of payment but we are also accepting conventional modes of payments like cash and plastic cards,” said Aditya of Chai Break.
Most of the restaurants that have opened are continuing with the delivery service they had started when the lockdown began, directly or through apps like Swiggy and Zomato. Others like Pa Pa Ya are looking at starting delivery soon. Chai Break that has self-delivery service besides Swiggy and Zomato will start offering cocktail mixers, shishas and food for house parties. “We are also launching DIY meals for home delivery soon,” said Aditya of Chai Break.
Speciality Restaurants — that owns brands such as Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta, Cafe Mezunna among others — ensures a safe distance of 2metres is being maintained with suppliers and also amongst the staff. They have been delivering food since the beginning of the lockdown, with strict rules in place, directly as well as through aggregator apps. “Washing hands in-between packing each customer’s food is a must. All food containers are washed with hot water and soap before using and we are avoiding a journey for more than 30 minutes,” said Debashish Ghosh, general manager with the group. If a customer who has ordered food from Speciality Restaurants is self-isolating, then the delivery boy will call the customer on reaching to inform that they have left the food package outside the door, but for normal customers, they will ring the doorbell twice and step 2metres away and wait for the customer to collect the food. Among their many restaurants, they have currently opened Cafe Mezunna and Mainland China in South City Mall, Mainland China on Gurusaday Road, and Haka in City Centre Salt Lake. Cafe Mezunna in Forum mall is likely to open soon.
Some popular F&B brands, however, are still sceptical about opening their restaurants immediately and instead are operating on the delivery-only model. Popular hangout spot Please Don’t Talk on Ho Chi Minh Sarani has recently started with their delivery service to “limit the exposure for our employees and guests”. “We have started with very limited chefs and service staff. Moreover, our employees come from far and do not travel frequently between home and work unless they have private conveyance. We wanted to test the sustainability of this model as a regular feature before opening the outlet at large for dine-in,” said Harsh Sonthalia, co-owner, Please Don’t Talk.
Avantika Saraogi Butta, local partner, Monkey Bar & The Fatty Bao, explained, “Monkey Bar & The Fatty Bao Kolkata have opened for deliveries recently and we will open for in-restaurant dining shortly too. In the current environment it is a big responsibility and I want to be 110 per cent sure that all the strict standard operating procedures are in place with regards to sanitisation of space, food and people. Our sanitisation products are also specific to certain approved companies, therefore stocking up of those for smooth running is also in process along with training staff to make these new norms second nature to them. Moreover certain key staff have still not been able to come back to work and we’re in the process of streamlining that too. In the current scenario even the commercials are proving to be a big question mark and we need to rethink the entire business model as the situation develops, as it is a completely new challenge.”
Future of F&B
From what can be seen as per the current scenario, social distancing and rules are to stay for a while for dine-in guests, which will hence lead to reduced capacity in the restaurant and a surge in takeaways and deliveries. Alcoholic beverages play a vital role in the entire experience but at the current moment we are trying to give our guests the experience of our food only in accordance with the current rules and regulations
— Aayush Killa, Pa Pa Ya
The future of F&B is quite tough, especially for bigger spaces. To be honest, the maintenance, plus super sanitising cost now to maintain such a big plush property is too high and making revenue just on the basis of food is going to be difficult. It will take time to settle down
— Ramesh Agarwal, Refinery 091
We do not go to restaurants or pubs just to have good food and drinks, we go there for an experience and to create memories. Our industry took a hit but we will rise again. Good food, good ambience and service were always the pillars of a good restaurant but now a new parameter has come up — safety . We have to ensure maximum level of safety to maintain the best possible hygiene too. I am sure in no time we will again see those happy faces of our guests
— Sohon Saha, The Spirits
Dining in is the new dining out. Health is of utmost importance... comforting but more biodegradable, water saving, vegan and sustainability is the key word here
— Nikhil Chawla, Marbella’s
We are very hopeful as deliveries are doing very well and diners have also started trickling back in
— Saloni Jhunjhunwalla, The Salt House
I have a very optimistic view for our industry. Our industry will see V-shaped recovery in the next few months. However, home delivery, hygiene and digital menus are the order of the day
— Aditya Ladsaria, Chai Break
It’s uncertain at the moment but again we are back to the basics of life. It’s tough to sustain but still we are more tough during these circumstances and are more determined to perform well by satisfying our guests
— Ankit Madhogaria, Scrapyard
The F&B industry is a function of the economy in general and the future of F&B will depend largely on the recovery of the economy. Having said that, the resumption of bar services and withdrawal of the night curfew will be the two key factors in the journey towards revenue normalisation
— Anirban Sengupta, What’s Up! Cafe
As of now, intelligently and patiently controlling cost if we can continue, then by October/November we can come out of the crisis. Home delivery through in-house delivery executives and external aggregators will increase. We have always maintained hygiene standards following the FSSAI guidelines, we already used to give sanitisers on every table for our customers, but now the maintenance of hygiene and other parameters is the new normal
— Shiladitya and Debaditya Chaudhury, Oudh 1590 and Chowman