But rent is only one part of the equation. The other is staff costs, which can be as much as rent in some cases. While some are turning to layoffs, a Bengaluru-based brand—which runs a quick-service restaurant and a cloud kitchen—has cut salaries by at least 30-40% for its 19 employees, said the brand’s head of operations. He did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The National Restaurant Association of India expects over 1.5 million job cuts after the lockdown
Another way to avoid layoffs is by blurring the divide between the front house and kitchen staff, says Shaw. He says restaurants will retrain employees to handle more than one job.
A table for two metres
The X-factor, though, remains the customer. And nobody is sure about the general appetite for dining out once the pandemic subsides.
One bellwether is China. About 80% of the country’s restaurants have reopened, but consumers aren’t spending. “In China, customers are eating and shopping ‘on a mission’,” Bector said in the webinar.
That’s the fear for Pagdandi Bookstore Cafe in Pune. Vishal Pipraiya, the cafe’s owner, wanted to know how to deal with customers unwilling to hang out over coffee and conversations—the USP of his business.
In the post-Covid world, dining out will not be the same
And those who do go to restaurants will likely find staff with protective gloves and face masks. And fewer tables. “There may be a capacity drop of 50-60% at dine-in restaurants,” predicts Katriar. His Indigo Deli has 74-76 seats, with an average of 200 customers per day. But he expects to serve just 60-70 people a day for the next three months.
Shake it Off has four to eight tables at each of its stores. Paremal plans to cut that to two tables, with a two-metre distance between them. That will hurt its revenue per outlet, causing Paremal to potentially charge more. On the flip side, it would mean lower staff costs and quicker service.
Adding to the uncertainty is the lack of guidelines from the government. “For stand-alone restaurants, it’s not clear. First they said 50% capacity, and then three feet from each other, but allowed delivery to continue. It’s hard to track,” said Gauri Devidayal, who owns Mumbai’s The Table.
Meanwhile, some restaurants are looking to reassure customers by investing in safety and hygiene practices such as sanitising surfaces multiple times a day and introducing digital menus to avoid touching physical ones. DLF Mall is in talks with its restaurants to create shorter menus that require little to no human touch. At the Bengaluru-based brand mentioned earlier, almost 40-45% of the items on the menu have been axed to save costs and control wastage. Slimmer menus also help turnaround times for restaurant staff, which is especially important when it comes to food delivery.
“We’re going to livestream our kitchens for people who want to know what’s going on inside the kitchen.”