Delhi Night Curfew: Another jolt to restaurant businesses hoping for revival this New Year after two Covid surges

Delhi government’s decision to impose night curfew in the national capital has come as a nightmare for restaurant, bar owners ahead of the new year with patrons cancelling their booking and losses on account of events organised for the 31st night.

restaurant industry, night curfew, covid cases, yellow alert, losses, restrictions, social distancing, seating capacity, precautionary measures, cancellation, covid protocol
Restaurant owners are looking at heavy losses on account of night curfew in national capital ahead of the new year’s eve. Image: Bloomberg

The eating-out businesses are looking at heavy losses ahead of the new year’s eve across the national capital after the announcement of imposition of night curfew in Delhi as well, like its neighbouring states. The restaurateurs said that such change in plans is going to make another dent in their business already reeling under the effects of almost two years of losses due to the pandemic. “The night curfew will negatively affect the restaurant industry as this is the festive season and restaurants make the most profit during new years. We had a lot of plans for the new year, a lot of new drinks and dishes that were planned to be introduced during this time, for which we had spent months experimenting. We had also spent a lot of money on marketing and decor for the season which is of no use now. None of these efforts will give the kind of benefits we had imagined since business at restro bars and nightclubs boom only at night,” Deepa Prabhakar, Owner of Limitless Cookhouse Bar & The Sky High at Ansal Plaza, told Financial Express Online.

Conceding the importance of safety with the rising number of cases of Omicron variant, restaurateurs are questioning the night curfews, enforced from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am, while everything else is operational during the day hours. “It has been extremely painful for business since the last two years. We are bearing losses and still trying to survive. While all high street markets are packed with people, with no covid protocols being followed, its the restaurants and bars who have to follow all guidelines and are paying 100 per cent fee for 50 per cent occupancy,” said Shabad Mehta, Owner, Cafe27 at Kailash Colony. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government had extended the night curfew in Delhi imposed on Monday by an hour — from 10:00 pm to 5:00 am — as a “yellow” alert was sounded on Tuesday under Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in view of rising Covid-19 cases.

“The restaurant and in-location dining and drinking industry has been hit severely by the protracted 24 months of the pandemic that has seared our lives and livelihoods. This new night curfew in Delhi and other locations is going to hurt the industry, which was just about hobbling onto a trot severely,” brand and business strategy specialist Harish Bijoor told Financial Express Online.

Not really a happy new year

The recently announced restrictions has led to restaurant owners facing heavy losses due to cancellations of bookings/ reservations. “The consumers are taken aback. We had a good amount of bookings but recently we saw a lot of cancellations due to the night curfew,” said Deepa Prabhakar. On the New Year, the countdown is considered the most important and since that’s not happening, people are opting to stay back home. Shabad Mehta added, “December is the best time of the year for restaurants & night curfew at this time has badly affected our industry. Firstly, we had to cancel the Christmas events due to new guidelines and now the restricted operational hours have resulted in all our bookings being cancelled, not just for New Year but for other days as well. No one wants to party or eat dinner in a haste.”

Night curfews discourage patrons from walk-ins much before 10 pm, impacting the dinner business, which brings in the maximum revenue for restaurants, bars and lounges. Pankaj Renjhen, COO & Jt. Managing Director, ANAROCK Retail, said, “While precautionary measures are important, the night curfew will take up majority of the business from the restaurant industry which was only at its revival stage now after the two Covid surges. Around 70 per cent of the businesses for restaurants and bars come from dinner sales and India, particularly North India, is not really used to going out early in the evening for parties or dinners.”

Could there have been a better way?

Delhi, on Wednesday, logged 923 fresh Covid-19 cases, the highest since May 30 and almost double the number of infections recorded the previous day, according to health department data. The positivity rate climbed to 1.29 per cent from 0.89 per cent on Tuesday. No fresh fatality was reported, the bulletin stated. And this has led to the city imposing restrictions in the form of night curfew across the national capital. However, restaurant owners opine that this could have been handled differently, keeping in consideration the bleak business of the industry and their bet on the new year to revive the business. “The government could have had the 50% capacity as the only restriction because that wouldn’t have affected the hospitality industry as much as the night curfew will. In our opinion, this will scare a lot of people which will lead to a lot of panic,” said Deepa Prabhakar. The industry had only started to “make profits after months of covering the losses” from the previous lockdowns and restrictions.

The restrictions in place will not only affect the restaurant owners but the entire ecosystem including the employees, suppliers of raw materials, liquor companies who supply to these places, etc. Pankaj Renjhen maintained, “I think it would make more sense to regulate mass congregations taking place during the day hours rather than imposing night curfew on organized industries that’s already following covid protocols. The restaurant owners are willing to work around restrictions like limited seating capacities, maintaining minimum distance, etc. and these measures are more fair since we need to also look at business sustenance along with the precautions & safety measures. There are a number of solutions available which are more practical than a pure clampdown.”

Harish Bijoor added, “I do believe night curfew is a top-down measure. A measure where the government tends to believe that they can control the pandemic spread by diktat and an iron hand. The reality however lies in the fact that the pandemic can be controlled only by the efforts of willing people, who are keen to sanitize and maintain Covid protocols in place.”

In any case, while the restaurant owners say that the government should have discussed the issue with them before making a decision, it all comes down to survival now and different places are restrategising to survive and pull more lunch crowds and early evening events to bring in as many customers as possible. “All businesses will have to manage their costs now to ensure they survive the pandemic, manage their costs and the ones which are well capitalized, prudent with managing their costs, will be able to curate a decent revenue model and survive,” Pankaj Renjhen concluded.

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