With the Unlock phases kicking in step by step, many restaurant and hotel owners would have hoped for better times. But with the COVID crisis far from over, people have continued to stay away. The losses are staggering and owners say business is down 80-90% since lockdown was imposed in March.
Many restaurant owners said they could not pay their rents for the last three-four months and are only hoping that the situation will improve in the coming weeks. Quite a few of the restaurants in distress have already stopped providing takeaway services in the city.
The latest unlock order issued by chief secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna on August 2 stated that restaurants and other hospitality services were allowed in the state on all days, except Saturdays and Sundays, with the maintenance of COVID protocols. But, even after selected hotels and restaurants opened both takeaway and dine-in facilities, few customers are coming to have meals.
Pallabi Deka, the owner of Khorikaa, one of the most popular eateries known for its ethnic cuisines, in Ulubari area of the city, said, “Practically, we have been able to do the business for three days a week. Commercial establishments and shops are not opening on weekends. Even in the weekdays, we could open shops on one side of the street in a day. Within such limitations, we are facing a very tough time as far as paying salaries, house rents and expenses of raw materials are concerned.”
She said dine-in services were the least preferred now. “We have reduced by seat capacity by about 50%, but hardly 5% of our customers want to eat inside,” Deka said.
We are not allowing customers to enter and deliver food for takeaway. But the sales are down by 90%. Only some of our permanent customers from the nearby areas are coming regularly,” Dipankar Das, who looks after the sales in Chennai kitchen on the Guwahati-Shillong road, said.
The restaurants on the highway on the northern outskirts of Guwahati have suffered a similar fate. “If the situation does not return to normalcy by December, many will have to down shutters forever,” said Pranab Kumar Nath, proprietor of Milky Way Family Restaurant at Changsari in NH-31.
The All Assam Restaurant Association (AARA) recently met chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal recently to seek assistance for the sector. “We sought low interest, collateral-free special bailout working capital loan schemes from the government so that we can keep ourselves afloat as well as take care of our employees. We are waiting for a response,” said Deba Kumar Barman, AARA president.
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