Bengal: Eateries & bars set to reopen, but owners not betting on recovery

Several bars have reorganised their set ups to adhere to social distancing norms as well as measures to boost hygiene.

Restaurants, bars and mall owners are gearing up to open for business again after the government on Monday, while extending the lockdown restrictions till June 30, issued fresh norms for running eateries and watering holes.

While malls, bars, restaurants across Kolkata spruced up their premises in preparation resuming business, a few decided to take a call on reopening over the next few days as logistics and the availability of personnel to help run the services are yet to be worked out.

The government had imposed the lockdown restrictions on May 16 after daily Covid-19 cases surged to 19,117.

Several bars have reorganised their set ups to adhere to social distancing norms as well as measures to boost hygiene.

There are around 3,500 licenced bars in Bengal and as many as 87,500 people earn their livelihoods through them. The government, in its latest order, allowed bars to open from 12 noon to 8pm. While many welcomed the order, few believe that the timing won’t suit their clients.

“We welcome the order but it will be tough to maintain the timing that has been set for us. If one person enters the bar at 7:30 pm, it will be impossible to ask him to leave by 8 pm. Next time when we send a proposal for resuming business, we will request the government to allow bars to stay open from 4pm to 10pm,” Gautam Mukherjee, general secretary, Bars Association, said.

According to the majority of bar owners, arrangements are being made so that most of the staff could be accommodated locally. One bar owner in Central Kolkata, who didn’t want to be named, said, “The timing is fine for malls and restaurant owners but not for bars. The crowd starts pouring in after 8pm.”

The state government had imposed some restrictions on May 1, including temporary ban on serving food on premises, but allowed home delivery. On June 4, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee allowed restaurants to reopen and serve customers from 5-8 pm at 50 percent capacity. The owners were mandated to ensure that the staff were vaccinated. The city’s hotel industry was hit hard by the pandemic.

“Hotel industry is undoubtedly the worst affected by the pandemic. A rough estimate shows that hotel industry in Bengal recorded a loss of nearly Rs 15,000 crores during the second wave. Hence, we welcome the relaxation of norms at the time when the food and hospitality industry is reeling under the burden of losses and struggling for recovery. Staff across hotels are being vaccinated and all the norms (for reopening) will be followed,” Sudesh Poddar, president, Hotel and Restaurants Association of Eastern India, said. Most of the bars and restaurants in the city will resume operations from June 16.

“We welcome the order but it will be great if the timing is extended from 12 am to 11 pm at night because we record the maximum rush between 7:30pm and 11pm,” said Akhtar Parvez, director of the popular biryani chain Arsalan.

However, restaurant and bars owners feel that bouncing back from their losses will take time.


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