Clubs, restaurants hope for lockdown extension

New Delhi: While most business owners are looking forward to May 3 so that they can start earning revenues as soon as the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted, Millennium Post has learnt that the Delhi Restaurants and Clubs Association met with officials of the Delhi government, hoping that the lockdown is extened at least for the benefit of the food and beverage industry in the Capital.

Sources in the Delhi Secretariat disclosed that owners of various pubs and cafes across Delhi-NCR have requested the state government not to lift the ban on the food and beverage industry even if the national lockdown is eased. One senior official said, "With the ongoing lockdown, the hospitality sector is incurring heavy losses. But if the ban were to be eased, people would still be skeptical about going to crowded places and partying. Restaurant and pub owners are already burdened with heavy losses as they have to pay rent and justify the salaries of their employees. Once they open for business and are unable to make profits, they will end up paying electricity bills along with miscellaneous expenses."

Dinesh Arora, President of Delhi Restaurants and Clubs Association (DRCA) said, "I have spoken to restaurant owners from Rajouri Graden, GK, and CP and they all have similar concerns." Arora, who is also the owner of Unplugged Courtyard in CP and Gurgaon said that in one pub, roughly 50 to 60 people are employed. Making sure that none of them are asymptomatic or are infected will be difficult for restaurant owners.

"Plus we will be held responsible even if one of them gets infected and further infects customers. Restaurants, pubs, cafes and movie halls should not open for the next two to three months."

Significantly, days ago, the case of a pizza delivery professional testing positive for COVID-19 had thrown South Delhi into a tizzy, with over 70 families, where he delivered food, being put under quarantine.

The DRCA comprises roughly 200 members from Delhi of which 180 of them do not want to open their restaurants till the end of June or mid-July.

One other senior official in the Delhi Secretariat noted that it is highly unlikely for restaurants in the Capital to open before the end of May as they fall under the "high-risk zone". "It will be difficult to maintain social distancing in such places," he added.

Arora said that restaurants and pubs are now paying rent and employee salaries but that this will not be sustainable in the long run. "We are in conversation with our landlords on one end to ease the rent and talking to our employees to accept a pay cut. We do not want to lay off people but neither can we afford to pay a full salary from our pockets," the DRCA President said.

"Even if the pandemic is over and there is a vaccine, this sector will still face heavy economic backlash. On a typical Saturday, a pub makes around Rs 7 lakh but given the circumstances, it will be difficult to even make Rs 2 lakh, plus the remarketing of the pub will require more investment through PR and social media activities," he added.

The DRCA members are currently contemplating approaching the Delhi government with a formal request to keep the food and beverage sector closed in case the Centre's plan for a zone-wise relaxation kicks in post-May 3. Arora also said, "The Central Government should take steps to relieve us of taxes or any other step to help us economically. For example a three-month relief from tax or a subsidy in electricity bills. These are mere suggestions that we have."

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