As lockdown gradually lifts, restaurants are working with the new normal, in various parts of Asia and Europe. Restaurants in Thailand seem to have come together, tapping into that inner child as they try and connect with their customers to try and lure them in. Maybe India could try some of this, once it comes to that stage in the pandemic, in the attempt to bring a smile to our face, because we surely need it, but sadly, all I can see is a bit of confusion right now.

As Thailand’s infection rates slow down, Lockdown has eased but with strict guidelines in place. The country has not reported any new cases, so it’s time to go out and celebrate at your favourite restaurant I say, alone, except for a black and white stuffed Panda sitting right opposite you, to give you company. Such is the idea at a ‘Maison Saigon,’ a Vietnamese restaurant in Bangkok.

Even Italy seems to be waking up, ready to face the world as restaurants open their doors to custom that are probably dying to eat somebody else’s food after god knows how long! Where Asia may be getting to your heart using a more emotional strategy, for Italy, it’s more about giving their diners a safer environment. Paper menus have gone, replaced with QR scan codes so when you visit, you can hold your smart phone up, and voila! Up comes that menu! Loving this, a contact free experience. Moreover, you’ve got stickers on the floor so you are aware of distance as tables are set a meter apart. Chefs and waiters are wearing gloves and masks as restaurants are disinfected at the end of every day. I can see India following not far behind.

NEWS ON THE GROUND

So Unlock 1.0 plans, as per the Home Ministry here in India, first applied to those restaurants in non containment zones, who were allowed to open as of June 8th. After 2 long months of inactivity, religious institutions malls and restaurants were taking a new deep breath to get back into the game. Places of worship have definitely attempted to maintain, sterile environments and social distancing, but regardless, the turn out is still a bit hesitant. It seems it’s the same news everywhere after 250 malls resumed operations, a lack of footfall, made the momentous occasion look rather bleak. Restaurants seemed to have really pulled the short straw though, because even though you may have a liquor license, it may not be any good right now as the government still hasn’t ok’ed its use despite individual liquor stores being open themselves. As such, major haunts like Vasant vihar, Defence Colony and Khan market look totally deserted with over 40% of businesses wrapping up totally. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem worth their while with a combination of reduced covers, social distancing, and 9pm curfews.

The impact has been felt by all, as even the bigger restaurants like Indian Accent and First Fiddle restaurants, are still hesitant about only utilising 50% of space whilst maintaining social distancing. A further worry lies in the knock on effect of all of this, where the F&B industry itself, employs around 7.3 million people, where most may find themselves out of a job and out of pocket. One almost gets a feeling that suddenly the skyline of our lovable markets is about to change forevermore.

While some retail institutions are still wondering which way to turn, there are others that still remain positive as they try to adhere to the new norms. Director of ROOH, New Delhi has already planned his strategy where they’ve planned to do away with all table decoration and cutlery and instead put cutlery into individual pouches. Just like Italy, they’ll have QR scan codes and a phone line to the kitchen, where receipts will also be generated. But, this is all well and good if you decide to open, which right now, is a sore topic.

So in spite of opening, the suspense still remains as to which strategy every outlet will follow as each state now has the power to flex government mandates. Now if you do decide to step out to go to your favourite haunt, don’t be disappointed when you only get served a selection, just be grateful you have cutlery! Imagine you are only probably the odd 30% who are even enthusiastic about going out, imagine how many happy partners there are out there that are saving money…….not quite the response our chief economic advisor was looking for.

INTROSPECTION

Now as we Unlock for the first time and businesses put all their effort into trying adapt to new work practices, what happens when we have a resurgence of the epidemic which is bound to happen as it has in China and the US. I’d say it’s more or less expected as people get together once again, in hoards. What happens then to all those retail outlets after they invest their time and effort into getting their system running again. As current reports show, the Uddhav Thackeray led government in Maharashtra, has already had to extend Lockdown until the end of July 31st due to the high level of Covid-19 cases. So very uncertain times indeed.

On another note, a thought comes to mind when European countries laughed at Asian and Middle Eastern ways, but who’s having the last laugh! Masks? Why not just bring that burqa back, you know that piece of cloth that covers your face? In case people have forgotten, it’s that that face covering that 15 nations banned? In fact, in Austria, you might even be fined 440 Euros for wearing a headscarf. Who knows if that’s all changed now in light of the pandemic, because to me right now, all they’ve done is replaced one covering with another!

Moreover, when we talk about disinfecting a restaurant or washing hands, isn’t that supposed to happen anyway? To be honest, if we followed the old Indian custom, of Namaste, taking shoes off before entering a residence, washing hands well, after touching raw meat or even before doing anything, it begs the question of whether we would have been in such a bad position today…. Who really knows.

But what I do know, is that our home grown caped crusader, Baba Ram Dev, has flown in with his orange cape, playing the saviour as he advertises his miracle cure for Covid-19. This is amazing since the greatest minds in the world are probably missing a trick somewhere as they are struggle for a vaccine. At least one thing is for sure, even if the Baba doesn’t have something significant or definite to show from his box of tricks, at least you get a damn good laugh which will definitely contribute to good health!

But I leave with a lasting thought. We shut ourselves down losing trillions of Dollars worth of income now and in the future because of a virus. Now we open up even when the virus is still around, in fact peaking, with no vaccine in sight, so what was the point of it all? I’ll let you answer that one.

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