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Reopening Restaurants

The hurdles in the way of hospitality sector returning to normal business

The eateries, cafes, restaurants and hotels in the state are slated to reopen after more than 75 days of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. As per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the state government can allow reopening of the hospitality sector from next Monday June 8. There is however no clarity on what conditions the sector would have to follow or whether any additional directions would be issued it would have to adhere to. Before the end of lockdown 4, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had pitched for reopening of the sector and said that he was inclined to allow this sector to open with 50 per cent of staff capacity. He had however said that the industry, when it opens, should adhere strictly to social distancing norms and other lockdown protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The government should spell out its relaxations and restrictions well before reopening of the sector so that the sector can meet the laid-down requirements before it starts functioning and slowly regains normalcy.

Goa enjoys reputation as a top tourist, wedding, conference and party destination in India and has hundreds of restaurants, eateries, hotels and cafes which used to be frequented by locals as well as tourists. The functioning of all these establishments came to a grinding halt with the declaration of nationwide ‘Janata curfew’ on March 22. The ban continued in the state after the Goa government decided to extend the lockdown by another week soon after the curfew ended. The subsequent declaration on March 25 of a nationwide lockdown prevented the sector from reopening. It has to be noted that most of the staff in the hospitality sector hail from other states; for them, a prolonged lockdown came to mean loss of employment and earnings. Thousands of migrant workers, including those who used to work in restaurants, eateries, hotels and cafes, saw no end to their travails due to the extension of lockdown and took Shramik trains to reach their homes. According to rough estimates, between 50 and 70 per cent of employees have been sacked or had quit in view of the lockdown and they are unlikely to return anytime soon.

Many owners of restaurants, eateries, hotels and cafes decided that they could no longer keep paying their employees due to prolonged lockdown and chose to summarily sack them. Some of them offered to provide them food and accommodation but no salary, which was not agreeable to the employees, many of whom were the only income earners to their families. Did the restaurateurs kill the goose that laid golden eggs by terminating the services of their staff or letting them go? Though there were some relaxations of the stringent curbs later on, which allowed eateries and restaurants to open partly and cater to customers through parcel or takeaway service, most of the staff had gone to their home states by then. Now that the government has agreed to allow the hospitality sector to open, it remains to be seen how the sector would cater to its customers in view of shortage of staff. In all likelihood the services, particularly in top full-service restaurants, are likely to suffer in absence of trained personnel who were sacked or allowed to return to their home.

However, though the government has said that restaurants, eateries and other hospitality establishments would be allowed to reopen, the night curfew would mean people have to leave the restaurants much before 9 pm to reach their homes. The establishments would have to wind up their services early so that their employees who normally stay in distant places are not penalized for violating the curfew. Early closure would mean lesser clientele and lesser business. As full-service restaurants have attached bars, without sale of liquor they would have lesser business. The Chief Minister has said that since there was mention of bars in the guidelines issued by MHA the state would not touch the issue and violate the norms. There has been a growing demand from different quarters for reopening of restaurants, eateries, hotels and cafes, but the authorities need to take a well-studied decision to ensure that it helps in reviving economic activities without allowing the coronavirus to spread.

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