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    COVID-19: F&B industry divided on restrictions imposed on restaurants & food-delivery apps

    COVID-19: F&B industry divided on restrictions imposed on restaurants & food-delivery apps

    COVID-19: F&B industry divided on restrictions imposed on restaurants & food-delivery apps
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    By Jude Sannith   IST (Published)

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    Just short of a week into India’s 21-day lockdown amid fears of community spread of coronavirus, restrictions on the operation of app-based food-delivery services imposed by a few state governments, has caused heartburn to the likes of Swiggy and Zomato.

    Just short of a week into India’s 21-day lockdown amid fears of community spread of coronavirus, restrictions on the operation of app-based food-delivery services imposed by a few state governments, has caused heartburn to the likes of Swiggy and Zomato.
    However, the very existence of these restrictions — in many cases, an outright ban on food-delivery services — has the food and beverage (F&B) and food-delivery industry divided in their views.
    Despite the ministry of home affairs highlighting food delivery as an ‘essential service’, several states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to name a few, said that app-based food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato would not be allowed to function during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day lockdown.
    Food-Delivery Restricted Across Certain States
    States like Tamil Nadu in fact, allowed for the home-delivery of dry ration and for takeaway services at restaurants, but was explicit in the ban imposed on home-delivery of cooked food. On the other hand, Maharashtra and Karnataka have allowed for food-delivery during the lockdown, with the latter banning restaurant takeaways owing to possible congregation of diners at these restaurants.
    On Friday, the Tamil Nadu government eased these restrictions, announcing stipulated timings for food-delivery — 7:00 am to 9.30 am for breakfast, 12:00 noon to 2.30 pm for lunch, and 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm for dinner. It also ordered food-delivery services to deploy personnel only after securing special identification from the local police and ensuring that these personnel were healthy.
    Food-delivery app Swiggy has said that these restrictions by multiple states will severely impact the lives of unmarried IT professionals and students who rely on home-delivery of cooked food for sustenance.
    “This cohort of people relies on outside sources of food like messes, office cafeterias and home-delivered food,” said Vivek Sunder, chief operating officer, Swiggy, “In the case of social distancing, where maids or cooks cannot work at someone’s house for 21 days, these young professionals quarantined for this period cannot rely on instant noodles or eggs for all these days. Unless there is a solution for them, life is going to be difficult.”
    However, industry bodies like the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) are firm in their view that food-delivery aside, F&B outlets must also remain shut for the period of the lockdown in the interest of public health. The association had called for closure of business at its member restaurants a week before the Government announcement of the lockdown, in the light of larger public safety and health concerns.
    'Cooked Food Not An Essential Commodity, Right Now'
    “Restaurants are going to be fighting a battle for survival, and when business is reduced to zero, we become vulnerable for lack of cash reserves,” said Anurag Katriar, President, NRAI, "However, I do see semblance of reason with states like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh issuing a ban on home-delivery of food. Other than provisions, medicines, fruits and vegetables, nothing is essential in the current circumstances, because this is for survival.”
    The association’s view is in line with the fear that multiple personnel engaged in the F&B and food-delivery space could well lead to community transmission of COVID-19. "It’s not only about delivery personnel. It is also about kitchen staff, and everyone else coming in to work, which is a huge number since we are a people-intense business," said Katriar, "Suppliers have to deliver, cooks and cleaners need to come in, and there are people who pack the, there are people taking it out for delivery, and there’s somebody sitting in a contained environment processing orders. So, there are a lot of people involved for what is considered non-essential under these circumstances.”
    As on date, the central government has maintained that the country isn’t quite yet in the throes of Stage-3 of the coronavirus pandemic, which is brought about by community transmission owing to lack of social distancing.
    The size of the formal restaurant business in India, according to NRAI is approximately Rs 1.75 lakh crore, with costs alone accounting for Rs 85,000 crore. There are fears that amid the lockdown, job losses in the F&B industry could take a toll of restaurant, service and delivery personnel. “My bigger worry is how to make sure that our employees and small suppliers don’t run out of kitchen goods, and that kitchen fires in homes keep burning,” said Katriar.
    More Clarity Needed
    While some restaurateurs are in favour of a ban on home-delivered food, the lack of clarity from the policymakers’ side over what commodities are essential and what are not, is a continuing worry. Ever since the announcement of the 21-day lockdown, all bakeries in Tamil Nadu have been ordered shut.
    “It is unfortunate that we aren’t allowed to operate bakeries because authorities don’t consider bread to be an essential commodity at this point,” said Chennai-based chef-restaurateur, Sandesh Reddy, “These are factors that aren’t being taken into account. If it (the ban) applies to just delivery of food, I can live with it not being available for some time.”
    In order to circumvent the ban on bakeries and home-delivery of cooked food, Sandesh’s chain of restaurants is operating a sustenance menu with basic dishes — and bread — available for takeaway at these restaurants. "It’s worth going through this pain for the next 15 days rather than dealing with this (coronavirus) for the rest of our lives,” he said, “I don’t think we have the knowledge base or skill set to be able to pull this (F&B) off without causing further damage. In that regard, I agree with the ban. But people should be more careful about transmission while stepping out to pick up essentials."
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