Is the indoor dining room open? Restaurants seem as confused as the customers – Food
There’s a quiet commotion in the air, the kind that engulfs a crowded cricket stadium just before a referee is about to make a decision – okay, maybe not in real life but as in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum. The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) reported to restaurants last week that they can now open their doors to customers for indoor dining – a move that business owners have campaigned sporadically since. two years. So why isn’t the notification greeted with frenzied glee as expected?
The silence appears to stem from the fact that the decision came with two caveats – that restaurants can only fill 50% of their indoor seating capacity and that dinner can only be offered to people who have been vaccinated.
The question that restaurateurs ask themselves is how?
Scellina Asad, managing director of The Venus Group, the company that owns the Cold Stone Creamery and Texas Chicken franchises in Pakistan, says checking customers to see if they’ve been vaccinated isn’t that simple.
“People don’t like to follow the rules,” she said, sharing that the staff at Texas Chicken, between making and selling fried chicken and honey cookies, had to explain to customers and delivery people that they would not be allowed to enter. without wearing masks – an SOP listed as “mandatory” in previous NCOC notifications.
“Customers would insist”bus ek dayn table, hum khaana khanay ayain hain‘ [please just give us a table, we are just here to eat], “she shares.” I can already predict that vaccination checks will prove difficult. “
Sohaib Junaidi, owner of Junaidi Pizzeria in Karachi, agrees.
“In the service industry, you always want to serve the customer,” he says. “When people show up without a mask, we can give them one on the spot, but if they show up unvaccinated, it’s not like we can give an injection on the spot to facilitate them.”
Currently, only five percent of the Pakistani population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and there is still a lot of reluctance to vaccinate. Globally, countries have announced various benefits to encourage people to get vaccinated, but in Pakistan the fear is that people may simply bypass checks to take advantage of the benefits, such as access to meals at inside, without getting vaccinated.
Raza Ahmed, owner of Bamboo Union in Lahore, shares that they have decided to distribute a form to entering customers, requiring them to disclose if they have been vaccinated as well as their CNIC number.
“Some people hesitated to sign while others said ‘yeh aap ka kaam nahi hai, yeh aap kyun kar rahay hain‘ [this is not your job so why are you doing this],” he explains.
Imran A. Bandukda, owner of Pompei and POMO in Karachi, says indoor dining is an essential part of the guest experience and currently the hot weather has made the alfresco dining experience unpleasant, but vaccination controls could be a challenge.
However, he thinks the reduced capacity is a welcome decision.
“The recommendation of 50% seats is a viable way forward,” says Bandukda. “Customers will certainly be more comfortable in a less crowded environment.”
Vaccination control appears to be the main factor preventing restaurants from announcing indoor dining resumes, but it is not the only factor. Restaurant owners are also unsure how long the directive will apply, given that the fourth wave of Covid-19 has already been scheduled for July.
Fouzia Siddiqui, owner of FLOC in Karachi’s Zamzama, says uncertainty is their biggest challenge.
“If we had a notification that applied for at least a few months, adaptation wouldn’t be a problem,” she says. “We’re really not clear on the directive at the moment, because if indoor dining is allowed does that mean outside dining will be banned?” “
Siddiqui is currently holding back from making further capital investments, particularly in the outdoor dining experiment, in case this is discontinued.
Asad Aftab, who is one of Tipsy Co’s partners in Lahore, says the return to indoor dining currently looks a bit premature due to lack of clarity.
“We managed to find a way to restructure the whole restaurant because we were made to do it,” he explains. “We would like to see how indoor meals play out for others before we make a decision,” Aftab said. “We don’t necessarily want to take the lead on this. “
Aftab also shares that as the food industry went through a period of low sales, it was able to hold the interest of its customers by adding additions to its menu. This move has allowed them to achieve a level of stability in their delivery and outdoor dining sales and this is another reason they are not too keen on reopening indoor restaurants at this time.
“We launched poutine – a combination of fries, gravy and squeaky cheese on top,” he says, adding that maintaining a “strong content centric approach” has played a huge role in survival. of their business.
Meanwhile, Scellina Asad’s goal with Texas Chicken is to work on the outdoor dining experience, as that seems like the most viable dining option for them at the moment.
“I’m going to buy some plants and invest in the outdoor dining experience,” she says, adding that the plants will also give guests some privacy and make the area more enjoyable.
And at Junaidi? The pizzeria doesn’t seem to open up to indoor dining either. “Our dining room is already a very small space. I don’t know how 50% of that would work. We have three tables,” says Junaidi.
However, he adds that in catering, you can’t be too rigid. “We will monitor the situation and decide what to do. We could look at what other people are doing.
While many restaurants share these apprehensions, others seemed to have already opened their doors to eat inside.
Waqas Akram, owner of Robert Coffee in Islamabad, says: “Our staff are vaccinated. We have disinfectants available at every table, but we cannot prevent guests from coming inside. “It’s been a year and a half [of the pandemic] and it’s too much now. We can give away free masks and disinfectants, but other than that, no. “
Happy to have been vaccinated, I show up for my breakfast reservation early Sunday morning at a restaurant in Khayaban-e-Seher in Karachi. The waiters are eager to greet people who come in and, without looking me in the eye, they lead me to the nearest table inside. There is an excited buzz all around and people awkwardly take pictures of food after not practicing for over a year and a half. My vaccination card remains in my purse, unchecked, and I bury my apprehensions that I will not be asked for in my order for a pepperoni pizza.