Unlock 4: Bars look forward to resuming services

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According to Mint, the central government on Saturday kept bars out of the list of places and activities that remain prohibited in the fourth phase of India’s unlock guidelines, allowing them to resume operations.

However, states will have the discretion on issuing guidelines, permitting bars to commence operations and serve liquor in the premises.

The government has also eased the ban on consumption of liquor, paan and tobacco in public places under Unlock 4.

Anurag Katriar, president, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), said the move is significant given that bars that were specifically on the restriction list earlier are not there now.

“Clearly, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has allowed the sector to open up completely barring the capacity restriction. Now let’s wait for the states to announce their guidelines. Clearly, a very significant move by MHA,” he said.

However, Katriar added that while the MHA order enable states to take a call on opening up of bars, states can still impose restrictions depending on their local conditions and cases.

Restaurant owners Mint spoke to said they are awaiting state-specific guidelines before reopening their bars and resuming alcohol service. “Bars basically means a place where you serve liquor, but it still comes with the earlier SOPs given by the ministry of health and family welfare for opening up of restaurants and hospitality services,” said Rahul Singh who runs The Beer Cafe chain of resto-bars across the country. The chain’s 36 outlets have remained shut since India imposed the lockdown starting late March.

Singh said over the next few weeks, with license fees (for a liquor license) being paid up, the outlets will gradually reopen as per state guidelines. “We have already paid up in Haryana, Delhi we are hoping will happen soon,” said Singh.

The move will bring relief for the country’s restaurants and dining out market that have been under severe financial stress as businesses remained shuttered. In a May report, Crisil Research estimated that India’s organised dine-in restaurants are expected to report a 40-50% dip in revenue during this fiscal due to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Even as restaurants gradually resumed service, welcoming only a handful of diners and employing the the requisite social distancing norms which include capping seating capacity at half and other safety measures, the restriction on serving alcohol had resulted in lower ticket size.

“So the bars do not figure in the prohibition list anymore. The only thing we can all assume is that it should be business as normal (with the right social distancing measures)—but we should be able to serve liquor in restaurants. But we’ll have to wait for the state government to issue guidelines,” said Sibi Venkataraju, director and co-founder, pH4 Food & Beverages.

Venkataraju, who oversees business across the popular Toit Brewpub and The Permit Room, in Bengaluru said resumption of liquor service on tables could help the brewery generate 2-2.5 times more sales per order. However, Venkataraju did not give a date as to when the food services company would resume serving liquor indoors.

Venkataraju added that the brewery will ensure social distancing norms, i.e not having seating at the bar, and ensure most customers sit and not stand or crowd the floor.

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