Unlock 1: Bengal’s love for food awaits test as restaurants prepare to open today

Updated on Jun 08, 2020 08:30 AM IST

Some of Kolkata’s famous restaurants are prepared to adapt to the new normal of social distancing as they open amid Covid-19.

At Park Street, Sunday was the busiest day in two months at restaurants.(AFP/Getty Images)
At Park Street, Sunday was the busiest day in two months at restaurants.(AFP/Getty Images)
Hindustan Times, Kolkata | ByTanmay Chatterjee | Edited by Meenakshi Ray

Known for their love for food and kept away from eateries and restaurants for more than two months of lockdown because of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Bengalis will have the option of eating out from Monday.

But as some of Kolkata’s famous restaurants prepared to adapt to the new normal, unanswered questions loomed large over the business because of social distancing norms and people’s concern for safety.

At Park Street, the Mecca for foodies in the state capital of West Bengal, Sunday was the busiest day in two months at restaurants, some of which date back to the British era, though tables were empty.

“We are cleaning our kitchen and the premises. All Covid-19 related safety guidelines will be adhered to. We will operate with half the staff since only 50% tables will be used to ensure social distancing,” Romeo Hansel Bergeon, manager at Peter Cat, one of the oldest continental restaurants in Kolkata, said.

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“We are not reducing our menu but a lot depends on the supply of raw materials. We may not be able to serve a dish or two. The big problem, however, is that most customers will ask for alcohol. The government has not allowed bars to operate,” added Bergeon.

With around a dozen sit-in and takeaway outlets and famous for serving authentic Bengali cuisine for more than two decades, Bhajahari Manna will remain closed for at least a week because the management feels that the safety guidelines are too broad-based.

“We are not talking about selling stationary here. We will serve food and people are going to eat it right there. I will never know if a customer walks in with the coronavirus or walks out with it,” said Siddhartha Bose, one of the managing directors of Bhajahari Manna.

“We will watch how the industry operates and then take a decision. We may have to cut down our business by 50% given the loss we suffered,” Bose added.

Peerless Inn on Jawaharlal Nehru Street will open only its multi-cuisine restaurant on Monday. “We will offer disposable crockery if customers ask for it,” said Asim Chakraborty, the manager.

Known for its biryani and other Mughlai dishes, Aminia will use 50% of its seating capacity. “If customers do not want waiters around we will leave the serving bowls on the table,” said one of the managers.

“In these two months I ordered food a few times from restaurants but I need time to gather enough courage to walk into one,” said Abhisek Dutta, a businessman.

Shopping malls too will be opening on Monday and sanitization operations were on at full scale the day before.

“We are opening our property in Howrah on Monday but will take a week or 10 days to put in place some safety mechanisms at our mall on Elgin Road. This is a new learning experience for us,” Rahul Saraf, the managing director of The Forum Group, said.

“One of the aims is to keep the merchandise protected. Trial rooms will be closed but if a garment does not fit the buyer can always exchange it. The outlets will offer a credit note if the right size is not available,” Saraf said.

State government offices, which now operate with 50% workforce, will have 70% of people from Monday. Private offices, too, can operate from June 8 with managements deciding the size of manpower, said a notification issued by the state government last week.

“However, work from home should be encouraged,” it added.

The lockdown has been extended till June 15 in containment zones but the West Bengal government allowed tea and jute industries, along with medium, small and micro industries and construction activities to start production from June 1 with 100% manpower.

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