UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak recently unveiled the Eat Out to Help scheme to encourage diners back into restaurants across Britain as the coronavirus lockdown is gradually eased to allow restaurants to open their doors once again to customers.
In the lead up to the half-price discounts on offer under the scheme Monday-Wednesday through August, iGlobal? decided to explore how popular Indian restaurants in the UK are preparing for what is, no doubt, a new normal in the dining-out experience. It is an established fact that the hospitality industry is among the worst hit by the lockdown, with thousands fearing not being able to survive the prolonged shutdown at all. But the enduring popularity of Indian food in the UK may well cushion some of the popular eateries in the long term.
In the first in our Eat Out to Help Out series, we caught up with multi-award-winning Chef Sriram Aylur of the Michelin star Quilon restaurant, at the luxury Taj Buckingham Gate hotel in the heart of London, to talk through his plans to welcome back diners in a Covid-secure environment.
Launched in 1999, Quilon fuses traditional elements of home-style cuisine with a contemporary twist. The restaurant, which put coastal Indian cuisine on the international food-lovers? map, has the distinction of retaining its Michelin-star accolade ever since 2008.
During the Covid-19 crisis, in association with the charity Heroes, the restaurant donated over 900 meals weekly to a variety of hospitals around London to thank National Health Service (NHS) keyworkers for their tireless work through the pandemic.
Stepping out into new territories, Quilon has been operating as a takeaway service since the lockdown rules were implemented in March.
It is something we had not done previously, but as the public was unable to come to our restaurant, we had to find a way to go to them, says Chef Sriram.
While Quilon re-opened its doors on July 9 as per the government guidelines for restaurants, it plans to continue providing takeaway and delivery services to meet the demand in the current scenario. The restaurant will operate only for dinner on weekdays, whilst lunch as well as dinner will be served on weekends.
Chef Sriram explains: We did this, so we can work with the most optimal number of team members, we all have to get used to this new way of life and this allows us the opportunity to get things right as we ease out of lockdown.
It is difficult to make a plan for the next six months as we do not know what will happen next.
He fears that many restaurants will be losing money in the initial phase, rather than making profits. The challenge is to ensure we lose the least amount of money possible and have an operation that can run at its best.
In the long-term, Chef Sriram believes the impact on the Indian food and hospitality industry in the UK will be that of managing the financial burden.
He notes: Whilst we do have the wonderful support from the government, the long-term impact is still very high due to other expenses in question, such as rent.
Businesses will change, in the sense that technology will be utilised more so. The effects of now are going to be faced for some time to come financially and mentally for business owners and operators.
But, meanwhile, let's try and spread the message to safely eat out to help out a much-loved cuisine in the UK.
by Preeti Bali