Bars, Pubs Fear the Worst of Times Post Easing of Lockdown
For Priyanshu Borgohain (name changed), who had recently opened a new bar in Guwahati and was looking forward to a rewarding business enterprise, the lockdown came as an utter shock.
“I launched this new project just last December. It was a completely new venture for me. But just when the bar was launched the CAA protests took place. Business practically stopped for the month. I had lots of plans for a big launch, but ...,” Borgohain ruefully stopped midway through his sentence.
His voice over the phone clearly spoke of all the worrying uncertainties clouding his future.
He continued after a brief halt, “I have invested around Rs 90 lakhs in this venture. And what do I finally have? You could say we started off properly only in January last. Again, before we got to complete three months we had to close the business. We didn’t even get a chance to set foot in the market properly.”
For businessmen like Priyanshu, the lockdown was a major setback. They have loads of bills to pay, be it EMIs, rent or salaries to staff among others.
“I put in a lot of effort to select a good team. Some are from Guwahati but most are from outside the city; in fact the cooks are from different states. Now I am providing for their stay and food even without a rupee’s sale. It’s not like I had saved enough from earlier profits. We did not even get to start, frankly speaking,” said a virtually devastated Borgohain.
Like him, there are many others entrepreneurs, many of them first generation. The lockdown has not only brought onto them a huge financial hit but has also been a massive de-motivating factor.
The current scenario in the city of Guwahati indicates that bars and lounges would probably be the last ones that will be permitted to open. And there is no certainty about this happening during 2020. Even then, the question of social-distancing would remain.
Vikrant Agarwal (name changed), the manager of a thriving lounge in the city said, “Well, losses are 100 percent as we are completely shut. We used to earn well from the bar and did good sales during private parties, DJ nights, seasonal parties and other such occasions that we used to organise. The floor was usually tightly packed as these occasions demanded a standing crowd. This also means that it was completely packed. That won’t be possible anytime soon.”
“The government might allow the opening of restaurants but I don’t think bars and parties will be permitted. Even if it is eventually permitted I doubt people will be too eager to come,” he said.
Both Borgohain and Agarwal agree that the effect of the pandemic cannot be speculated as of now. Initially, just after the lockdown, people might choose to come out after having stayed locked up for over a month. But the question of practicing social distancing will constantly haunt them.
People usually visit bars and lounges for the ambience, to get together with friends over a couple of drinks. Will that be possible maintaining social-distancing? How do you chat and enjoy with friends from afar?
Borgohain said, “If social distancing is to be considered, then I think the best option would be to enjoy at home. Considering the awareness amongst people, chances are more that they will choose to enjoy at home with a couple of friends. The booze can be bought from wine shops. So you get to enjoy and also maintain social-distancing. And if that is to happen then there will be no point of us reopening our outlets.”
Agarwal added that the lounge he works in has over 52 employees working in shifts round the clock. “Now, neither are so many of them required nor is there any possibility of operating like earlier. Yet they can’t be laid-off.”
After the lockdown is lifted, the wine shops will definitely be permitted to open. Given the sheer demand for alcoholic beverages among Guwahatians and their non-availability during the lockdown period, alcohol sales are sure to rise. However, the functioning of bars and lounges cannot be predicted.
A young Guwahatian who often visited the bar earlier said, “I don’t mind going as soon as the bars open. But I go along with four or five of my friends. I am not sure if they would like to join me any more.
What does he think of social-distancing in bars?
“It’s an irrelevant equation. How can you party maintaining social distancing? It is better to drink outside, may be at a friend’s place or somewhere private,” he added.
Mohit Singh, a businessman in his late 50s said, “I used to frequent bars for business meetings and with friends as well. As I am in the vulnerable age group and can contract the virus easily, it would be better for me to stay away from public places even after the lockdown is lifted, most probably till a vaccine is found.”
Most Guwahatians don’t seem to trust the hygiene regimen of bars and restaurants. Some others believe it is a good opportunity to break free of a regular drinking habit and spending thousands of rupees in the bar.
As such, the possibilities of sales in bars in the coming months look quite bleak.