THE RESURRECTION OF HYDERABAD’S RESTAURANTS

A lmost six months of having been closed, Hyderabad’s several watering holes and eateries are slowly coming back to life. It’s not been an easy few months. The lockdown almost crippled our city’s F&B industry. Several hundreds, if not thousands, found themselves jobless, victims of the virus. Many left the city and returned to their hometowns. Migrant workers migrated away in large droves, and this changed the employee-scape of the city, maybe irrevocably. When the government announced, last week, that they would be lifting restrictions on bars, there was a collective ‘hurrah,’ that could be heard from restauranteurs and hoteliers alike. Bar owners, whose expensive liquor licenses had been suspended for nearly half a year, rubbed their hands together with glee. There was finally some hope on the horizon.

When businesses were allowed to open up back in June, people thought it was a sure sign that life as we knew it would return to some degree of normalcy. But try as much as F&B entrepreneurs could, the market for eating out, hotel guests and other business just didn’t materialize. Several of the city’s top hotels are still closed as a consequence. While others opened their doors, they saw that there was just too little business to be entertained. Two, maybe three rooms a day, hardly the sort of business an entire hotel can sustain its army of staff, giant electricity bill and other overheads on. Some were agile, offering Swiggy deliveries, online ordering, and catering services, even severely discounted rates. Others chose to brave out the storm and plain shut shop, employees were told they were on leave without pay, their giant gates were locked shut, and the AC plants shut down. This is pure hell for the maintenance of a hotel or restaurant, which once closed begins to slump rather quickly. Walls get damp; carpets begin to develop a rather peculiar odour, rodent and insect infestations start to take shape. The time and effort it takes to bring things back to normal is gargantuan.

Many business hotels around the city even went into survival mode, offering rooms for COVID positive patients, under the supervision of local hospitals and clinics. Some offered rooms for quarantining purposes for travellers coming back to the city. Food was left in trays outside guest’s rooms, housekeeping measures for daily turndown services etc. went out the window. Packages ranged from Rs 2,000 to Rs 15,000 a day for quarantiners. This market lasted for a good two months before it too vaporized. Hyderabadi’s came to terms with the virus, almost everyone today knows someone in his or her circle who has had the dreaded, deadly flu and lived to tell the tale. Others have not been as lucky, having lost people near and dear to COVID. Whatever the statistics, the fear of the unknown is now no longer lingering in the air. Instead, it’s been replaced by an understanding of the situation, thanks to having seen it first hand and survived.

Having lived through the worst, people are slowly emerging, venturing out and partaking in merriment. A drive down to the Ice Cream district (as I like to call it) or Banjara Hills’ Road Number 2, heading to Jubilee Hills’ Road Number 36, and one can see cars parked with ravenous Hyderabadi’s wanting their favourite gelato or exotic ice cream. Drive-ins are brimming with action, till the wee hours of the morning, serving up Butter Chicken and Chicken 65 faster than they had even pre-lockdown. Independent restaurants too, are coming out of hibernation. Sanctuary, a newly opened eatery and bar, was particularly popular with many of our city’s youngsters, several of them raving about its fusion food. ITC Kohenur and ITC Kakatiya were probably the market leaders when it came to serving, with all possible precautions, their guests during the lockdown.

Measures ranging from 100 degree heated plates, prepackaged and sanitized cutlery, masked and shielded staff, to ample bottles of hand sanitizer made them the favourite of foodies wanting to risk it and indulge in some good old gourmet dining.

With liquor now back on the menu, we can already see things changing. Fellas want to down some beers and whiskeys while watching the IPL with their pals; ladies want to head out and down a couple of glasses of Rosé with their girlfriends. Sure, there’s still some resistance. Do we go out or not, is very much a question every Hyderabadi is asking themselves, but in the face of unimaginable boredom and having experienced nearly half a year of isolation, people want to in general head out and regain their social skills.

Will this mean the return of Hyderabad’s nightlife? Will people want to dance and drink until the morning? How will the cops enforce drinking and driving checks? Blowing on a breathalyzer is a clear cut way of transmitting the virus. These are the questions everyone is asking themselves right now. The answer to which is pretty simple… if you’ve got a loved one at risk, if you’ve not gone through the illness yourself, if you feel you’re at particular risk due to a preexisting condition, then just stay at home. If not, put on your masks, carry some sanitizer and by all means, head out and enjoy your favourite eatery or bar.       –         Vishwaveer