Covid-19 restrictions alter eating-out timings in Calcutta

The restricted timings for diners at restaurants have changed the way Calcuttans eat out. 

The restaurants are allowed to serve diners from noon to 8pm at a 50 per cent guest capacity. At most places, the last orders are being taken between 7pm and 7.15pm.

From an old favourite on Park Street to a glitzy new place inside a mall, the post-lunch period used to be a lean time for most restaurants. But not anymore. Early dinner is in vogue. So is “pregaming” (the practice of having a light drink before attending a social event), followed by takeaway. Groups of friends who used to book tables late in the evening at their favourite joints are now meeting over lunch.

A string of eateries dotting Purna Das Road, Sarat Bose Road and Hindusthan Park have been buzzing with diners almost throughout the day. The 4pm-8pm slot is the busiest, said owners of the coffee shops and restaurants.

A low-down on how Calcuttans are eating out.

Diners at Wise Owl around 6.30pm on Friday

Many people are going to their favourite restaurants to order a drink or two, have some quick bites before getting the main course packed. The pregaming at the restaurant is like a prelude to a house party.

Around 7.30pm on Friday, a group of three friends was leaving Trinca’s, each carrying a bag of food. 

“This is our favourite hangout. We had a round of drinks before ordering food. We asked for one starter at the table and then got the other items packed. We had another round of drinks with the starter before leaving,” said Diptangshu Mukherjee, 39, one of the three.

The group was headed to Mukherjee’s home off CIT Road in Moulali, where two other friends would drop in.

Siddhika Ghose Chaudhuri, the owner of Wise Owl, a café on Purna Das Road, has had a substantial rise in takeaways since the restricted timings came into force.

“It is difficult to quantify but there has been a jump of around 20 per cent in takeaways,” she said.

“Patrons are arriving early in the evening, ordering some beverages with chicken fingers wrapped in bacon or Caesar salad. They are getting a chicken stroganoff packed for dinner,” she said.

The trend was more pronounced on weekends, said Ghose Chaudhuri.

Kabir Azhar, director of Aminia Restaurants, said that before the fresh curbs were imposed in May, online aggregators made up nearly 70 per cent of the sales. 

“Takeaway by diners now make up 20 per cent of the total share. The share of online aggregators has come down to 50 per cent,” he said.

The group from Alipore in front of Bar-B-Q. (From right) Rishi Tandon, his mother Puja, sister Radhika and her friend Martin Andries

Around 6.45pm on Friday, some 10 tables at Flavours of China, part of the Bar-B-Q restaurant on Park Street, were occupied. Mocambo was also buzzing with patrons.

A group of four from Alipore was among those eating at Bar-B-Q. “Today is my husband’s birthday. He is no more. But this used to be his favourite restaurant. We came here after a long time,” said Puja Tandon, who had come with her son, daughter and a friend of her daughter.

“If eating out means eating out early, so be it,” said Rishi, her son.

Puja’s daughter Radhika studies BBA in Paris. An internship stint with an NGO has brought her to her hometown. She was accompanied by a friend from Paris, Martin Andries. 

“I have a high level of spice tolerance. I tasted Indian Chinese for the first time and loved it,” said Andries.

“Indians usually don’t get hungry before 8.30pm-9pm. But these are unprecedented times and people adapt. We have been getting a good lot of early diners, especially on weekends,” said Nitin Kothari, the owner of Mocambo and Peter Cat.

On weekends, often there is no gap between lunch and dinner rush, he said.

Anjan Chatterjee, veteran restaurateur, described as “rudimentary” the urge to eat out and socialise. “Man is a social animal. He needs to satiate that rudimentary need. He will adapt in whichever way possible to do that,” Chatterjee said of the change in eating-out habits.

His standalone restaurants as well as those in malls have been busy during what earlier used to be an interval between lunch and dinner.

Young people who would earlier meet over drinks and dinner are now meeting over lunch, said restaurateurs.

“A young group usually spends more time on a table. With the curbs, it is difficult to find three hours in the evening window. So, the young people are catching up mostly over lunch, usually over weekends,” said Pratap Daryanani, the owner of Oasis on Park Street.

He had three tables booked for lunch on Saturday, for different groups aged under 40, Daryanani told this newspaper on Friday evening.

Anand Puri, the owner of Trinca’s, spoke in the same vein.

“Family crowds or elders make up a sizable section of early diners. The lunch crowd, on the other hand, has been witnessing a lot of young faces,” he said.

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