Valley restaurants reopen for dine-in services despite prohibitory orderRestaurants need money to pay loans, and workers are also pressuring them to loosen up, insiders say.
Tired of waiting for the government to make up its mind, several restaurants in Kathmandu Valley have resumed dine-in service despite orders to provide only take-away service as part of Covid restrictions. Other eateries may follow suit, industry insiders say.
The latest prohibitory order issued by the District Administration Office says restaurants, fast food outlets and other eating places can provide take-away and home delivery services till 7 pm. But from last week, many restaurants started dine-in service too because they needed the money with loan repayments coming due, and their employees were also pressuring them to loosen up, said those in the know.
From Jhamel to Patan and from Thamel to Maharajgunj, most restaurants seem to be offering dine-in service, but there are few guests, according to observers.
Restaurants are not included in the list of businesses permitted to open under the existing prohibitory order, but since it is not clearly stated whether they can open or not, several restaurants began allowing on-premise dining, said Araniko Rajbhandari, president of the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal.
“This is due to pressure from the workers as restaurants employ tens of thousands of people across the country.”
According to an analytical study on tourism released by the Central Bureau of Statistics, Nepal’s tourism industry provides 371,140 jobs.
Out of them, the number of people engaged in restaurants and mobile food service activities is 243,790, or 65.7 percent.
Rajbhandari said banks were also starting to remind borrowers to pay their loan instalments on time while restaurants operating out of rented premises were facing pressure to pay their landlords.
Rajbhandari owns ND’s Café and Restaurant at Mahabouddha, which started dine-in service recently. “We have reopened for dine-in service by following health protocols. Shops and public vehicles have started operating again,” he said.
“Hotels have received relief packages from the government, but restaurants never came into the picture for the government. I have not been informed formally how many restaurants have reopened dine-in service as most of them are still only operating take-away service. But looking around the city, some restaurants have gradually started dine-in service,” Rajbhandari said.
However, customer flow in the restaurants is comparatively low. Rather than coming with friends and family for recreational purposes, customers who are out due to different work purposes are coming to eat and leaving fast, he said.
With restaurants having remained closed for a long time, they needed working capital to get back into business, so the association took the initiative to negotiate an agreement with Jyoti Bikas Bank to provide collateral-free loans of up to Rs1.5 million each to member-establishments of the Restaurant and Bar Association of Nepal.
"The provision will be implemented from the upcoming fiscal year 2021-22," Rajbhandari said.
“We are very disappointed with the government,” said Anna Maria Forgione, managing director of Fire and Ice Pizzeria. According to Forgione, Fire and Ice has been focused only on delivery and takeaway services. “We’ve only recently started allowing 1-2 families with children to dine in. Yet, we have been constantly monitored by the police in the last few weeks.”
“Roads in the Valley are full of traffic. I have no idea behind the government's logic to shut down dine-in services,” she said.
Pramod Jaiswal, owner of Mela Restaurant, said they were operating take-away service. “The government has not provided any clear guidelines on operating restaurants, so what if the police administration takes action?” he said. "Government policy is confusing as it has allowed hotels to operate but not restaurants."