As malls, restaurants open across India, footfall low amid infection fear

Many cities still have restrictions, some establishments are awaiting guidelines

A mall in Delhi being sanitised by a worker in PPE | AP A mall in Delhi being sanitised by a worker in PPE | AP

After a gap of two months, many shopping malls and quick services restaurants in Delhi-NCR and other major cities opened on Monday, but footfalls were low as people feared infection by the novel coronavirus.

Other shopping malls and restaurants are gearing up to open later this week.

Malls and restaurants were closed due to the nationwide lockdown from March 25. The central government has allowed them to open from Monday. However, there are still restrictions in many cities across various states, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

The malls and QSR chains are stringently following the safety guidelines and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the relevant authorities and are taking extra steps to win the trust of customers.

However, some of them are still facing problems and seeking more clarity from state and district level authorities in order to restart dine-in services and operations.

India's largest realty firm DLF and Pacific group have not yet opened their malls to the public, but the Ambience group and Unity group have resumed operations at malls in the national capital.

In the national capital region, Gurugram, Faridabad and Ghaziabad administrations have not given permission so far for opening the shopping malls.

"We will open our malls in Delhi this week. We are taking all necessary steps and following all guidelines issued by the central and state governments to ensure full safety of visitors," Pushpa Bector, Executive Director, DLF Shopping Malls, said.

Prestige group has opened its 8 malls at Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mangalore, Mysore and Udaipur. However, its one mall in Chennai is yet to be operational.

Ambience Group Chairman Raj Singh Gehlot said the company has opened its two shopping malls at Vasant Kunj and Rohini in Delhi.

Several Quick Service Restaurants has also opened their dine-in services in compliance with the safety guidelines and SOPs issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.

"Following the norms of Unlock 1.0, about 150 of our restaurants have reopened for dine-in in compliance with regulatory directives and per guidance by local authorities," said KFC India Chief Marketing Officer Moksh Chopra.

The QSRs are providing contactless dine-in experience and have even reorganised layouts, reducing seating capacity to maintain social distance.

"When the customers walk into our restaurants, they will be able to enjoy a Contactless Dine-in experience. They can place orders by scanning a QR code and make payments through digital channels, for a completely contactless and cashless experience," said Chopra.

The restaurant designs have been modified to reinforce social distancing, team members are trained according to the new norms and are implementing measures like reduced seating arrangements, demarcated waiting spots in queues, controlled customer inflow, he added.

Pizza Hut said it has also started to offer contactless dine-in across all operational stores, making the entire process digitised - right from accessing the menu via QR to making payments, to assure the customers about their safety.

"Initial hesitation in dining out, will soon be replaced by cautious visits to malls and restaurants, and contactless dine-in will be the centrepiece of futuristic tomorrow for casual dining or quick-service chains," said Pizza Hut India Marketing Director Neha.

McDonald's India North and East—is seeking more clarity over the issue from the local authorities.

"As India begins its Unlock1.0 period and restrictions are being eased, we will be seeking more clarity from both state/district level authorities in order to restart our dine-in services and our dine-in operations will be strictly in line with the guidance provided by the local authorities," said -McDonald's India North and East.

Jubilant FoodWorks, the licensee for Domino's Pizza in India, said it is resuming dine dine-in facility in in permitted zones in a phased manner, in accordance with the guidelines issued by Ministry of Home Affairs and SOP on preventive measures in restaurants to contain the spread of COVID-19 issued by the health ministry.

Under Unlock1.0, the government has eased restrictions and permitted shopping malls and restaurants to open.

Unity group director Harsh Bansal said: "We have opened our two malls at Shahdara and Janakpuri in Delhi. The footfall is 25 per cent compared with the normal time".

Gaurs Group has opened Gaur City Mall at Noida Extension in Greater Noida. Over 1,100 people have visited the mall so far as against the footfall of over 20,000 during the pre-COVID period.

Unity group will open its two malls at Rohini and Dwarka on Wednesday. Pacific group ED Abhishek Bansal said: "We are opening Dwarka mall (Delhi) on Tuesday, Ghaziabad mall on June 11 and Tagore Garden (Delhi) on June 13".

Xander-backed Virtuous Retail has said it will open four malls in Bengaluru, Surat, Mohali and Amritsar from Tuesday.

"Chennai and Nagpur are not allowed to open as Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have not allowed malls to open," said Pankaj Renjhen, COO, Virtuous Retail.

To ensure the safety of people visiting shopping malls, all mall owners said that they are following all the necessary standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the Union Health Ministry and state governments.

Mall owners said they will ensure social distancing in their malls, including in lifts and escalators.

Temperature checks at mall entrances and the use of Aarogya Setu App will be made mandatory for consumers to enter malls.

"We are setting up all the necessary protocols to maintain the 6 feet social distancing norms. Our F&B brands will reduce seating arrangements to 50 per cent and will strictly follow the social distancing guidelines. They will be accepting pre-orders, takeaways and digital mode of payments," Bector of DLF said.

On request for rental waivers, mall owners said they are working with retailers and solutions will emerge amicably.