With more than 23,000 coronavirus cases in Chennai, it was a sluggish resumption of dining-in at restaurants after over two months of lockdown as only 20 per cent of the 20,000 restaurants in the Tamil Nadu capital opened its doors. The Centre, just days ago, announced easing of lockdown rules in what it called "Unlock1" allowing places of worship, hotels, malls and restaurants to reopen. This comes amid a spike in coronavirus cases with the country recording more than 9,000 cases daily for almost a week now.
In Chennai, restaurants have opened with caution.
A lot has changed at the popular Saravana Bhavan restaurant in Mylapore. Only 50 per cent seating is available to ensure social distancing. The food is served on use-and-throw banana leaves.
Sanitisers are not kept on all tables but a dispenser is installed near the entrance where a security person also checks the temperature of visitors to keep the symptomatic at bay.
"We don't get the usual crowd, but our regular patrons are coming," a restaurant employee tells NDTV.
At the 40-year-old Hotel Maris, the air conditioning is turned off. The restaurant has put up the menu on the wall to avoid contact through regular cards. E-wallet payments have been activated to avoid cash transactions. Waiters are seen wearing masks, hand gloves and head covers. The hotel also has separate entries for take-away and dining.
The hotel says it paid salaries to its employees during the lockdown and adds it was a difficult phase.
"It has been a little challenging for us. But we are not going to dwell on that. We are going to open with all gusto. Hopefully we would revive ourselves and bring everything back to normal," Hari Govind, Joint Managing Director of the hotel says.
A waiter from Tiruchirapalli says though he was paid his salary for the last two months he lost out on tips from customers. Sudhakar says he would have earned Rs 14,000 more in tips.
"I've not yet my paid rent. Our landlord is asking to pay. I've also not paid my children's school fee though the school is asking for it. I don't know how I'd pay," he says.
Some restaurants have however decided to act cautiously and not reopen.
The Oakdeys restaurant is not taking customers for dining-in and is open only for takeaways.
"The spike in numbers is scary. The protocol is difficult too. We want to wait and watch," a restaurant staffer says.
Another restaurant chain proprietor says many employees are stuck in different places outside Chennai and so cannot reopen for dine-in.
"Many of our workers are stuck outstations. With no public transport to Chennai, they are stuck and we are unable to resume dining," he says.
Tamil Nadu's has over 30,000 coronavirus cases and is the second worst-hit in the country after Maharashtra. Triggered by the spike in cases and marginal rise in deaths, many establishments are in fear and are adopting a wait-and-watch approach. Religious places and public transport remains suspended in the state.