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Niraj Kumar Sinha: Banqueting landscape in India post the Covid crisis

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Niraj Kumar Sinha, GM, The Grand Bhagwati Ahmedabad writes on the impact of the pandemic on the banqueting space in India and a way out for the segment post this crisis

Let’s accept it that the days ahead are not so good for the banqueting as a whole for any organisation. The most and first to get affected would be cruise liners banqueting and then the closed-walled area banqueting, and later the banquet/party lawns, in the view of maintaining social distancing and practicing better hygiene. The world will change post this Covid-19 crisis in the way banqueting would happen and function and, it would continue further where the exact period of full-fledged opening cannot be detailed at present. No one can say until when we would be in a safe zone to open everything completely as we desire.

Let’s also accept that our industry as a whole (hospitality industry) where banqueting is an important division that employs the maximum number of workforce. It is in the form of a direct, indirect, subsidiary, or helping staff. In the present scenario, it’s like there would be more avenues or supply than the actual demand requirement. Then there would be small players who might have to wrap up things. Everyone would be looking for their own share from the market.

The Centre may put up restrictions for gatherings and hence there would be lesser number of people gathering at one place, which would again adversely impact the banqueting business for quite some time. I suppose it would be more of a closed relationship affair at any function wherein it would be just the limited invitees and not as it used to be earlier like in masses. People might look for more of court marriages than a lavish function at a hotel banquet room /lawn. A destination wedding would be totally off the cards for many, as there would be strict travel restrictions in the current scenario for at least some time moving forward. There would be limited service staff personal and it would be just the bare necessity essential at the floor, not as it used to be like VVIP waiter, butler service or additional PRO service at the table.

Owners also would be forced to cut costs at all front and the lavish decor would be more of a simple format; the menu also will be trimmed to suit the budget of the guest, considering the money crunch for the function. The rates would be down and competition would be high. Every hotel banqueting and catering company is looking for reduced inventory, reduced manpower, etc. Great innovation would be in demand wherein people have to work to see that the business keeps on ticking until it grows to the desired full-scale momentum, even under restrictions. One problem that also would incur in the coming time is that there will be a huge demand for a refund of earlier bookings as guests do not see things improve to their requirements and want to cancel the bookings. I suppose every owner sees this as a grey line for the time being.

One needs to explore the ways and means wherein technology can be used at our assistance. The call is for the need of technological evolution. For example, we can do away with physical menus and instead promote digital menus accessible with QR codes to ensure contactless access to the menu hence ticking the box of hygiene. Moreover, automatic food carriage trolleys for buffet and well-covered buffet setup to be done. One important thing that would be coming for all would be no credit policy. Few still practice it, but majorly who never used to practice and gave the bill to the company or relied on pay-later options would have to go, in order to overcome the cash flow crunch and hence maintain liquidity.

There would be a change in the security considering the present scenario. Earlier too, when a crisis happened, the hospitality players installed metal detectors, started checking the vehicles entering the premise, and then the luggage scanning, etc, at their hotels. But, now there would be things in additions like – the staff serving would be welcoming the guests with covered mask and disposable gloves, hand sanitisers thermal body scanners, before moving to anything else.

We would have much more trained customers who understand hygiene and would demand it. Further, guests would be cautioned that they must maintain distance and the same for the waiters while servicing. Every person would be sanitised be it guest, host or the servers. The hotel may also vouch on an undertaking mandated for the host ensuring that all the attendees are fit and safe and have not met with any COVID-19 positive case person in recent times, etc. These guidelines can come into play by the Centre to ensure business post the crisis.

I am sure we as an industry would bounce back with a bang when our loyal customers regain faith that everything is fine now, given that hotels maintain high quality of hygiene and safety. There would be more clarity all around, and the preference would be given to those who earlier also had proved themselves for the quality and cleanliness.

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