Kolkata’s small food biz gets burnt as gas price boils

Food businesses in Kolkata are facing drastic losses and have reduced staff salaries apart from sacking employees due to a hike in commercial gas prices and Covid-induced losses

Kolkata: The current eateries and restaurant businesses are highly dependent on fuel and gas prices. The connection between fuel and natural gas prices and food is systematic — both food and gas prices have fallen or risen in tandem in recent years.

In Kolkata, the cost of one non-domestic gas cylinder had soared over Rs 1,700 in early September.  It came as a double blow to the owners of small restaurants and street-side eateries ever since Covid-19 arrived on the scene. Though the LPG prices have reduced a bit, it is still too heavy on the business owners’ pockets.

Many small restaurants in Kolkata have shut down during the second lockdown, and the ones who just managed barely to withstand the pandemic losses, are now reeling under the pressure of increased fuel prices. A few food joints have also reduced their staff or their monthly payments to keep their businesses afloat.

Earnings barely help to sustain business

Kolkata is heaven for street food eaters. Eateries near stations or offices are mostly frequented by daily commuters and office-goers. But most of them are now complaining about the rising costs of their lunch or dinners.

Sadly, the restaurant owners have been forced to increase the menu price as the cost of commercial gas cylinders increased to over Rs 1,600. “I have bought these cylinders for over Rs 1,600. I have to increase the price of my items,” said the owner of a tiffin stall. He was hesitant to speak on the issue due to unforeseen circumstances and asked DigPu News not to reveal his stall location or take photos.

He has increased the prices of his products from Rs 4 to Rs 6. “I have to increase the prices to earn a sustainable income,” he added. The daily earning has reduced by Rs 100 to Rs 150. “I need to buy two cylinders per month. My daily earnings have dropped to Rs 300,” the food stall owner said.  

Meanwhile, Amod Roy, a tea-seller, said that he bought cylinders for over Rs 1,700 early in September. “I require only one cylinder per month. But the rising gas cylinder prices had cost around 50% of my income,” he said.

Like him, a Chinese food seller also did not increase his prices to bear the losses. “I started using gas cylinders in 2006 and require about two cylinders per month. Though my earnings have reduced drastically, I did not increase product prices,” said Nimai Das, the stall owner.

Gas price hike aggravates Covid-induced losses

Most of the food businesses had to settle for a Covid-induced price rise of raw materials, like vegetables and meat and added transportation costs. Besides, the restaurant owners have also dealt with a lack of customers and travel restrictions.

Icchamotee Restaurant owner Mitasree Chowdhury said that the restaurant is still running in loss due to the pandemic. “The gas price hike adds to the losses due to the pandemic,” she said. She started the business in 2019. Apart from the gas price, the fuel price hike has also raised the raw material prices. “The increased prices of vegetables, fish, and meat due to the hike in pandemic-affected transport costs have added to my bills,” she told Digpu News.

During the breather before the second lockdown, the Kolkata restaurant did not see much business. “People were hesitant to go out and eat. We did not see much response,” she said, adding: “I am running in loss from the beginning. I am just hoping that the situation improves.”

Meanwhile, speaking about the effect of gas price hikes, she mentioned that she had received an electricity bill of Rs 20,000 during the lockdown. “Gas price rise increases our pressure as the sales have dropped post-pandemic. It has raised a question mark on sustaining the business. But the electricity bill gave me a shock,” Mitasree said. Icchamotee Restaurant requires one standard commercial gas cylinder of 19 kg per week. 

Most of her customers are Bangladeshi travellers who come to Kolkata for treatment. “The lack of customers is due to pandemic-related travel restrictions,” Mitasree added. Due to Covid-19, West Bengal- Bangladesh transit is sealed. Therefore, both travelling businesses and restaurants are facing losses.

Reduced salaries of employees

Most of the time, business owners are forced to reduced staff salaries or trim their staff requirements to offset losses. This time also it is not so different.

Amal Pawari, who works at a snacks bar near a South Kolkata metro station, runs the show single-handedly. “We require two cylinders per month. It is difficult to sustain,” he said. He also mentioned due to the increase in operating costs, the owner has reduced his salary. “My salary has been reduced to Rs 12,000 from Rs 15,000 per month,” he said.

Some small business owners are reluctant to bring their entire staff back who had gone home during the lockdown. “There are no customers. Some of my staff who went back home during lockdown did not return,” Mitasree said. Icchamotee currently houses only 7-10 staff, almost three-quarters less than the earlier number of 20-25.

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