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Happy new life to us!

After three months of home food, my first dinner experience in a restaurant after Unlock 1.0 was nothing short of surreal

When the country went into lockdown on 25 March, everything around the city of Kolkata was shut down. Life as we knew it came to halt, shops and malls across the city were closed and Kolkata bore the look of a ghost town.

For me, it was very difficult to even survive during the lockdown. Usually, I am not a person who can sit at home for even two days, especially when I am in Kolkata. There are so many things to explore and I waste no time in eating and hopping around the city. Being a foodie, eating at restaurants was something that I sorely missed and longed for them to open.

After 1 June, as the country entered into Unlock 1.0, many businesses began to open and places began to host customers. This was the time, I decided that it is finally time for me to go out and get a good meal for myself. But due to parental warnings, and perhaps because of my own apprehensions, I didn’t step out immediately after the relaxations were announced.

However, my friend’s birthday on 17 June provided the perfect opportunity. Three of us decided to go out to celebrate the occasion. For the entire week or 10 days prior to eating out, we had started chalking out plans as to where we would go and what we would eat. We scrolled through Zomato and checked out all the restaurants in the city. By now we had knowledge of everything restaurants were serving, we had gone through their menus so many times.

But we couldn’t decide where we would go. The excitement for a friendly outing after three months couldn’t be contained and there were frequent back and forth calls and Whatsapp messages sharing menus of different restaurants. We were calculating the prices based on what we would eat, and even checked our budgets. Usually, when we go out there is no such planning, but we were acting like a bunch of school kids going out after exams were finally over.

Finally, it was decided: We would take on a full course dinner buffet at the famous Barbecue Nation. The place seemed decent enough, and we had seen a couple of online videos posted by the restaurant where they described the safety precautions, they would be taking to ensure the safety of guests and staff. Reassured, since the outbreak of Covid-19, the first thing we needed to take care of was hygiene.

We had decided that we would visit their Park Street branch, and like any other day, we thought there was no need for reservations — we’d just go there and find ourselves a table. But just to be on the safe side, I rang up the restaurant, thank god. They said that all their branches in Kolkata were temporarily shut except for the ones at Lake Mall and Saltlake. We decided to visit the Saltlake branch as it was near our home.

Social distancing in restaurants has taken the form of use of alternate tables and PPE kits by staff // Photo: retail4growth.com

I made the reservations, but the restaurant told us to come by 6.30 pm for dinner since they would take the last order at 8 pm, as they had to shut shop before the night curfew kicked in at 9 pm. Dinner at 6.30 was something unimaginable, it’s usually the time for evening tea and snacks. But, like the whole world, we too had to adjust to the new normal. The restaurant confirmed the guest names and asked us to download the Arogya Setu app and perform a health check-up on the app as it was mandatory before entering into the restaurant.

As we reached the restaurant at 6.30 pm on 17 June, the usually bustling place seemed quite empty. Yes, there were groups of people, but most of the tables were empty. The manager asked one of us to come in and confirm the booking with him at the reception. So, we pushed the birthday boy inside since we had made a reservation under his name, while the guard checked our temperatures, noted them down and sprayed sanitiser on our hands.

As we stepped inside, a waiter took us to our table. Adequate measures had been taken and tables next to ours were left empty with a big cross sign on top. It was their way of maintaining social distancing at the restaurant. Next, the tables were sanitised in front of us and a sticker with ‘I am sanitised’ was pasted on it.

The waiters all around the restaurant were wearing masks, gloves and face shields. It felt like we had stepped into some high-security zone and not into a restaurant for a casual dinner. The food, they said, would be served on the table and there was no need for us to go and take it from the counters, because they didn’t want to risk people gathering around the buffet. They sent us a link on our phones, through which we could order the food we wanted from their selection. The order would go straight to the kitchen and we would be served accordingly.

The strangest thing was the complimentary drink with our food. No, it was not some fancy shake or mocktail, but some sort of immunity booster made of honey, lemon, amla and hot water. This, according to the restaurant, is a drink that would prevent the virus from entering our bodies.

However, in spite of all the new rules and regulations, the food served had lost none of its quality. We gorged on a variety of kebabs, biryanis, pastries and ice cream till our hearts were content, and left the place with satisfied minds and tummies.

Yes, the experience at the restaurant was nothing short of surreal. Perhaps this is the new normal that we have to adapt to in a post-Covid world with fewer crowds and stricter hygiene.

(Cover: With unlock being announced life is beginning to shape into a new normal Photo: YouTube)