Where will you be as the clock strikes 12 to usher in a New Year? That was the question doing endless rounds on Thursday with the sudden announcement of a night curfew in the city throwing many plans into disarray for those celebrating outside their homes and for hotels and restaurants deluged by cancellations.
While those in the hospitality industry scurried to understand the fine print of the Delhi government's decision and what it would mean for establishments that had accepted bookings and were in all readiness for a New Year bash, some party goers cancelled their plans and others hastily tweaked them. For many others, it was going to be an at-home New Year's Eve anyway.
Night curfew will be imposed from 11pm on December 31 to 6am on January 1, and again from 11pm on January 1 to 6am on January 2, said the order issued on Wednesday by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) in view of the spread of COVID-19 and its highly transmissible UK strain.
It also stated that not more than five people will be allowed to assemble at public places. "You can't party with friends and family with all these restrictions I was planning to go out with friends, but after the night curfew my parents have asked me to drop the idea. I will now be home,” said 26-year-old Nipun Malhotra, a businessman by profession.
There were many more like Malhotra and hotels and restaurants, big and small, said they received many calls cancelling their pre-bookings even though there was really no need to. Several establishments, hoping for a turnaround after almost 10 months of little or no business, said they told people the restrictions imposed were for "public places" — which includes parks, atriums or any open space — and not "licensed premises".
But confusion persisted and many customers, anxious to avoid trouble and nervous about getting caught on their way back home, cancelled anyway.
"The order majorly asks us — the restaurants — to not host more than 50 per cent of our capacity for New Year celebration. Now, this is what we were already doing. All other restrictions are for public spaces,” said Rahul Sarin, owner of Dineroom and Teo Lounge.
"But people watching news channels running stories like 'No New Year Celebration for Delhi' after night curfew and things are getting it wrong. This has impacted our business as I am getting several calls for booking cancellation," he said.
Delhi Police PRO Eish Singhal gave out the same message. "Licensed premises have been exempted from this, they can continue to operate with their license condition, including half the seating capacity and other COVID-19 protocols, Singhal said.
Some like Rohit Kochhar, owner of the Fly Bar restaurant in Rajouri Garden, blamed the government for its eleventh-hour decision.
"Delhi New Year celebrations have been cancelled at the last moment. We have made all the arrangements be it food, labour and bookings. Why was this not announced couple of days back?" he asked. Several five-star hotels had also made big plans big for New Year's Eve in the hope of finally seeing people back in their restaurants and bars, offering curated cocktails and menus and special staycation packages.
The Hilton Garden Inn, Saket, for instance, which was offering a stay for two, along with a full-fledged festive treat, at a discounted price of Rs 12,500 said many non-resident' guests had cancelled.
"We do see an impact on footfall post curfew guidelines as many non-resident guests have cancelled their plans. A few in-house guests might choose to celebrate in rooms or at our 'India Grill restaurant'," said Shyam Kumar, director of operations at the hotel.
The ITC, Maurya, New Delhi, was giving an array of offers for the festive meal, including a special 'midnight buffet' from 12.30am to 3am. But that probably stands cancelled and senior staffers said they are still discussing the order with authorities concerned and would abide by all guidelines imposed by the government.
But curfew or no curfew, coronavirus or no coronavirus, there will be enough people wanting to bring the New Year and will party come what may, said Ricky Sethi, co-founder of Talli Station. Sethi is optimistic of the very tribe showing up this time too and saving the day for the food industry.
"People are smart enough and they would do what it takes to celebrate New Year. So what many have done after this night curfew coming into play is that they have tweaked their timings.
"Like, a senior police official who was coming to our place with his family at 8 pm before, called me and said he will come at 6 pm now. What I mean is that: People, who were willing to come earlier, might end up tweaking the plan now but will stick to it," said Sethi, who has four outlets in the capital.
Many states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, have also imposed renewed restrictions ahead of the New Year celebrations to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. According to Public App, one of India's largest location-based social network, "78.82 per cent" — out of over one lakh Delhi residents surveyed — said they would prefer celebrating New Year at home over any hotel or restaurant.