Restaurant operators need to strike a balance between revenue maximisation and welfare maximisation
The recent Mumbai rooftop restaurant fire tragedy that left 14 people dead is not the first avoidable tragedy in the nation’s restaurant circuit. The main cause of the accident was the near absence of emergency escape routes, in complete defiance of safety regulations. When will safety be on main course of India’s restaurants? Namrata Kohli speaks to Rahul Singh, President, National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI)
Fire safety norms are being flouted by majority of the restaurants in India. What guidelines are you setting for NRAI members to follow as an immediate step?
Two thirds of our vast industry remains unorganised and susceptible to flouting norms. As the investment entry barrier for setting up stand-alone restaurant or pubs is rather low and seen glamorous in nature, we have witnessed scores of fly by night operators enter the sector.
NRAI membership comes with the pre-condition of restaurants providing a copy of their license to operate. NRAI will add further facets to this repository by taking copies of Food and Fire safety licenses from all current member databases. The chains follow the highest standard of com- pliance and governance, and we will be sharing their best practices for others to follow.
Mumbai fire incident reiterates the need for better infrastructure at restaurants and pubs throughout the country. What are the few quick takeaways from the episode?
As cities turn into mega cities, eateries are bound to mushroom as they are catering to public demand. What’s going wrong is either the law is being flouted or the law is not been amended as cities develop. The stakeholders need to be well aware of the norms and also the consequences of not following them. Sealing of restaurants won’t help. Taking care of public safety should be the goal.
The rules are all there but implementation is weak. But at stake are lives of all staff and clients. You have spoken about selfregulation but at the level of NRAI, what kind of penalty does NRAI propose to implement for noncompliance?
Apart from the safety of guests and staff, fire prevention is also essential to protect the economic interests of the restaurant business. This process therefore happens before the fire even ignites. One of the most effective tools for fire prevention is an external inspection. Only a state or city appointed fire department can conduct a statutory audit, however NRAI will engage with external agencies for periodic checks. While the fire norms will vary from state to state, there are some elements that would be common. The association cannot levy any financial penalty, but will certainly de-list the member for non-compliance.
What is your word of advice to restaurant owners who do not let go of an extra square foot, and create extra seating at the cost of security? How should they strike a balance profitability and safety of their premises and the clientele?
Need for responsible citizenry that doesn’t see the regulations as a nuisance, but sees it as safety and security of people and property. Flouting norms is not a mark of bra- vado but a crime, an act that endangers people. Restaurant operators need to strike a balance between revenue maximisation and welfare maximisation. They need to understand that an aware consumer will start weeding the grass and steer towards legit entities.
In the aftermath of the Mumbai rooftop fire outbreak episode, the perception is that most pubs and restaurants at rooftops or even hirises are unsafe. What is your view?
Restaurants by their essentiality of open flames in kitchen, hot equipment, electrical connections, cooking oils, cleaning chemicals, paper product and furniture have all the ingredients for a fire to flame out of control. Fire Protection deals with prevention of fire, while Fire Fighting deals with cure in case of fire.
Poor Fire Protection leads to necessity of Fire Fighting service. One cannot exist without the other.
A rooftop or high-rise is equally at risk of fire as a ground floor restaurant, however the infrastructure metrics are different and thereby the norms too. Legitimate restaurants across the world are situated over rooftops, hotels and tall buildings. In fact, the tallest point of the highest buildings in the world is usually an eatery.