Standing guard at the door, R Satya Narayana ushers in customers with his warmth, and directs them to the signboards that say ‘token first’ and ‘please be seated’. The waiters, carrying containers of curry and rice, shuttle around the tables.
For a regular at Andhra Pradesh Bhawan canteen, there is nothing amiss, except the thin crowd during lunch. On any Wednesday afternoon, hungry customers would nudge their way in, throwing pleading glances at Mahesh, who is in-charge of queuing up customers.
But with demonetization draining out the bustle at the canteen, Mahesh has had little to do over the past few weeks.
With a 60 per cent dip in the number of customers, Satya Narayana, the canteen proprietor, is in talks with two banks to get a point of sale (PoS) machine installed in the next 10 days.
“Our business has taken a hit due to demonetization. No one wants to spend cash. Do you see the turnout on a Wednesday afternoon? So far, barely 300 customers have come, and it is almost time to close,” said Rakesh Kumar, who manages the business.
“On a regular Wednesday afternoon, we would get over 500 customers. We have maximum rush during lunch on Wednesdays, Fridays and the weekends. During breakfast and dinner, we have fewer customers but even that has dipped,” he added.
“Most of our customers are tourists or locals who work in the vicinity. The number of tourists has fallen while locals too do not have cash to spare,” Kumar said.
On most days, the canteen has had to turn away customers without cash. “Our regular customers know we love to feed people. Turning customers away is a big thing for us. It breaks our heart. But what does one do?” he added.
Tejinder Singh, who deals in foreign exchange and frequents the canteen, said, “Nowadays, handing out Rs 100 notes feels tough. But where else would you get so much food for Rs 120?”
Samrat Sahoo and Ramakant Senapati, tourists from Odisha, pulled out their last notes to sample the food. “We had heard a lot about this canteen and could not miss it… Now we will look for an ATM,” Sahoo said.