Following an extended “weekend,” restaurant owners seeking to restock their alcohol inventory visited the excise portal. To the surprise of many smaller establishments, there were no brands listed for purchase. It soon became apparent that this issue stemmed from the expiration of wholesale liquor licenses. By the time suppliers temporarily halted sales to renew their licenses, the restaurants that ordered in bulk had already purchased whatever was accessible, anticipating a lengthy renewal process that would result in a shortage of liquor in the city.
Following the withdrawal of the controversial new excise policy, the previous policy was reinstated in March for a six-month period. During this time, the Delhi government was expected to develop a new policy for 2023-24. However, as September came to a close, no new policy had been announced, and the excise department declared that L1, L1F, and L2 wholesale licenses needed to be renewed starting from October 1. Consequently, the wholesale alcohol business came to a standstill.
As a single outlet owner complained, “The government circular and intimation from alcohol brands reached only the big buyers, those that procure liquor in bulk. But small bars like ours, which do not buy in bulk since we do not have storage capacity, were unaware of this and now we are in a quandary.”
A liquor supplier asserted that they had sent a notification to all establishments, regardless of their size, informing them about the need to renew their liquor licenses. They advised restaurants to promptly place their orders, as there would be a disruption in supplies for a minimum of 20 days. This disruption was anticipated because both the supply vendors and the liquor brands were in the process of renewing their registrations with the government.
Navdeep Singh Sethi, the proprietor of Klap and Khi Khi, felt relieved that he had proactively ordered his stocks in advance. This was because the limited brands currently available for ordering did not align with the ones he typically offers at his establishments. He mentioned that despite this challenge, he had prepared a new cocktail menu for his restaurants and assured that the customer experience would remain unaffected.
Numerous bar operators were optimistic that the renewal of licenses and the registration of brands would be finalized in the coming weeks. With October marking the beginning of festive consumption, any delay in the wholesale availability of liquor would have a negative impact on their businesses, particularly affecting small bars. They emphasized that Delhi already faced a disadvantage due to the limited availability of certain globally renowned liquor brands, and such a hiccup would further hinder the prospects of these bars.
Manpreet Singh, who owns Zen restaurant and serves as the treasurer of the National Restaurants’ Association of India, expressed his hope for a transition from the current annual license renewal system to a more streamlined automatic renewal process for existing brands. Another restaurateur added that given the scarcity of many popular brands and high-quality whiskeys and tequilas in the city, the primary desire of businesses was to ensure an uninterrupted supply of their existing brands.