People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai

Zhu Shenshen Zhu Yuting Zhou Anna
People flock to restaurants for morning tea, birthday celebration, reunion of sorts and, for some, fine-dining Japanese food as dine-in services are finally restored in Shanghai.
Zhu Shenshen Zhu Yuting Zhou Anna

Shot by Zhou Shengjie and Yan Jingyang. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Subtitles by Wang Xinzhou.

People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Old friends enjoy their moment together at Sunya Restaurant in Shanghai.

People flocked to restaurants – as well as bars and cafes – for morning tea, birthday celebration, reunion of sorts and – for some – fine-dining Japanese food on Wednesday, when dine-in services were finally restored in Shanghai after a long hiatus.

Following a two-month COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and then takeaway-only service, guests were excited and happy to socialize with each other and take a familiar or fresh bite at restaurants.

The pandemic-affected catering industry welcomed the long-awaited reopening and was fully prepared for it with strict pandemic control requirements.

Morning tea

At Sunya Restaurant, a famous Cantonese restaurant located on downtown Nanjing Road E., old customers came to take a familiar bite in the morning.

"Sunya is one of my favorite restaurants," said a local woman, who came to enjoy a morning-tea moment with her husband. The couple are loyal customers of the restaurant.

"We planned our visit as soon as we heard that indoor dining curbs will be lifted," she told Shanghai Daily. "We came here at 7:10am to line up, 20 minutes ahead of opening time."

Some people came to spend time with old friends.

"We called Sunya to book a table on knowing that eating in is allowed," said a Shanghai ayi (aunt) surnamed Zhang, who came with some of her friends.

People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai
Zhu Shenshen / SHINE

Friends gather at a Haidilao hotpot restaurant to celebrate a birthday.

Hotpot lunch

Haidilao, China's biggest hotpot restaurant chain, reopened 40 outlets on Wednesday, with more to open "within days."

Around 10 minutes after 12:00pm, more than a dozen people scanned the pandemic control code and venue code to enter a Haidilao outlet near Yuyuan Garden in downtown Huangpu District. Some were celebrating a birthday.

Reservations and seating was 20 to 30 percent higher than pre-pandemic level, according to Cheng Wei, chief of the eatery, who strongly recommended prior reservation instead of walk-in.

Wang and his girlfriend Liu, two university graduates, chose Haidilao as their first sit-in meal in a restaurant after cooking for themselves or ordering take-away food for several months.

"We love shrimp slip and Haidilao's unique tomato pot. We did consider ordering a take-away hotpot but decided against it due to its complexity," Wang said.

People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Two Frenchmen enjoy lunch at an Italian restaurant.

Cafes and small business owners

On Beijing Road W., people enjoyed cozy moments with friends inside cafes.

However, some coffee shops were only providing takeaway service.

"We will resume indoor service only after getting an approval notice from the company," said a man in charge of a coffee shop in Jing'an District, which still only serves takeaways.

For owners of some small restaurants, such as ramen and wonton shops, the resumption of indoor dining is great news because it means more customers and, therefore, more income.

"I have been in Shanghai for decades and run a ramen chophouse, which has been open for more than ten years," said an owner surnamed Meng, whose restaurant is located on Pingxingguan Road in downtown Jing'an District.

"During the lockdown period, the restaurant was closed for 75 days. We resumed takeaway service on June 3, but our earnings were only about 40 percent of normal."

On Tuesday night, Meng and his wife made full preparation for offering indoor service to customers.

People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai
Zhou Shengjie / SHINE

Xu Peinan, owner of the Chaoshan restaurant "Caogen Yedang", and his staff prepare food in the back kitchen.

On Yongkang Road, which is often crowded with expats, coffee lovers and pet owners, most cafes and restaurants opened for sit-in on Wednesday though some stayed shut.

Wang, owner of a Cantonese restaurant on the road, told Shanghai Daily that she had been forced to reduce her dining space by half amid surging land cost. Many cafes and restaurants have permanently shut down, she revealed, adding that her restaurant was ready for the reopening, with many guests making inquiries and reservations.

Xu Peinan, owner of the Chaoshan restaurant "Caogen Yedang," received dozens of phone calls on Tuesday afternoon, inquiring about the dine-in services.

"We need another day to do the disinfection. We will be able to resume dine-in services from June 30 or July 1," he reassured them.

The restaurant closed in mid-March due to the lockdown and began taking online orders on June 6. After receiving the dine-in resumption notice, Xu and the staff immediately stepped up their efforts to contact suppliers.

"Many vegetables from my hometown are not available in Shanghai, and we fly them in from Chaoshan," Xu pointed out. "We must guarantee the freshness of all our ingredients."

People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai
Zhu Shenshen / SHINE

Zac from the United States walked around the popular Yongkang Road, happy that dine-in services have resumed in Shanghai.

Fine-dining Japanese food

Zac, from the United States, said he was happy that sit-in dining has been restored and was planning dinner at a fine-dining Japanese restaurant with his friends on Wednesday night.

"It was not easy as many people called for reservations today," Zac said. "Earlier, you could stand on the streets, not anymore."

The staff at the Japanese restaurant Kurogi on North Suzhou Road has been busy this week.

On Wednesday, plates were in place for the dining tables, knives rearranged on shelves, and flowers and other decorations refreshed as the restaurant reopened for the first time in nearly three months.

People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai
Ti Gong

Kurogi's Japanese chef prepares lobster for customers on Wednesday.

"We have three private rooms in total, and they are all fully booked," said Fu Luyong, the CEO of Kurogi. "All six seats at the dining counter are also almost completely booked."

Kurogi has been selected as the 2020-2022 Shanghai Black Pearl Restaurant by Dianping, China's equivalent to Yelp, and is allegedly one of the best Japanese restaurants in Shanghai. The restaurant served up to 30 customers daily and was nearly always full before the lockdown.

The pandemic hit the restaurant hard, but Fu said it has always maintained its standards, so even during the difficult time, the company's wages and accommodations for staff remained unchanged.

Since the supply chain has not yet been fully restored, the restaurant can only obtain 80 percent of the original ingredients, and some of the chilled food from Japan cannot yet be sent to Shanghai. However, Fu said, that he remains confident in his team's ability to satisfy customers even if some of the ingredients have been changed due to enforced changes in the menu.

And, Fu is optimistic about the restaurant's future. "We will work hard to compensate for the three months of losses in the year's second half. With the power of our brand, I am confident that our customers will return."

Measures for pandemic control

According to Shanghai's policies, dine-in services are allowed in low-risk areas and areas without any community-level spread of COVID-19 during the previous week.

Diners must have a 72-hour negative nucleic acid test report. They must scan the venue code, wear a mask and receive temperature checks to enter the restaurants.

People flock to restaurants as dine-in services resume in Shanghai
Ti Gong

Haidilao offers codes and hand-washing sterilization for diners.

The dining capacity is limited to 70 percent at large- and medium-sized restaurants with business areas covering more than 150 square meters and half at smaller eateries. Dining time is normally restricted to under an hour and a half.

Since early June, Kurogi has been receiving calls for reservations, but the restaurant does not plan to accept too many customers just yet.

"We're just getting back into the dine-in phase, and we want some control over customer numbers," Fu explained.

On receiving news that dine-in would resume, the Kurogi team disinfected the entire restaurant and confirmed that all employees had 24-hour polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result.

Sunya also has taken similar measures.

Cai Mengyun, who is in charge of Sunya's catering operation, said: "We only have 16 tables available for morning tea compared to 26 tables before the lockdown."

"It means diners will sit with at least a 2-meter gap between each table," she added. "And all of our staff members take PCR tests everyday."

Most restaurants, including Sunya, Haidilao and McDonald's, have set up waiting zones in well-ventilated lobbies with special personnel keeping order and enforcing pandemic control regulations.

In Haidilao outlets, diners sit with empty tables separating two sets of diners. It has also cut its operation time to close at 10:00pm, against late night previously.

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