Catering industry fires up consumption in north China

As the COVID-19 outbreak has been basically curbed in China, catering companies in Tianjin have gradually resumed business amid strict anti-epidemic measures.

Cutting vegetables and meat into pieces and putting them into a wok, a chef stirred the mixture for a while before adding varieties of ingredients. Then, appetizing dishes such as popular kung pao chicken and fried long beans were served one after another.

A group of chefs are busy these days in the kitchen of Xinya Restaurant in north China's Tianjin Municipality, with waiters shuttling in the dining hall to serve dozens of tables of guests who keep a certain distance from each other.

As the COVID-19 outbreak has been basically curbed in China, catering companies in Tianjin have gradually resumed business amid strict anti-epidemic measures, welcoming flooding foodies as they return gingerly to restaurants to fulfill their appetites after being cooped up at home for months.

"A total of 35 tables had been booked up Sunday. Besides online orders, our turnover is expected to reach about 720,000 yuan (US$101,368) in May," said Shi Min, general manager of Xinya Restaurant. "Though the virus outbreak struck us into the red in February and March, with immediate adjustment measures, we have racked up profits for 48 consecutive days, far beyond our expectations."

According to the general manager, before this year's Spring Festival which fell on Jan. 25, family reunion dinners for the Chinese New Year offered by the restaurant were all booked up, with deposits totaling more than 1.7 million yuan and prepared food materials worth more than 2 million yuan.

"Everything was ready to welcome the busiest period of the year when the coronavirus arrived," Shi said, noting that almost all customers canceled their reservations and the company had to return the deposits.

"The virus emptied our bustling restaurant which used to see all seats taken and even lengthy queues," Shi said.

To cope with the devastating impact, Xinya Restaurant set up stalls and online shops to sell fresh vegetables at low prices to residents nearby and provided working meals at cost prices with delivery services free of charge for community volunteers fighting against the epidemic.

Also, the restaurant has opened to online and takeaway orders to further reduce losses. "Some home-cooked dishes we added in the takeout window during the epidemic, which could bring us more than 6,000 yuan a day at most, helped us tide over the most difficult time as well."

"It's time for catering enterprises to upgrade their sales mode and expand the integration of online and offline sales," said Li Jiajin, president of the Tianjin Catering Industry Association.

On April 1, Xinya Restaurant resumed dining-in service while taking on a series of measures to ensure the safety of diners, including limiting the number of guests, providing sanitizer for customers and regularly sterilizing the tableware and other items.

"All customers need to have their temperature taken, keep a certain distance apart and use serving chopsticks and spoons," Shi said. "Our top priority lies in epidemic prevention and control. The confidence of our customers can slowly return only if we can create a safe environment."

According to the Tianjin Municipal Commission of Commerce, the city will provide customers with coupons worth more than 60 million yuan in sectors including catering to stimulate consumption.

"Thanks to measures such as offering coupons and giving out small gifts, drinks and fruits free of charge, our business is getting better recently," said Hu Peifeng, manager of Tianjin's Lishen Restaurant.

Ma Guojing, general manager of another restaurant in Tianjin, said they have promoted semi-prepared meals with simple cooking instructions listed on the packaging. Her restaurant also includes masks or disinfectant wipes with each takeaway order, which has attracted many customers.

"Traffic is busy again nearby my restaurant, and people are gradually getting back to their normal life. I believe brighter days will soon come," Ma said.  

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