Diners flock to restaurants in Beijing as city eases COVID-19 restrictions

For the first time in more than a month, restaurants in Beijing opened for indoor dining on June 6 as the city eased COVID-19 containment measures in place to iron out the latest outbreak. Zhao Yuan, an employee of a Beijing internet company, said she was eager to quit her job and stumble upon one of her favorite restaurants.

“I can’t wait to walk into one of my favorite restaurants and order a full range of food as soon as it opens for dinner today, I just can’t decide which restaurant I go to,” Zhao said. “There are so many things I want to eat now.”

Beijing banned dine-in services at restaurants, among other measures, in early May as the five-day Labor Day holiday kicked off to contain the new wave of Omicron. The city’s restaurants and bars have been restricted to takeout only, which has dealt a severe blow to the food and drink industry.

Beijing eased its COVID-19 restrictions on Monday, allowing indoor dining. Other commercial and social activities will also gradually return to normal, traffic bans will be lifted in most parts of the capital, employees are allowed to return to the office, most students will be able to return to campus to attend in-person classes from mid-June, and couriers are allowed into residential areas. Public places such as libraries, museums, cinemas and gymnasiums are allowed to resume their activities, the total flow of visitors not exceeding 75% of the maximum capacity.

Beijing and the Chinese commercial hub of Shanghai have returned to normal in recent days as COVID-19 prevention and control measures are gradually eased in the two cities.

Impatient dinners

Some of the most enthusiastic diners started lining up outside the restaurants at 11 p.m. on Sunday, just to be the first customers to enter at midnight when the doors finally opened.

More than 200 diners started queuing outside Huda restaurant in Guijie, Doncheng district, an hour before the popular crawfish restaurant was to reopen.

“At midnight, when the restaurant reopened for indoor dining, more than 150 diners entered,” said a photographer documenting the resumption of work in Beijing.

“Because the restaurant can only operate at half capacity…more than 50 diners did not enter and had to wait outside even longer. The queue became even longer after entering of the first batch of customers and new diners kept coming and joining the line,” added the photographer, who declined to be named.

Although Zhao was not standing outside a restaurant at midnight, she said she was eager to return to a time when eating in was the norm.

Before the lockdown measures were put in place, Zhao and her husband frequented restaurants at least twice a week. “None of us are good cooks, so we go to restaurants on weekends to eat better. Going out to restaurants really does us good, especially after a week of hard work,” Zhao said.

During the lockdown, even though takeout was available, Zhao did not take advantage of it. “Food doesn’t taste as good when it travels in a box, I also don’t like eating in plastic and I don’t want to produce all that packaging waste,” she said, feeling happy that her weekly routine is back.

However, Zhao worries that a few of his favorite restaurants, which are small family establishments, may not have weathered the storm. One of his favorite barbecue restaurants, which has just five tables, said it would suspend operations in mid-May and has yet to announce a reopening date.

A success for the hospitality industry

COVID-19 has dealt a severe blow to the restaurant industry, if not the entire brick-and-mortar retail industry in the capital.

Beijing restaurants have found creative ways to serve customers and boost business.

In addition to offering delivery through platforms such as Meituan and JSS, Groovy Schiller’s, a German restaurant in Sanlitun, Chaoyang District, has purchased an electric bicycle to allow its employees to make free deliveries to customers in a radius of 5 kilometers and launched special offers for take-out meals. drinks.

However, even with these efforts, “sales were much lower than an inside service,” said Groovy Schiller’s owner Jack Zhou.

Restaurants could always rely on take-out orders to recover a fraction of their lost business, but for bars that only sell cocktails, the “indoor dining policy” spelled disaster, as virtually none of their customers only ordered take-out cocktails.

“Our monthly fixed operating cost is at least 80,000 yuan ($12,048), including more than 30,000 for rent, 30,000 for employee salaries, and the rest for miscellaneous expenses,” said Jim Jia. , owner of the Herbal Bar in Sanlitun. “So when we don’t open our business, we lose at least 80,000 yuan a month.”

Many restaurants have attempted to make a profit by setting up street stalls to sell food. Jia imitated the move, trying to sell cocktails, but to no avail.

“Only some of our regular customers came to see us and supported us by buying a few drinks, but regular customers could only come once a week. Without new customers, it doesn’t work,” Jia said.

The Beijing government is currently allowing restaurants and bars to operate at 50% capacity. “If the regulations weren’t in place, our bar would be packed tonight. Business will gradually return to normal, but I understand the politics,” Jia said. “I’m so happy that indoor dining has resumed. If (the restrictions) lasted another half a month, we would be forced to close.”

Zhou predicted that as social distancing and limited capacity measures continue to ease in the coming weeks, restaurants will see more customers initially due to pent-up demand, but levels will return to normal. afterwards.

Government support measures

Fortunately for Jia, government support measures arrived just in time. After the containment measures, the Beijing government issued a series of policies ranging from the reduction or abolition of rents for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) affected by COVID-19 for three to six months, to measures reduction in taxes and fees.

“I rented space from a public company, so in mid-May they contacted me and offered to waive my rent for three months; it’s vital for my business,” said greet Jia.

To cope with future uncertainties, Jia decided to apply for a catering license, so that her business could offer take-out meals.

“The only thing we can do is do our best to satisfy our customers and improve ourselves. We cannot predict the future, we can just hope that COVID-19 will be over soon,” Zhou said.

Read more: Beijing authorities plan rent waivers to support small businesses

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