Shanghai restaurants desperately want indoor dining to resume

Three weeks after Shanghai lifted its coronavirus restrictions, tens of thousands of restaurants across the city remain closed and business owners continue to bear the brunt of the two-month shutdown.

Restaurants in Shanghai halted dine-in services as the city was shut down from late March and has not been allowed to resume since. Although authorities have allowed take-out, business owners said it does not provide the same dining experience and source of income as having indoor diners.

Flora, who runs a Thai restaurant in Minhang district, said the lockdown has already cost her more than 300,000 yuan ($44,800). She gets about 100 take-out orders a day, but the profit is about 20-30% less than when customers ate inside because of the commissions and other fees involved.

“This well-designed space was meant to immerse guests like a Thailand getaway, Flora said, using only her first name for privacy reasons. “But they can’t come in and get to know us through takeout.”

Interior view of Flora’s Thai restaurant. Courtesy of Flora

And business owners are getting more anxious day by day without a clear timeline for restarting meals. On Monday, city officials reiterated that they do not plan to resume services at restaurants anytime soon due to risks of a resurgence of COVID-19 at gatherings.

Restaurant owners and cafe owners struggling to adapt to post-lockdown operations are now asking authorities to allow catering services with the necessary precautions.

“Currently, revenue is at most 10% of pre-lockdown figures, while expenses are the same as before, which include utilities, property management and employee salaries,” said Zhu Rankang, who ran a fusion restaurant. for five years.

Zhu said his restaurant did not offer takeout before the lockdown, due to high commission fees from delivery platforms and low quality takeout.

“Takeout only emerged as a trend for people looking for convenience and faster delivery, but restaurants like ours are looking for quality,” she said. “For restaurants, going back to work without eating inside is contradictory. If you can’t dine there, it’s not called a restaurant.

The empty fusion cuisine restaurant.  Courtesy of Zhu

The empty fusion cuisine restaurant. Courtesy of Zhu

Some restaurateurs said they were unlucky to have had to close any service they were allowed to offer after the lockdown was lifted on June 1.

Vikki, who runs a noodle restaurant in downtown Jing’an, has seen her shop closed since the lockdown. After new infections were discovered nearby on June 2, she has now decided not to open her shop ‘until the situation stabilises’ and would not consider takeaways as they compromise taste noodles.

“It makes me feel a sense of loss,” said Vikki, who gave only her first name. “Almost all places can reopen. Barber shops and massage parlors are indoor spaces with gatherings. Why are restaurant meals not allowed? I’m really confused.”

So far, only three suburban districts – Jinshan, Fengxian and Chongming – have been allowed to offer catering services on a trial basis, according to a June 12 announcement.

In areas that allow diners to eat in, some malls have issued limited “dining coupons” to control the flow of customers into restaurants, while some venues require customers to maintain physical distancing and eat at separate tables, according to the media.

Restaurants that still do not have the right to dine offer clandestine on-site catering services. Photos circulating on social media showed some restaurants operating by covering their windows with wallpaper and plastic bags or lighting candles instead of the usual lights to evade police patrolling the streets.

People eat at a candle-lit barbecue restaurant, Shanghai, June 21, 2022. Courtesy of Chen

People eat at a candle-lit barbecue restaurant, Shanghai, June 21, 2022. Courtesy of Chen

Chen Yijun, a 19-year-old college student, said he ate at a barbecue restaurant lit by about six candles on Tuesday night. He sometimes had to use a flashlight on his phone to see if the meat was cooked or burnt.

“It was like guerrilla warfare,” he said, referring to rapid hit-and-run operations carried out by small groups of fighters. “We ate clumsily and sneakily. But just sitting in a restaurant and having dinner there got me excited.

With hardly any restaurants open, people are also seen eating along the streets, on public benches in malls, outdoor stairways, parks or on the sidewalk.

“You should bring three things when you go out in Shanghai: alcohol (sanitizer), mask and picnic blanket,” one social media post said.

Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Staff sell cooked food at the entrance of a restaurant in Shanghai, June 4, 2022. VCG)

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