Restaurants, reeling, turn to takeouts, e-sales, deliveries

2020-03-23 Xinhua Editor:Gu Liping

A courier waits to collect food for delivery at a restaurant in Zhangye, Gansu province, on Feb 18. [Photo by Wang Jiang/For China Daily]

Tables were set. Food was ready to be served. For eateries across China, there was only one problem: the diners weren't coming.

As China's catering businesses were ready to cash in on the traditional high season during the Spring Festival holiday in late January, the coronavirus outbreak kept customers from dining out, taking a toll on the catering industry and catching restaurant owners off-guard.

In 2019, earnings during the Spring Festival holiday accounted for about 15 percent of the total annual revenues of the catering industry, which topped 4.6 trillion yuan ($658 billion), according to the China Cuisine Association.

Amid the outbreak, nearly all meal reservations and wedding banquets have been canceled, and a large number of restaurants suspended operations, according to a report from the association on the epidemic's impact on the catering business.

Restaurants that previously relied heavily on eating-in earnings had to focus on takeout business, hoping the move could help alleviate the pressure from overhead costs such as rent and labor.

"Facing great operational pressure, many catering businesses are scrambling to boost their takeout business in an effort to minimize the impact from the virus outbreak," said Liu Wenjun, deputy president of a cuisine association in Shandong province.

"While developing their takeout business may be a contingency plan for many restaurants at the moment, it could be an area they could explore in the future," said Liu.

Online food delivery and ticketing services platform Meituan Dianping has initiated a program providing catering services for enterprises that have resumed operations amid the epidemic.

Over 150 catering companies in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have joined the program.

Tech giant Alibaba's Freshhema, a fresh food retailer that offers delivery service, came up with the idea of "sharing employees" with restaurant chains to solve the dual problems of the shortage of deliverymen and surplus of restaurant staff.

As of Feb 8, over 1,600 restaurant workers had started their new, short-term jobs with Freshhema in 14 Chinese cities.

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