A customer shows how to eat Zibo barbecue on March 31, 2023. (Photo/China Daily)
The Zibo barbecue craze that has made headlines for several months is finally subsiding, said industrial insiders.
"It's normal for a trending topic to cool down. The barbecue craze has enhanced Zibo's reputation and made the city more famous," said Han Ruobing, an associate professor at the School of Management of Shandong University.
Zibo barbecue started going viral in late February when college students tried it, took videos of themselves enjoying it and posted the footage on social media, unwittingly triggering a trend that spurred the hashtag "College students visit Zibo to try barbecue in groups".
Since then, videos and reports portraying local government leaders, business operators and locals have made Zibo one of the most popular destinations in China.
But recently there has been an increase in the number of barbecue restaurants in Zibo listed for sale — most of which are for newly opened or renovated ones.
"This is a regular occurrence in the barbecue business. Like in the past few years before Zibo barbecue went viral, many barbecue restaurants would mushroom in the spring, but some would close down before October," said Liu Jing, director of the Zhangdian district barbecue association who also runs a barbecue restaurant.
Taking advantage of the craze, Liu opened a new branch of her barbecue restaurant in May. However, even with the reputation of her local restaurant, she found it difficult to replicate the success of her main branch.
"Although the new branch is not losing money, it lacks customer traffic and is definitely not as popular as the old one," she said.
Yang Benxin, who also owns a barbecue restaurant in Zibo, attributed the decline to the hot weather.
"With the recent high temperatures in Zibo, most people are not willing to go out to eat barbecue," he said, adding that the barbecue business is very seasonal.
"Grilling barbecue also requires skill," said Yang, who has many years of experience in the industry.
He explained that in February many inexperienced newcomers jumped on the bandwagon. At that time, the old barbecue restaurants couldn't handle the influx of tourists, so some of them were diverted to the newly opened shops. These shops became popular at the time, but due to factors such as inferior taste, they did not receive good reviews.
"When the number of diners starts to decline, the newly opened restaurant will face the challenge of closing down," Yang said.