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China works to revitalize catering industry with safety, supportive measures

Chinese restaurants are now welcoming customers back as COVID-19 subsides.

By upgrading business models and improving service quality, they have strengthened epidemic prevention and control measures, advocated serving chopsticks and individual serving, launched promotions and enhanced online services.

A hotpot restaurant in Zhengzhou, Central China’s Henan Province has changed the layout of the dining room, increased the distance between tables, and launched contactless food ordering, to make customers feel safe eating there.

“I’ve been craving for the food here for months. It’s really delicious,” said a citizen surnamed Li when dining at the restaurant with his family on May 24. The tables were all occupied on that Sunday noon.

“Customers pay the most attention to prevention measures we take. In this regard, we’ve been constantly optimizing our services,” said Liu Yongtao, an executive of the restaurant. To create a safe dining environment, the restaurant now offers serving chopsticks and the dishes are covered when served.

Between January and April, the sales revenue of China’s catering industry decreased by 41.2 percent from a year ago to 833.3 billion yuan ($117 billion), the National Bureau of Statistics said on May 15. However, the catering industry is gradually picking up.

In May, the non-manufacturing business activity index moved up 0.4 percentage points over the previous month to 53.6 percent, and the business activity index of the catering industry exceeded 55 percent.

As of May 31, more than 90 percent of the restaurants in Zhengzhou had reopened, with an occupancy rate of nearly 80 percent.

Local authorities across China have also unveiled measures to revitalize the catering industry to reduce and exempt taxes and fees, boost consumption and reinforce consumer confidence.

The sales of a music-themed restaurant in Shibei district of Qingdao, East China’s Shandong Province finally bounced back recently. During the epidemic, the restaurant suffered a loss of nearly 200,000 yuan each month and struggled to maintain its cash flow, according to Yuan Ning, manager of the restaurant.

When it was stuck in difficulty, a working group was established by local authority to help entities resume work and production. After visiting restaurants door-to-door, the team tailored different strategies.

“The local authority has not only given advice on our operation, but also helped us expand market,” said Yuan, referring to the food delivery service his restaurant now offers to nearby companies. Nearly 1,000 meals are sold each month, he added.

“We investigated and helped every restaurant that reopened. In doing so, we hope to get more restaurants out of difficulty,” said Shao Junfeng with the market supervision bureau of Shibei district.

The provincial commerce department of Henan Province released a package of financial products in collaboration with catering industry associations and financial institutions in the province. Besides, by working with malls, wholesale agricultural markets and e-commerce platforms, it also offers fair-price foodstuffs, reduces or exempts rentals, and cuts commission fees for catering enterprises.

To help catering companies tide over the difficulties and help them lower operational cost, the catering industry and restaurant association of Zhengzhou called on relevant parties to reduce commission and fees for restaurants.

In Qingdao, companies that reduce or exempt rents during the epidemic will be listed as “good landlords” who can enjoy preferential policies in financial assistance and branding at the end of the year, introduced Lin Jun with the work office of private sector affairs in Shibei district.

According to him, the general office of Qingdao municipal government has issued a number of assistance policies, helping over 110 restaurants save 3.2 million yuan in rent cost.

To revitalize consumption in the catering sector, Qingdao has launched a large-scale campaign that encourages restaurants to carry out promotional activities. Relevant departments in Zhengzhou also issued 400 million yuan worth of coupons to stimulate consumption, especially in the catering sector.

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