Widespread relief for Shanghai's restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

·2 min read

By Casey Hall

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Restaurants and eateries in China's largest city Shanghai begun reopening their doors to diners on Wednesday, bringing widespread relief to an industry that was badly hit by the city's two month COVID-19 lockdown.

Large chains such as hot pot brand Haidilao, fine dining establishments and family owned eateries had started scrubbing tableware and getting uniforms laundered since Saturday when authorities announced the curbs were lifting, a month after the city's lockdown eased on June 1.

"It's a very good feeling," said Oli Liu, co-owner of tapas restaurant chain Brownstone as he prepared to open his five outlets for indoor dining on Wednesday.

"With indoor dining we can make money...Until now we could do takeaway and delivery but the commissions we have to pay (to delivery platforms) means we can't make money from that."

Many restaurants in the city of 25 million were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases in Shanghai began rising. While some were able to resume food deliveries in the midst of the lockdown, others remained shut throughout.

The reopening, however, is far from straightforward. Some owners said they had not yet received the green light from their districts and are required to cap customer numbers at 50% as well as a limit each session to 90 minutes.

All restaurant staff will also be required to undergo daily COVID testing, while diners have to show proof of a PCR test taken within three days to enter.

Local media reports have also suggested dining parties should nominate a "leader" who will be responsible for their table, though it's unclear what might happen if guests later test positive.

Complying with such onerous rules will not be easy, and many eateries already have or are expected to call it quits, said Stefan Stiller, chef-owner of fine dining restaurant Taian Table, who added that he expects restrictions to be in place in some form for the rest of the year.

For his three-star Michelin restaurant that only seats 30 at capacity and specialises in 10 to 12 course tasting menus that typically take several hours to complete, meeting the criteria is "not so easy ... but we will manage somehow," he said.

But many diners are eager to get back into restaurants after months of mostly eating at home.

One of the first customers through the door at Brownstone's Lujiazui location at lunchtime on Wednesday was a Shanghai resident surnamed He.

"Normally at home I don't cook... I have especially missed eating out," he said. "For so long I missed eating many things - crayfish, barbecue, drinking beer."

(Reporting by Casey Hall; Additional reporting by Sophie Yu in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry)

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