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    Shanghai Restaurants Desperately Want Indoor Dining to Resume

    The majority of the city’s eateries still cannot offer dine-in services weeks after the lockdown ended.

    Three weeks after Shanghai lifted its coronavirus-related restrictions, tens of thousands of restaurants in the city remain shut and business owners continue to bear the brunt from the two-month lockdown.

    Shanghai’s restaurants stopped dine-in services as the city went into lockdown starting late March and haven’t been allowed to resume since. Though authorities have permitted takeouts, business owners said it doesn’t provide the same culinary experience and revenue source as having diners indoors.

    Flora, who runs a Thai restaurant in Minhang District, said the lockdown has already cost her over 300,000 yuan ($44,800). She receives about 100 takeout orders a day but the profit is about 20% to 30% less than when diners ate inside due to commissions and other charges involved.

    “This well-designed space was intended to immerse the customers as a getaway to Thailand,” said Flora, only using her first name due to privacy concerns. “But they can’t walk in and get to know us through takeaways.”

    And business owners are growing anxious by the day without a definite timeline for when dining in can restart. On Monday, city authorities reiterated that they were not planning to resume services at restaurants anytime soon due to the risks of a COVID-19 resurgence from gatherings.

    Restaurateurs and café owners struggling to adapt to post-lockdown operations are now calling on authorities to allow dine-in services with necessary precautions.

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

    Zhu said her restaurant didn’t provide takeaways before the lockdown, due to high commission fees from delivery platforms and the low quality of takeaway dishes.

    “Takeouts have only emerged as a trend for people seeking convenience and faster delivery, but restaurants like ours seek quality,” she said. “For restaurants, resuming work without having indoor dining is self-contradictory. If you cannot dine in, it’s not called a restaurant.”

    Some restaurant owners said that they were unlucky that they had to shut whatever service they were allowed to offer after the lockdown was lifted on June 1.

    Vikki, who runs a noodle restaurant in downtown Jing’an District, had her store shut since the lockdown. After new infections were found nearby on June 2, she has now decided not to open her shop “until the situation becomes stable” and wouldn’t consider takeouts, as they compromise on the taste of the noodles.

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

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

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

    Restaurants that are still prohibited to have diners are meanwhile offering clandestine dine-in services. Photos circulating on social media showed some eateries were operating by covering their windows with wallpaper and plastic bags or lighting up candles instead of regular lights to evade police officers patrolling the streets.

    Chen Yijun, a 19-year-old student, said he ate at a barbecue restaurant that was lit up with about six candles 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 fast-moving, hit-and-run operations by small groups of combatants. “We ate in an awkward and sneaky manner. But just sitting at a restaurant and dining there made me excited.”

    With barely any restaurants open, people are also seen eating alongside streets, on public benches at shopping malls, outdoor stairways, parks, or by the sidewalk.

    “You need to bring three things when going out in Shanghai: alcohol (sanitizer), a mask, and a picnic rug,” one social media post said.

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

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