China has seen our future, both in terms of economic collapse and how social relations change after what people are experiencing. Food delivery in the U.S. took a queue from China offering ‘leave food at the door’ as an option to ensure social distancing between driver and consumer.
Now that businesses in China are re-opening, we have a glimpse into how they’re protecting their employees, and how they’re changing the products that they offer to appeal to consumers. Eater highlights what’s going on in Beijing as restaurants and food vendors re-open.
Street food vendor in Beijing
Dining out involves placing an order with a server, sharing space with customers at nearby tables. Not only are a variety of hands touching your food before it reaches you but there’s not much possibility of social distancing, even if – as in early-crisis Northern Italy – restaurants were required to limit capacity so that tables were spread farther apart.
While the majority of retail establishments in China have re-opened, restaurants continue to struggle. Delivery business still outweighs dine-in.
- Communal tables were more common in China than in the U.S. (Although one of my favorite local spots in Austin has them.) These have been limited. According to one restaurant owner, “There’s been talk of only one person per table, but it seems at the moment we are allowed to have three people…”
- Some restaurants must take patrons temperatures as they enter.
- Even delivery has to work to gain customer confidence, “delivery orders now often include cards listing the names and temperatures of all the staff involved in preparing your food.” Much of this is marketing – for instance a common delivery app has a delivery driver cartoon that tracks the progress of an order. The cartoon driver has been altered to now wear a mask.
- For takeaway, instead of queuing customers order with their phones and get messages when it’s their turn to pick up food.
- Mobile payments have further gained in popularity over cash and credit cards, since they avoid a high touch area of contact between server and guest.
Street food in Beijing
Things have been especially challenging for fine dining, because people don’t pay the high prices for delivery since they’re not using a restaurant’s dining room and receiving service. And since restaurants haven’t fully come back, it’s possible that there will be further shifts as well to try to attract customers. Or maybe the effect on restaurants will be longer-lasting.
One more thing that’s notable is that rules restaurants are under vary by local jurisdiction and that’s likely to be the case in the U.S. as well.