Wed, Sep 04, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Restaurants struggle amid crackdown


The shark’s fin, bird’s nest and abalone are gone from the offerings at Beijing’s Xiang E Qing restaurant — a favorite of Chinese Communist Party cadres just months ago. Diners are now left with less exotic fare such as shredded beef, pickled turnip and fried peanuts.

China’s high-end restaurants have gone into crisis under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) campaign to crack down on the kinds of party extravagances that have angered ordinary people, such as dining on the public dime. To stem big losses and avoid the now-tarnished image of VIP banquet halls, these restaurants have been busy reinventing themselves.

“We don’t do high-end. We just serve family-style food,” a jittery manager at Xiang E Qing told a visitor who wanted to see the dramatic, near-overnight transformation of one of the capital’s most prestigious eateries.

The Xiang E Qing restaurant in downtown Beijing — part of a national chain that has been among the hardest hit — no longer has the expensive liquors, minimum spending requirements or special fees for the private banquet rooms where government officials and business executives once gathered in seclusion. Its calling cards have been rewritten to promote a joyful, family atmosphere.

Restaurants serving exquisite delicacies in banquet rooms long flourished under the lavish spending habits among all levels of public officials, who spent about 300 billion yuan (US$50 billion) a year on food and drinks in recent years, according to state media.

However, new party rules since the beginning of this year curb spending on food and drink, and Xi himself has set the example by having a work meal of four simple dishes and one soup.

Some of that wining and dining has gone underground, with officials sprucing up private clubs and government canteens with pricey booze and fancy meals or ducking into secluded locales to avoid detection, according to state media that have sent undercover reporters.

Even so, China’s dining market has hit its lowest point in more than two decades — barring a brief industry collapse related to the 2003 SARS epidemic — and the high-end market had suffered the most, Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Yao Jian (姚堅) said last week.

To cope with the new reality, high-end restaurants are diversifying services to include fast food and take-out, or offering modestly priced homestyle dishes and hot pots with wider, common-folk appeal.

The anti-waste campaign has not been aimed solely at party cadres, but also at members of the public, urging them not to over-order and to clean their plates.

“We are all remaking ourselves,” said Han Fang, a manager at another high-end restaurant in Beijing. “We need to adjust to whatever the policies the country has.”

The Xiao Nan Guo restaurant specializes in elaborate Shanghai-style cuisine on white tablecloths with floral arrangements in private rooms behind thick, carved wooden doors. To attract more customers, it has revamped its menu to include new dishes priced under US$15, its general manager said.

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