Beijing's Bars and Restaurants Welcome Back Patrons After an Airpocalyptically Quiet Week
Beijing’s restaurateurs are breathing sighs of relief in every sense of the word: Last week's record-breaking smog levels not only affected the quality of the air that those laoban were inhaling, but also left them gasping for business as many customers opted to stay home and wait for the air to literally clear.
Gireesh Chaudhury, the owner of Punjabi, a popular Liangmaqiao restaurant, said that air has a direct affect on revenue: declines in the thousands of RMB daily are common on days when the AQI rises.
Hsu Li, co-founder of hot new food court and culinary incubator The Crib, says revenue last week was down 20 percent compared to the week prior (though, to be fair, New Years Eve was on that preceding week).
Business was also down on Guanghua Lu, where Caravan owner Badr Benjelloun says he saw plenty of cancelled reservations and a lower-than-normal turnout (though the venue did have a successful New Years Eve). Even Jing-A Taproom, which offers a popular pint discount on heavily smoggy days, also faced a customer downturn, according to marketing head Richard Ammerman. He says even on New Years Eve, which was packed early on, overall saw that “numbers were down slightly from the same event last year, I think people went home earlier, like pretty quickly after midnight.”
Antoine Mansuy had similar gripes. The owner of two restaurants – both situated in Yizhuang and named The Roots in English, one called 香海西厨 in Chinese and a newer one named 甜家 – says the older venue saw steady business thanks to its regulars, but the newer restaurant struggled. “The second restaurant is located in a shopping center, and traffic in the whole centre was down,” he says. “People who hear about us make a note of coming one day to check us out, but they're not in a rush and will delay this decision when the pollution is high.”
Tough as that period was, many of those frustrated restaurateurs are more than eager to get on with this week, which so far has featured much cleaner air.
But not everyone in the food and beverage industry suffered during what TBJ called “the worst week of bad Beijing air in recent memory.” Jasmine Lam, market manager of Sherpa's Food Delivery, unsurprisingly noted that the delivery business actually picked up as people stayed home to wait out the bad air. Orders were so heavy that they posted a delay notice on their website because demand went through the roof. "Our couriers were very busy,” she noted.
Mansuy, meanwhile, says he’s looking forward to being equally busy now that the air quality is improving again. “We’re always eager to see customers coming, of course.” Chaudhury expressed similar sentiments now that the skies are bluer and Punjabi has filled up again. Unfortunately, he’s grown all too accustomed to such highs and lows after running a Beijing restaurant for a decade, saying filters often amount to little more than “a novelty for big restaurants. They don’t help much.”
Chaudhury says filtration systems work better, but in the end the main thing he and his peers can do is simply “wait it out.”
Photo: China Daily