What American Restaurants Can Learn From China's Example

Posted: May 04, 2020

Restaurant owners in the US are wondering what life will look like when the country fully emerges from lockdown.

Many are looking toward China for direction as it slowly resumes normal life and dining out becomes an option again.

Restaurants across China and Hong Kong have made drastic changes to the dining experience, and in many places, temperature checks, masks, and plastic partitions between diners are now the norm.

As normal life slowly resumes in China, the rest of the world is looking toward the east for pointers on what day-to-day life will look like elsewhere after the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

This includes how consumers will dine out in the future and what restaurants need to do to make the experience safe for both customers and workers.

Photographs taken in cities across China and Hong Kong reveal how drastically different it is to eat out now that businesses are reopening. Temperature checks, caps on restaurant capacity, and social distancing markers have become the norm in many places, for example.

Here's what might lie ahead for the US:

In Hong Kong, restaurants are required by the government order to keep the capacity below 50% and restrict groups to four people only, for example.

Restaurant owners who don't play by the rules risk being fined as much HK$50,000 ($6,450) or face six months in jail.

Hong Kong restauranteurs are also required to keep a 1.5-meter space or more between each table to minimize crowding.

It's likely that similar restrictions would come to the US, building on from social distancing markers that are currently being used in stores to keep shoppers at a safe distance.

A guard wearing a facemask amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, holds a thermal gun to check the body temperature of visitors at the entrance of a restaurant area in Shanghai. Photo by 

In Hong Kong, temperature checks for both workers and customers are mandatory on arrival and at the point of leaving the restaurant.

Temperature checks are already becoming more common in the US as restaurants reopen but haven't been mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In China, the government is using software, run on Alipay and WeChat's platforms, to track people's movements and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Anyone that wants to travel around is required to fill out a health survey on the app, which depending on their health status and travel history, will then generate a color code – Green, Yellow, or Red. These codes dictate whether a person can travel freely, should stay at home and isolate, or is required to stay in quarantine.

And increasingly, malls, cafes, and restaurants in China are requiring customers to show their codes on the app before they are able to enter these areas.

Hong Kong restaurant group Black Sheep, which owns a string of popular restaurants in the city, recently released a set of guidelines advising its 1,000 person team on how to deal with the pandemic. These guidelines have been published publically for other restaurants to use too.

As part of these, the restaurant chain has made it mandatory for any customers to sign a health declaration form before they are able to dine. In this form, they are asked to confirm that they haven't tested positive from the virus in the past 14 days, experienced any symptoms in that time, been in direct contact with anyone who is known to be carrying the virus, or have traveled outside of Hong Kong. It also asks them to leave their contact details so if there's a confirmed case in the restaurant, the owners are able to inform anyone who has visited during that time.

"If guests decline to complete the form do not be afraid to turn them away," the company wrote, adding that they turned away more than 50 people in one night. "They may be upset in the moment, but it is absolutely the right thing to do to protect your team and your guests. It feels uncomfortable because we are in the business of hospitality but we have to understand the reality of the new world we exist in," it said.

By Mary Hanbury
May 4, 2020
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