Chinese restaurants in Canberra ‘huddle together’ in crisis


CANBERRA: In Canberra, when you place an order, you could have hotpot, noodles, milk tea and pancake of different brands all served to your home at the same time.

This is a new measure taken jointly by some Chinese restaurants to survive the bleak season after the Covid-19 outbreak in Australia.

“The epidemic dealt a heavy blow to the hospitality industry.

As winter is coming, we have to ‘huddle together for warmth’, ” said Wang Yuxuan.The 27-year-old man is an owner of the Wukong Hotpot, which was opened last year.

Hotpot restaurants were rare in the Australian capital.

Therefore, Wukong was immediately bustling with customers.However, in an attempt to stem Covid-19 in the country, the Australia government on March 23 announced that restaurants and cafes were restricted to takeaway and delivery only.

While Wang found it impossible to put his hotpot into a box and income was hence falling to zero, other restaurants saw a drop of their income as well.

A report by Nine News last month said that the hospitality industry estimated 88,000 jobs had already gone and 200,000 were expected to go in the coming weeks and months.

Of all the restaurants, the Chinese took the brunt due to the closure of the Australian border to the Chinese people and the ensuing stigma after local media reports labelled Covid-19 as a “Chinese virus”.

The Chongqing Street Noodle, a brand that became famous after it was mentioned in the documentary television series, A Bite of China, saw its revenue reduced by about 70%.

Chongqing Street Noodle and Wukong Hotpot are both in the Dickson area, which was dubbed the “China Town” of Canberra.

“Owners of the restaurants here all know each other and we always gather to talk about our business, ” said 33-year-old Jett Li, owner of Chongqing Street Noodle.

“While we are suffering losses, the customers have to spend more on delivery fee, ” he said.

“So an idea occurred to us: why don’t we join hands and create a long menu with all our products, so that customers could enjoy a ‘one-stop’ service?”

Wang agreed.

“Suppose you are a regular customer to the noodles restaurant and not familiar with the milk tea nearby, it is a good opportunity for the milk tea shop to promote its products, ” he said.

In Canberra the delivery fee on Uber Eats for one order is between A$5.99 and A$7.99 (about RM17 and 22).

Li and Wang decided to deliver the food themselves, with a single delivery charge at A$5 (RM14).

“At first we had five restaurants join the programme, with about 30 employees, ” Wang said.

“Those who don’t have to work on shift would do deliveries that day.”There were disagreements, but the restaurants decided to put them aside and give it a try.

To join in the programme, Wukong Hotpot created new dishes by cooking mixed meat and vegetable.

“Now our revenue is about 30% of the average in the past, ” he added.

“Sometimes crisis can be an opportunity as well.”

“Without the Covid-19 epidemic, we might never have considered doing delivery business and develop new products.” — Xinhua

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