Chinese operators count the cost of Coronavirus

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Chinese restaurant operators in Chinatown and across London facing huge sales loss and rising tide of racial prejudice

Related tags Chinatown Chinese cuisine Restaurant Sales

Chef Andrew Wong and the Baozilnn group are among the Chinese operators to have seen a recent downturn in sales as the fallout from the Coronavirus outbreak continues.

Some restaurateurs in Chinatown, including Baozilnn, have reported a 40 to 50 percent drop in trade in the weeks since news of the virus first emerged last month.  

As of 16 February, 70,620 cases of Coronavirus have been reported in China, and the virus has spread to 26 other countries including the UK, where nine cases have so far been confirmed.

“Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, we have seen a 40 percent drop in sales at our two Chinatown sites in Newport Court and Little Newport Street,” a spokesperson for Baozilnn tells BigHospitality​.

“This has been caused by a slowdown of Chinese tourists visiting London and the West End, as well as fewer western customers visiting Chinatown.

“At the moment it seems to be the fear of uncertainty that is keeping people away. Chinatown is very quiet, which is unusual.”

Other operators to have noted a fall in sales include Jinli, with its general manager Martin Ma telling the BBC ​earlier this month that bookings had fallen by 50 percent across its four locations – the group has two sites in Chinatown, as well as one each in Uxbridge and Birmingham.

"It's a hard time," Ma told the BBC​, estimating that the group’s flagship site on Newport Place lost as much as £15,000 in single weekend in early February.

However, the decline is not confined to Chinatown, with chef restaurateur Andrew Wong telling BigHospitality​ that his City restaurant Kym’s in the Bloomberg Arcade has also seen a drop.

Wong adds, though, that his other London restaurant, A. Wong in Victoria, had not yet seen a downturn.

While some have attributed these losses to a level of fear and uncertainty felt by the public, there have also been incidences of racial prejudice aimed at the Chinese community.

Wong tells us that he has received prank calls at his restaurants from people asking for ‘corona for takeaway’.

Meanwhile, another restaurant manager working on Gerrard Street in Chinatown, told the BBC​that, while he had not personally experienced any hostility, he knows many who have, with reports of people getting up and moving seats on the Tube; and children being told to keep back from "foreigners".

It comes at a time when some Chinatown restaurants are already struggling​, with smaller family-run businesses being pushed out as big money international players move in.

Unprecedented levels of competition have seen the number of Cantonese restaurants being reduced, with more specialist, regional Chinese and pan-Asian places opening in a bid to attract a broader spectrum of customers.

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