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How China's Reforms Are Hurting The Catering Business

XINHUA (China), LIANHE ZAOBAO (Singapore), CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY(Taiwan)

BEIJING – China’s new leaders have adopted new measures to cut back on government perks and outright corruption, but there's at least one sector of society that is not pleased: the catering industry.

On Dec 4, the newly elected Politburo Standing Committee adopted eight measures to improve official work by reducing bureaucracy and extravagance. Among the measures are fewer traffic restrictions, shorter meetings and briefings, and simpler official receptions – with “no welcome banner, no red carpet, no floral arrangement or grand receptions,” according to Xinhua.

The impact on Chinese caterers can be measured in a very real way. Instead of the usual 12-course meal, all levels of Chinese officials – who are known for throwing lavish banquets –are now restricted to “Four household dishes and one bowl of soup,” according to state media.

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Photo www.bluewaikiki.com

China’s new Premier Xi Jinping set the example during his first official dinner in Fuping county, in the northern province of Hebei. Xinhua news agency published a menu of the dinner, which included simple Chinese staples like braised chicken, pork with fried garlic shoots and pork with wax gourd soup.

Consequently, the catering business has been crying for the past two months. A lot of upscale hostelry, in particular during the Chinese end-of-year banquets period, saw as many as 90% of their banquet reservations cancelled – representing almost 60-70% less business than the same period last year, according to the Central News Agency.

Most of the big clients who cancelled their dining reservations were governmental offices or from state-owned enterprises.

Other sectors that are hard hit are the liquor and upscale tobacco sector, considered as luxurious goods by many Chinese officials, and which used to be deliberately over-ordered during banquets so that participants could take them home.

According to the Central News Agency, in China’s booming city of Guangzhou, because of the specific ban on flower arrangements in seminars and conferences, demand for potted flowers or plants has also gone down 80-90% compared with the same period last year.

So how long is this “new official breeze,” as many Chinese call it, going to last? Nobody really knows. As Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao pointed out, every time China changes leadership, officials set out to reform dining habits. Hu Jintao or China’s former Premier Zhu Rongji had in the past also banged the “Four dishes and one soup” drum, but they nevertheless failed to curb Chinese civil servants’ extravagant habits.

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