Via China Daily

A waiter wearing a face mask serves customers at a restaurant in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on Feb 22. [Photo by Zhou Wei/for China Daily]

HEFEI-As night fell, a hotpot restaurant in Hefei, the capital of East China’s Anhui province, was bustling with masked diners queuing for feasting.

“We restored dine-in service on March 18 and ever since have been seeing increasing customers,” said Zhang Huaiyu, a waiter of the restaurant. “Those who come later may have to wait for over two hours as the restaurant would be full around 6:30 pm.”

The Ministry of Commerce said on March 28 that the resumption rate of large supermarket chains and convenience stores reached 99.5 percent and 95.4 percent, respectively, with their sales volume surpassing the levels recorded in the same period last year.

In addition, 95.8 percent of shopping malls and 80 percent of catering industries resumed work as of March 27.

As the epidemic recedes and work and production resumption gains momentum, Chinese consumers’ buying appetite inhibited by the epidemic is rebounding.

“I craved the hotpot when I was stuck at home, and finally I can order it,” said Sun Jie, a Hefei-based citizen who came early with her family to have a meal at the restaurant.

Zhang noticed that diners coming these days always ordered more meat and ate longer compared with the period before the epidemic.

Xu Jin, manager of a barbecue restaurant in Hefei, was impressed by consumers’ healthy appetite even before resuming work.

“Many customers called to ask when we would resume business,” said Xu. “People have been cooped up at home for a long time and yearn for foods and beverages like hotpot, barbecue, and milk tea.”

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To ensure safety, restaurants carry out strict epidemic prevention measures such as scanning health codes and checking body temperatures when customers enter the restaurant. Diners are suggested to sit at tables with considerable spaces between them, to avoid a crowded atmosphere.

According to a survey released by Jiangsu provincial consumer rights protection committee in early March, some 90 percent of the 21,192 respondents opted for shopping as compensation as the epidemic levels off.

Dining out, shopping in malls, watching movies, singing in KTV and traveling are the most preferred, the survey showed.

“Many shopping plans were shelved due to the epidemic outbreak, and finally, I can satisfy the craving,” said Sun, who spent more than 1,000 yuan ($142) buying clothes in the shopping mall after enjoying a hotpot feast.

Besides warming consumption offline, the recovery of logistics also drives the boom of online shopping.

During days around International Women’s Day on March 8, the overall sales on Tmall were far more than the previous year, with sales of more than 20,000 brands surging over 100 percent year-on-year, according to China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Data from the food delivery platform showed that the sales of takeaway milk tea surged after work resumption, with that of the fourth week increasing by 140 percent from the first week. Many customers chose larger cups of milk tea, and the proportion of orders asking for adding ingredients grew by three times.

Regions across the nation also rolled out favorable measures to spur consumption. Many cities encouraged government officials to take the lead in consumption and launched voucher programs to stimulate spending.

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Nanjing, capital of East China’s Jiangsu province, for example, has announced the issuance of over 300 million yuan of vouchers to its residents and those in difficulties.

“People are willing to shop as the epidemic wanes, but it still needs time for the market to recover and prosper,” said Zheng Lanxiang, a professor at the economics school of Anhui University. “The country needs to further create a safer consumption environment and increase residents’ income to improve their spending power.”