Chinese restaurants shift from most-closed to fastest reopeners

A surge in restarts has 74% of the segment back in business.
Photograph: Shutterstock

After clocking the restaurant industry’s highest closure rate at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, places specializing in Chinese food have swung back to become the group reopening at the fastest clip, a new study has found.

At one point during the crisis, 60% of the Chinese restaurants in the United States had closed rather than try to stay afloat through takeout and delivery while dine-in service was prohibited, according to the source of the research, the credit-card processor Womply.

Because many of those places already had a significant off-premise business, the firm concluded that Asian operators might have closed because of fears they’d be stigmatized and shunned. The COVID-19 virus originated in China, as President Trump and other high-profile figures repeatedly stressed, in part by referring to it as the Chinese coronavirus. The media carried stories about some Americans threatening Asian citizens in retribution and fear of being contaminated.

Other observers speculated that many Chinese operators shut down rather than risk bringing the virus home to their families. They theorized that elderly parents and grandparents may have resided with the hands-on operators of family run businesses, as is routine in Asian society. Persons over age 65 have been identified as a high-risk group.

In analyzing transactional data, Womply found that “Chinese restaurants have been reopening faster than any other restaurant category.” As of May 16, only 26% of Chinese restaurants were completely closed. The open rate of roughly 74% matches the figure for the U.S. restaurant industry as a whole, the company concluded.

“While they aren't out of the woods yet (1 in 4 are still closed), the gap between Chinese restaurants and their peers has been closed,” Womply concluded in a communication to Restaurant Business. “They are now closed at exactly the same rate as the national closure rate for restaurants (26%). Perhaps consumer xenophobia is subsiding?”

Like pizzerias, Chinese restaurants routinely offered delivery long before the advent earlier this decade of third-party delivery services, which greatly broadened consumers’ options. Many of the national pizza chains and other operations specializing in delivery have been far less walloped by social distancing and the forced closing of restaurant dining rooms.


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