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Rebrand, rebuild, rebirth: How Chinese restaurants are adapting post-lockdown

From even before the lockdown began in March, Chinese restaurants have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Mandated shutdowns have wreaked havoc upon an bustling industry that depended upon high volumes of diners.

As Ontario inches towards a Stage 3 reopening that would permit dine-in service, some Chinese restaurants have moved forward on decisions that will hopefully give them an advantage in the post-lockdown world.

Hong Shing: Dine-at-Home Experience

hong shing siu mai

Takeout and delivery service may work for other restaurants, but it is not feasible for Chinese dim sum restaurants. For these Cantonese teahouses, the delicate nature of dim sum dishes mean most diners can’t replicate these conditions outside the restaurant… until now.

Hong Shing, the 23-year-old restaurant that has become a fixture on Dundas Street West, has started selling steamer baskets that will allow diners to steam their own har gow and siu mai dumplings at home.

A 20-piece bag of dumplings will cost $20-$25, while a 6-inch steamer basket will cost $12 (order here).

READ: Vancouver Chinese Restaurants donate meals to frontline healthcare workers in fight against COVID-19

The new DIY-option is very similar to Liuyishou’s home delivery service. Diners can buy their own butane gas stove ($20) and 28cm pot ($15) to host their own hotpot meal at home.

Hong Shing owner Colin Li, who had previously shown his resourcefulness by hiring his restaurant’s laid-off workers as its new delivery drivers, is full of enthusiasm for the new products.

“We’re definitely going to keep working on a line of products that will also include sauces,” said Li.

Mandarin Buffet: Reopen as a Takeout Restaurant

m2go

Even as other restaurants make preparations that will allow them to reopen, the future does not look optimistic for buffet restaurants. The self-serve nature of these restaurants lend themselves to crowding and communal touch points, making them serious health risks to the public.

With strict government guidelines looming, some buffet restaurants like Tucker’s Marketplace have already decided to permanently close their doors. And yet, one famous Canadian self-serve restaurant is using the pandemic as an opportunity to redefine itself.

Although they have made no official announcement, the Mandarin Restaurant franchise appears to rebrand itself as M2GO, a quick service restaurant concept.

READ: New Vancouver Chinese restaurant to feature Beijing skyline on ceiling 

A new location of the sub-brand has been spotted in Burlington’s Appleview Square Plaza. It will join Mandarin’s first M2GO location that opened at York University in the summer of 2017.

M2GO offers many Mandarin customer favourites like Kung Pao chicken for takeout. Additionally, M2GO offers new noodle dishes as well as a line of smoothies and teas.

Chinese buffet is a popular restaurant style that served as the entry point for many Canadian diners. With roots stretching back to B.C. and the gold rush era, the modern Chinese buffet was popularized in 1963 by Montreal restauranteur Bill Wong.

Mandarin Restaurants has 29 locations spread throughout southern Ontario.

Panda Express: Provide In-House Delivery

panda express delivery

Even though pivoting to home delivery has allowed restaurants to stay in business during the lockdown, a problem remains: someone has to pay for it. Third-party delivery platforms can charge up to 30 percent of the dining bill for a commission, thereby making home delivery an expensive option.

Willing to bear this no longer, Panda Express recently announced it will be offering its own branded delivery. By the end of July, the restaurant franchise expects to offer delivery service at 2,000 of its 2,200 locations.

READ: Restaurants resourcefully adapting to COVID-19 pandemic with new delivery options

The expansion is in keeping with the restaurant chain’s philanthropic efforts. Panda Express recently donated $122,000 to a hospital in Guam as well as expanding its Panda Cares Scholars Program that supports more than 600 low-income students with scholarship assistance.

If fact, Panda Express appears to be doing so well that they are moving forward on a new cross-promotional campaign with Anti Social Social Club, the streetwear brand that has previously collaborated with Hot Wheels and Hello Kitty. The new clothes will join Panda Express’ own branded merchandise that includes T-shirts, mugs, and onesies for babies.

Images: Mashed, Hong Shing, InsideHalton, Flickr

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