By Mark Godfrey, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from Beijing, China
Published on 30 January, 2013
Worries about frugality appear to be overstated as Chinese seafood restaurants brace for their busiest period, Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival). A well-publicized call last month by China’s incoming president Xi Jinping for frugality and cutbacks to notoriously lavish official dining doesn’t appear to be hurting business at numerous seafood restaurants visited by SeafoodSource this week. This year, however, Beijing restaurants are using offers through popular group buying websites to draw customers. Likewise, hampers of imported seafood are on offer from seafood restaurants as well as distributors.
A RMB 1,888 (USD 303.47, EUR 223.60) menu for ten people is the cheapest Spring Festival menu at the Hong Kong Golden Medal seafood Hot Pot restaurant on Xinyuanli Street in upmarket Chaoyang district. The restaurant is also offering RMB 3,888 (USD 624.94, EUR 460.47) and RMB 4,888 (USD 785.68, EUR 578.86)(the number 8 is auspicious in Chinese culture) set menus for New Year’s Eve and require a deposit in advance, explained staff. “We’re very busy so you’d better reserve now, in advance,” SeafoodSource was advised. Both menus feature Australian lobster and California crab as well as U.S. snapper. A RMB 2,888 (USD 464.17, EUR 342.01) set menu featuring abalone and lobster feeds ten people. The restaurant also has an outlet in the prosperous city of Hangzhou, south of Shanghai.
Also in Chaoyang district, the Wang Shunge Seafood Square restaurant is offering free gifts (gift values depend on customers’ spend) and tropical fruit desserts to draw diners to its Chinese New Year banquets, which include Australian lobster and abalone flown in from South Africa. “We also give discount coupons to our customers during the Spring Festival, but it depends on how much you spend,” explained a staff member, adding the restaurant expects to be busy with family and corporate dinner parties.
Customers using group-buy websites like the “Tuan” channel of Baidu.com (China’s leading search engine) and Fantong.com are meanwhile welcome at Haiyi Zhong Ting, a high-end chain popular with China’s corporate executives. Lobster and leopard grouper will be particularly popular during Spring Festival, explained a floor manager at the firm’s Beijing head office. Group buy offers range from RMB 299 (USD 48.06, EUR 35.41) for four people (no seafood included) to RMB 3,999 (USD 642.72, EUR 473.58) for ten diners, with 20 dishes served, six of them seafood. A minimum spend of RMB 300 (USD 48.22, EUR 35.53) to RMB 500 (USD 80.36, EUR 59.21) applies to each customer in the private banqueting rooms, along with a 10 percent service fee.
Other establishments meanwhile are targeting the gift market with luxury seafood gift boxes. The Horizon Cantonese restaurant in Beijing’s Kerry Hotel for instance sells a RMB 6,888 (USD 1,107.03, EUR 815.72) “Bering Seafood Hamper” that includes Alaskan spot prawn, Boston lobster, Argentinean red shrimp and wild sea cucumber. The cheapest hamper on offer, the RMB 1,688 (USD 271.29, EUR 199.90) “Erie Seafood Hamper” features salmon, Icelandic red fish and European flounder. A Horizon maître ‘d explained that demand for the hampers is strong among regular clients, among them the executives of some of China’s leading state owned corporations and real estate developers. A better than expected year for real estate barons has helped spending, added the maître ‘d, explaining how the hampers are popular gifts for business associates and mistresses.
Gift sets offered by Beijing-based firm China Agriculture Great Industry include domestically sourced pomfret as well as Norwegian salmon and Canadian and Scottish shellfish and cold-water prawns. Sold at seafood stalls at the city’s Sanyuanli wet market alongside similar-sized gift boxes of Australian beef, the sets are priced at RMB 1,380 (USD 221.82, EUR 163.42).