Beijing has been battling an outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 for more than a month now. While the Chinese capital has avoided a full citywide lockdown like the one seen in Shanghai, restrictions have not been easy for the city’s F&B industry.
That’s because, since May 1, all in-house dining has been suspended in Beijing; restaurants, bars and cafes are restricted to takeout only.
That’s has reached out to a number of big players on the Beijing F&B scene. We want to find out not only how they’re coping with the city’s ‘soft’ lockdown and the ban on in-house dining, but also what consumers can do to support their businesses.
In this article, we hear from Leon Lee. Along with his business partner Olivia Zheng, they opened CDB about a year ago; the venue in Chaoyang district offers meals, desserts, cocktails and more.
The name is made to sound like “CBD,” conjuring up images of Beijing’s flashy and modern skyline. It’s also a multi-purpose acronym, standing for Cocktail Dessert Bar, Coffee Dessert Bakery, Casual Dining Bistro etc.
Lee and Zheng have also re-opened Apothecary, a brand of cocktails.
You may recall that Japanese izakaya restaurant Beyond Yakitori recently explained to That’s how waimai delivery was simply not an option.
It seems that they’re not the only ones.
Lee explained to That’s that, although CDB opened a store on 美团 (Meituan) delivery platform, their use of it is minimal. Here’s what Lee said:
“Prior to May 1, we had already opened a ‘storefront’ on 美团 but hadn’t really used it much since our food, drinks and desserts were not created with the intention of maintaining integrity during travel.
“But after some testing, we did place a limited selection of our in-dining menu offerings on the platform. After 7-10 days, we decided to take them down because the cost of food prep, food waste and labor just did not add up.
“Some of our food items need at least 24 hours of preparation and 50 minutes of cooking before packaging for delivery; 美团 couriers are limited to a 20-minute window before delivery, so that makes our style of cooking incompatible with a fast food platform.
“At about that time, we were converting our in-dining cocktail recipes for delivery and were ready to launch our bottled cocktail menu. We wanted to do something a bit better than just making a cocktail and putting it in a bottle.
“It took a little bit of time to re-engineer our ingredients to increase shelf life and minimize flavor degradation. As a result, all of our cocktails – including the ones with lemon, lime and other fresh juices – are not only shelf-stable for 30 days when stored in the refrigerator, but also have little, if any, flavor or quality degradation.
“We offer cocktails from 200 to 500 milliliters, so you don’t have to finish the cocktail all at once, but can have a high quality selection of cocktails at home by reaching into the fridge or freezer instead of waiting (and paying) for delivery fees.
“Our @home prices, in comparison to in-store, is basically a 2-for-1 discount, so it’s really good value given what’s available on the market now.
“We have also been selling a surprising amount of cakes. Pretty soon we will launch our petit cake or single-serving cake menu. There has been overwhelming demand for this, and right now, we’re just waiting for packaging to arrive before launching.
“To date, we’ve truncated our delivery menu on 美团 to just bar snacks and a ‘representative sample’ of our bottled cocktails and desserts. Instead, we are doing most of our to-go business in our own WeChat group.
“This allows us more flexibility in every way; from interactions with customers and delivery options, to announcing new items and specials. It’s been working pretty well. In our WeChat group, we announce bottled cocktail item quantities and specials everyday around 3.30pm. The bar is open 4-10pm daily. We also use the group to offer special edition 375 milliliter bottling and perks in our group as a first come first served.
“It’s been pretty tough, but as a business with multiple lines of products including meals, bar snacks, cocktails, wine, desserts, cakes, baked goods etc. we’re pretty lucky that we can pivot to find our market and have, albeit small, a steady revenue during these hard times.”
Lee also had some advice for how to support venues like theirs during the current period:
“Support independent venues with unique offerings by not only ordering take-out, but also by telling friends about it. Then, remember to visit when dine-in is an option.
“For us at CDB/APO specifically, as a new business in an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood, we are only interested in staying connected to our current customers and taking the opportunity to meet new customers via the @home menu.
“Many in our WeChat group have heard of us, but have yet to come and dine-in. As the @home menu cannot truly exemplify our values and ethos as an independently owned and operated food and beverage venue, we don’t feel right about charging those prices.
So, our @home pricing as compared to our dine-in prices is basically buy-one-get-one-free, reflecting these tough times when income earnings, mobility, selection and availability are all truncated by our current predicament.
“良心价 (generous prices) for tough times.”
[Cover image via Pixabay. All in-text images via CDB/Apothecary]