As the world marks the start of the Year of the Tiger on Feb 1, the question for Asia’s food and beverage industry: Will Lunar New Year be as good for business as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic?
This year, even as pandemic restrictions on travel and dining out continue in such destinations as Hong Kong and Singapore, there are signs of a continued recovery for many restaurants and businesses.
Take Fei Ye Ye Food Tradition in Singapore’s Chinatown Food Complex. Among its specialties are yu sheng, a traditional festive fish salad. Soo Mei Leong, who runs the stall with her husband, anticipates a 30% increase in Lunar New Year sales from 2021. More significant, she also projects those sales could be 10% higher than before the pandemic.
“The smaller versions that serve four to five people are selling very fast,” Leong said in a video interview. Sales of party-sized platters of yu sheng for groups of 20 or 30 people aren’t as good, she says, amid Singapore’s limits on household gatherings to a maximum of five visitors per day.
Kenry Peh, a fourth-generation tea man at Pek Sin Choon in Singapore’s Chinatown, says what used to be a 20% sales jump at Lunar New Year has turned into 25%, as online orders become more popular and as concerns about the pandemic decrease.
“The ways and means of business now is toward online — yet our traditional way of interacting through a cup of tea helps during this period of time,” said Peh via email.
Virtual Lunar New Year celebrations continue to power online businesses such as food delivery platform Oddle. It has seen delivery sales and orders in Singapore double this Lunar New Year compared to last year’s amid the five-person dining and hosting restrictions, according to Sylvia Ong, the chief marketing officer.
The average basket size has stayed consistent, at around $110 to $120, even though this year’s celebrations have been curtailed from eight people to five.
Singapore is Oddle’s biggest market — it represents 60% to 70% of its business — but Ong reports strong growth in Taiwan and in Hong Kong, where the 6pm lockdown is driving people to book deliveries.
The Raffles Hotel Singapore has enjoyed a “significant increase” since the start of the pandemic, says Frederic Serol, the hotel’s executive assistant manager of food and beverage, in demand for its four types of yu sheng, including a $222 Prosperity yu sheng with tuna sashimi and Ibérico ham.
High-end hotels are seeing greater demand for in-person Lunar New Year bookings than at any time since the start of the pandemic. Jade, the upscale Chinese restaurant at the Fullerton Hotel & Resort in Singapore, has been fully booked for reunion dinners on the eve, first, and second day of the Lunar New Year — these tend to be the bigger days for celebrations — since the start of January, says Gino Tan, country general manager.
Serol says the restaurant Yì by Jereme Leung at Raffles is also experiencing particularly strong demand on key dates of the Lunar New Year.
Still, not every celebration this year will feature old school traditional dishes like yu sheng. Single malt whisky experts Glenfiddich will launch 200 limited-edition Lunar New Year non-fungible tokens — NFTs — to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. The exclusive drop will be available on BlockBar.com beginning on Feb 1 priced at 0.15 Ether, or about US$390.