Restaurants in Beijing, many of which have been closed for weeks due to COVID-19, have been working to get back to normal this week — but not without a few hiccups. To reduce the risk of transmission among individuals, Beijing’s health officials have ordered restaurants in the city to implement a string of preventive measures, such as allowing only one person per table.
The mandate was announced on March 5, when the municipal Center for Diseases Prevention and Control (CDC) held a media briefing on the government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. At the press conference, Sūn Xīnguì 孙鑫贵, deputy chief physician of the CDC, asked restaurants to keep at least one meter (3.28 feet) between tables and limit one person per table even for customers who enter in groups. He also suggested restaurants wash food-service items like plates and chopsticks with boiling water for at least 15 minutes.
In addition, Sun encouraged customers to avoid restaurants at their most crowded times. When dining at a restaurant, “do less talking, focus on eating,” Sun said.
Beijing’s policy to force people to eat alone has spurred mixed reactions from internet users (in Chinese). A number of critics blasted the rule for its lack of flexibility, saying it’s unfriendly to people who see eating as a social, communal activity. “Are you saying couples need to sit at separate tables when eating at a restaurant?” a Weibo user wrote. Some raised concerns that the policy would make it harder for restaurants to get back on their feet after significant financial losses caused by the epidemic. “It’s probably better for small businesses to remain closed so they don’t have to pay salaries and utilities,” another commented on the news.
The introvert-friendly policy received some positive responses, though. Advocates for eating alone said that the ban on shared meals offered a rare opportunity to destigmatize solo dining, given that everyone has no choice but to practice it. “Now no one knows I’m eating by myself because I have no friends,” one person wrote on Weibo.
Some people now feel more comfortable going to restaurants. For example, Haidilao, the Chinese hotpot chain known for its exceptional service, has a policy of offering giant teddy bears at tables of lone eaters to keep them company — a move that actually can discourage diners from sitting by themselves. “I’ve been waiting for this moment to fully embrace solo dining at Haidilao!” one Weibo user commented.