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Eating Out: Delicious Dining, Dating, Debating

People go to restaurants not just for delicious food. They gather for reunions, dating, fun, negotiations and even for work meetings.


Whatever the reason, such diners are the backbone of China's robust catering industry. The Ministry of Commerce estimates a total turnover of 730 billion yuan (US$90 billion) for this year alone, a 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) jump over the target set at the end of last year.


Liang Boping, a 50-ish environmental volunteer, said she loves to discuss work while out to dinner.


"It's a place free of pressure and ideas can spurt," said Liang, from the Beijing-based Women and Environment Network under the sponsorship of the Canada-China Cooperation Project in Cleaner Production.


She said that discussions with other volunteers after work while dining has become a routine for her organization, in which about 10 environmentalists are involved.


"That's because we all have jobs and environment protection is our spare time work," said Liang, adding that gathering at meals is a good time for her peers.


While more and more people are choosing to eat out in the Chinese capital, south China's Guangzhou sees the greatest number of diners with more money spent at restaurants than in any other part of China.


The southern city is followed closely by Shanghai, with Beijing coming in third.


The statistics from the Beijing Municipal Commercial Bureau reckon that Beijingers spent 29.47 billion yuan (US$3.55 billion) on food in the past six months, nearly 30 percent of which went to restaurants.


Different Chinese cuisines have opened kitchens in Beijing, and there are international entrees from countries, including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Italy, France and Brazil to tempt the hungry.


More Chinese people enjoyed eating out last year, which brought increased profits to Chinese restaurants. As a whole, the country's catering industry cooked up 596 billion yuan (US$72 billion) in the first 10 months of the year, a 22 per cent increase over the same period last year.


"November and December will see further increases in that momentum," said an official surnamed Li from the China Cuisine Association. His confidence was based on the fact that many people like to eat out in the winter time. "Most important, it's festival season as Christmas and the New Year approach."


Li said private consumption holds the primary position in the market, with more than 80 percent of consumers ordinary people.


"Increasing salaries and peaceful living conditions are the leading forces behind the development."


It's not just in China where people are having to loosen their belts. Statistics released by the American National Restaurant Association say the restaurant-and-food service industry is projected to reach a record US$440.1 billion in sales this year.

(China Daily December 20, 2004)

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