Some Chinatown Restaurants Take a Break in April

(Photo via Sing Tao Daily

(Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

April is a season to show respect for the dead in the Chinese culture. It is a time for people to sweep the tombs of their ancestors and, therefore, not a good time to get married. The sharp reduction in the number of wedding banquets has prompted owners of many mid-sized and large restaurants to suspend their business for a month. They take this time to do renovations or simply let their employees enjoy a long vacation.  They say they lose less money this way than by keeping the restaurants open.

April, in which the Chinese Memorial Day (the 5th) is set, is the annual low season for restaurants in Chinatown. Normally people don’t choose this month to hold wedding banquets. Large restaurants, whose businesses rely a lot on banquets, all see their banquet bookings drop dramatically. In addition, the growing number of restaurants in Flushing and Brooklyn’s Chinese neighborhoods are attracting a lot of Chinese palates. Some regular banquets nowadays don’t have to be held in Chinatown. The competition dampens the already lukewarm business for Chinatown’s restaurants.

Many large restaurants in Chinatown, including Jing Fong, East Market Restaurant, King’s Seafood Restaurant, and Hua Du Restaurant, have all closed for this month. They are either doing renovations or taking time off. Mr. Cheng, a manager of the East Market Restaurant, said the restaurant’s main business is from wedding banquets of immigrants from Fujian, China. That’s where they make their profit. But Fujianese are known for their firm belief in the traditional calendar. April has the Chinese Memorial Day, so the entire month is not suitable for weddings.

The restaurant only has two banquet reservations for this month and plans to open only on those two dates. The rest of the time, it will remain shut to do some interior renovations. Cheng said when the restaurant opens, its daily costs, including rent and utilities, are about $10,000. In order to break even, it has to fill at least 300 banquet tables a month. (Translator’s note: A typical Chinatown banquet has 10 tables with 10 seats each.) But the two banquets this month will only have 100 tables filled altogether.

The King’s Seafood Restaurant on East Broadway is facing a similar challenge. Manager Zhang said the restaurant normally hosts five to six banquets or parties every week. But for the entire month of April, there are only two banquet reservations. The restaurant’s daily costs, including rent and utilities, total $6,000. For regular lunch and dinner, it offers discount prices that are basically not profitable at all.

Zhang said it’s not worth it to keep the restaurant open full time. He allows most staff to take the month off and only keeps a few to serve the two banquets that have been reserved, and to take new reservations for the future.

At the Jing Star Restaurant on Division Street, manager Zhang (different from the Zhang of King’s) said the restaurant will remain open in April. But he also noted the business is off this month with only four or five banquet reservations, far less than normal.

Zhang said that these days, more and more people are moving out of Chinatown. Meanwhile new restaurants in Flushing and the Brooklyn Chinese neighborhoods have been appearing rapidly. Also, it is more convenient to park in those places than in Chinatown. All of this has caused Chinatown to lose banquet business to Flushing and Brooklyn.

Zhang said that in the five years he has been running the restaurant, it has become more and more difficult to maintain the business. Not only are the costs going up and the number of customers going down, the inspections and tickets from city authorities also make it a double whammy.

Mr. Chan, a frequent customer of some Chinatown restaurants, said while more and more younger Chinese moved to Queens and Brooklyn, it’s not a surprise that they more often patronize the businesses in their own neighborhoods. Also, many restaurants in Chinatown are too traditional. They lack modern settings and new dishes to attract young people. Plus, there aren’t enough karaoke bars in Chinatown to provide after dinner entertainment. So young people would rather choose restaurants in other neighborhoods.

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