Restaurant employees prepare takeaway Lunar New Year's Eve dinner dishes at Deyuelou Restaurant in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. (Photo by Wang Jianzhong/For China Daily)
Restaurants and ready-to-eat foods are becoming viable options for Chinese consumers to celebrate the traditional Lunar New Year's Eve dinner, an industry report shows.[Special coverage]
The New Year's Eve reunion dinner, or Nianyefan, is considered important in China. Family members return home and gather together to celebrate the end of a busy year and usher in a new one.
In the past, it usually took days to prepare the New Year's Eve dinner. But in recent years, especially this year, the Chinese tradition for the big day has seen some changes, as more families chose more convenient options－dining in restaurants or ordering takeaways.
Most of the established chain restaurants had been booked fully for the New Year Eve dinner since January, according to a study conducted by the China Cuisine Association, or CCA.
The Ministry of Commerce also released a report on the consumption market during the Spring Festival, and found eating out has been gaining popularity in the country.
"The revenue of the catering industry reached 926 billion yuan (6 billion) during the Spring Festival holiday, up 10.2 percent year-on-year," the ministry report said.
It cited Shanghai as an example, where Nianyefan sales grew 11 percent year-on-year.
The average cost per person for the dinner ranged from 100 yuan to 150 yuan in first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and 80 yuan to 180 yuan in second-tier cities, Xinhua reported.
Wang Yachun, a 52-year-old housewife in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, was among those parents that were relieved from the tedious duty of meal preparation this year.
"In the past years, I was responsible for the New Year's Eve family dinner. All the 15 family members would come to my place," she said. "There are so many mouths to feed and so many appetites to meet."
"But last year we had two new-born babies in the family. With two babies to take care of, preparing the New Year's Eve dinner would have been too exhausting," Wang said. "So the family members did not dine together. Instead we each picked our own favorite restaurant. It cost me 368 yuan for a table for three, but it was totally worth it."
Eating out was not the only option for an easy family dinner. Ready-to-eat food has also become a new choice for the Spring Festival.
"The popularity of ready-to-eat dishes is growing for the festival dinner," said Wu Ying, deputy secretary of CCA. "Many families prefer to buy the half-processed dishes. With easy and simple cooking, they can enjoy food that people usually don't cook at home."
Sales of ready-to-eat food during this year's Spring Festival showed 10 percent growth year-on-year, according to Wu.
"Many established food-processing companies are also selling their Nianyefan products," she said. "Their large production capacity has lowered the prices－a set meal costs between 100 yuan and 1,200 yuan."
Haodelai, a food processor based in Jiangsu province, was among the top sellers for Nianyefan products. It sold 6,365 16-course dinner packages at 428 yuan and 5,641 8-course packages at 108 yuan, according to data from Taobao.com, the county's biggest e-commerce platform.