The Spring Festival holiday should have been a high season for Shantou’s catering businesses, but the unexpected COVID-19 outbreak caught many restaurants off-guard.

Amid the crisis, many restaurants have stopped providing dine-in services and turned to the take-out business, hoping to alleviate the mounting pressure from reduced profits and continuing costs such as rent and labor.

One of the food stalls, which is known for its seafood cuisine, started selling the ingredients of its specialty dishes and other seafood products online. Citizens can stop by the food stall to pick up their order or have it delivered.

A restaurant on Fenghuangshan Road is also offering take-out and delivery services with various choices such as set meals and quick-to-prepare foods. Customers within six kilometers can enjoy free delivery services as well as hot foods.

For enterprises that had online ordering channels and delivery materials before the outbreak, the viral outbreak has necessitated stricter sanitation and food safety as well as greater competition from other restaurants as they join the ranks of delivery providers.

Meanwhile, Shantou Catering Industry Association has cooperated with Ele.me, the local food delivery service owned by tech giant Alibaba, to help the city’s restaurants, fresh-food stores and vendors in farmers’ markets to get into online business. Ele.me’s contactless food delivery service is reassuring to both restaurants and consumers.

According to Cai Zhenrong, chairman of the association, they have also launched an online platform to promote Shantou cuisine, and they’re hoping that the collaboration with Alibaba can bring new opportunities to businesses in the city.

It is predicted that the outbreak may bring a revolution to the future of the catering industry, and online food services might become a major contributor to the development of the sector.