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COVID can go, but outdoor dining is going to stay, says Richmond chef

Richmond introduced an expedited licensing program for restaurants to set up outdoor patios during COVID-19
Outdoor dim sum
Dim Sum restaurants are now serving patrons outdoors in response to the current indoor dining restrictions.

If there is one thing we know about dim sum in Richmond, it’s that it’s always served in large, indoor restaurants.

And if there’s one thing we know about the impact of the pandemic, it’s that many things that always were, no longer are.

A walk along Alexandra Road and through areas of central Richmond known for Asian cuisine is point in fact.

Parking lots and sidewalks are now covered with tables and chairs where food lovers are being served dim sum – and even hot pot.

"Something is better than nothing,” said Jimmy Au, manager of Neptune Seafood Restaurant.

“Food plays an important role in daily life for many Chinese Canadians. Therefore, we enjoy dim sum no matter if it's raining or snowing outside," he explained.

While many restaurants across the city had already pivoted to takeout since the start of the pandemic, many more have pivoted yet again to outdoor dining since provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced in late March that indoor restaurant dining would be put on hold for several more weeks.

The City of Richmond responded by introducing an expedited licensing program for restaurants that want to set up a patio.

While Au said it’s unusual to serve dim sum outdoors in Richmond, outdoor dining isn't a new thing for many Hong Kong immigrants, who are familiar with Dai Pai Dang, a type of open-air food stall in Hong Kong.

"At the open-air food stalls, Hongkongers usually grab some beer, eat some food and have a good laugh with friends and families after a long day of work," said Au.

For Au, the outdoor patio is a great solution to help the eatery business weather the current health restrictions, but for Bo Li, owner and master chef of The Fish Man on Alexandra Road, outdoor dining won’t just be a temporary solution, it’s a new trend here to stay.

"There are so many differences between outdoor and indoor dining. The outdoor environment creates a friendly and open atmosphere for people to freely enjoy their food," said Li, adding that it took him only three days to get the temporary patio permit from the city.

Li said he appreciates the city's encouragement and help in times of uncertainty, and he encourages others on Alexandra Road to follow the same trend.