British Columbia·Photos

Indoor dining ban sparks popularity of outdoor dim sum in Metro Vancouver

The manager of a Chinese restaurant in Richmond, B.C., says customers are booking tables at least a week in advance to eat dim sum in a most untraditional setting — the parking lot. 

Parking lot patios are popping up at Chinese restaurants across the Lower Mainland

A server pushes a cart of dim sum in the parking lot of the Pink Pearl restaurant in Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The manager of a Chinese restaurant in Richmond, B.C., says customers are booking tables at least a week in advance to eat dim sum in a most untraditional setting — the parking lot. 

As a part of the province's "circuit-breaker" restrictions implemented at the end of March, restaurants have had to switch to takeout or delivery service, though patios are allowed to remain open.  

Like many other Chinese restaurants in Metro Vancouver, Neptune Seafood Restaurant has blocked off a portion of its parking lot and set up tables — at a safe distance from each other — wherever possible. 

Manager Jimmy Au says he has customers lining up before the restaurant opens at 11 a.m., hoping to get a table even though the patio fully booked through reservations. 

Neptune Seafood Restaurant is by reservation only, but customers still wait in line outside to try to get a table. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"It's popular," Au said. "We have no choice because of COVID-19. We can't dine in the dining room."

Diners are pictured eating dim sum outside the Pink Pearl restaurant on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Au said dim sum is culturally important for Chinese people but it's still surprising to see so many people lined up to eat dim sum outside. 

The indoor dining restriction has forced many Chinese restaurants to change their cultural way of eating. Chinese food is mostly served cooked and hot, she said, so eating outside is uncommon unless you are on the go.

As restrictions continue, Chinese restaurants had to create makeshift patios and change an entire cultural tradition that's been around for more than a century.

A server pours tea for a diner outside the Pink Pearl restaurant in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
 

Despite the traffic noise, customers are thankful to still be able to enjoy dim sum with their friends and family — rain or shine.

"It's better than nothing," said Norman Wong, who comes to have tea at the Richmond restaurant twice a week. "I don't like to take it home, so I just want to sit down and eat."

Staff at the Pink Pearl set up temporary covers so diners can stay dry while eating dim sum on Wednesday May 12, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

While most diners said they enjoyed the experience of having dim sum in the warm spring sun, many said they prefer to be indoors and would opt to dine inside if given the option.

"I guess I like it as a good experience to try," said one customer.

Some diners said eating dim sum outside is not as comfortable as dining indoors when it's wet and cold. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Au said he's glad to be open, allowing people to enjoy dim sum together.

"In our culture dim sum has been very important for hundreds of years," Au said. "It's very popular in the Chinese community."

Michael Kha enjoys dim sum with his family outside the Pelican Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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