CHINESE restaurants are seeing a drop in reservations for the traditional Lunar New Year feasts as purse strings are tightened on both the corporate and the domestic fronts due to  economic uncertainties.

With the festival just three weeks away, restaurant owners are seeing 10-20% less bookings than last year as many avoid the usual lavish year-end feast.

The Pan Malaysian Koo Soo Restaurants and Chefs Association said most of the reservations so far were for family reunion dinners instead of the typical corporate year-end banquets.

Association president Lum Tuck Loy said even then, restaurants were only 50-60% booked.

“The market is slow this year, you only need to walk around to see that until now, there’s not been many festivities. So restaurants are having promotions that are more affordable to meet customers’ demands,” he told The Malaysian Insight.

Lum said the staple ingredients for Chinese New Year fare also cost more but restaurant owners dare not raise their prices, opting for smaller profits instead.

It is estimated that profit margins will shrink by about 10% this Chinese New Year.

Loon Sing Group of Restaurants managing director Sia Book Kong said the manner in which the companies choose to celebrate the end of the year tends to match current economic trends, thus the less robust the economy, the fewer the feasts hosted for the employees.

Restaurants usually receive an almost equal number of reservations for company and family dinners during the festival but this year, family affairs are estimated to outnumber corporate dos 65-35%.

“I believe most companies will still hold year-end feasts to thank their workers for a hard year’s work. But they are less likely to choose hotels or expensive restaurants and will instead choose more affordable places to cut costs,” Sia said.

Loong Sing Group owns five restaurants around the country. Sia said as a restaurant operator, he knows full well that the economy isn’t doing very well.

He said the hotels where his restaurants are located have also gone the affordable route in terms of promotions so that cash-strapped customers will more options.

“There are a few hotels using affordability as a central theme to their promotional packages so customers can enjoy Chinese New Year fare at more affordable prices. The promotional packages that are the most popular so far are the ones that cost around RM1,000 for a table of 10.

“Packages that offer more high-end ingredients and cost more are not selling as well,” Sia said.

He said some companies are also treating their employees to different menus according to rank, with senior staff getting to enjoy the multi-course feasts and the rest, a buffet-style meal.

Sia said business has dropped about 20% compared to the same period last year.

“Last year from the start of the new year to the winter solstice, our hotels earned more than RM1 million in total; now that business as fallen about 20%, we have barely cleared the RM1 million mark,” he said.

Woh Kee restaurant owner Tee Yi Hoe, meanwhile, told The Malaysian Insight that business has been difficult with the slowing economy.

He said with Chinese New Year less than a month away, his rrestaurant in Cheras is only 37% booked.

“People only booked tables at the last minute last year, and I think this year it will be the same. That is just how it is when the economy is bad, everyone is tightening their belts,” Tee said.

On Chinese New Year set menus, Tee said his prices are unchanged from last year’s, with affordability being the chief selling point.

He said those who have booked tables at his restaurants are regular customers, and newcomers are expected to make reservations on the first or second week of the Chinese New Year.