Community Papers

Restaurants booked months ahead as celebrations begin

Jade chef Tony Luk will be very busy this week. - Martin van den Hemel photo
Jade chef Tony Luk will be very busy this week.
— image credit: Martin van den Hemel photo

If you’re planning to hold a birthday party, company celebration, or wedding anniversary at a Chinese restaurant in the coming days, prepare to be disappointed.

Many of Richmond’s favourite Chinese eateries—especially those with large kitchens capable of serving up multi-course meals—have been booked weeks in advance by families preparing to gather in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Lee Man, a judge for the Chinese Restaurant Awards, said his family tried to book a venue for the annual family gathering, and learned the date they’d eyed was locked in three months ago. Instead, they settled for another date, when his parents, cousins and their children—a group totalling 50 to 60 people—will come together to eat and count their blessings.

“It’s a big deal because on the traditional Chinese dinner, everyone in the family is present. Nobody can be missing,” Man explained.

It’s important for the family to start the new year as a complete unit, he said, because that represents that the family will start the year intact, and remain that way through the year’s end.

So what will be on the menu this year?

Man said the same style of lucky dishes remain from year to year, including the essentials.

An entire chicken, head and all, is served up, symbolizing wholesomeness. A whole fish represents prosperity, while rice cakes represent progress, and oysters represent money.

Noodles symbolize longevity, and restaurants offer set menus with lucky numbers linked to them. There’s $288, $388, and $488 dinner packages, for example, he said.

While restaurants are decked out in traditional gold and red decorations, with paper lanterns everywhere, customers will be holding plenty of red envelopes.

They are doled out to staff, and for very good reason, Man said.

The generosity goes a long way, he said, toward regular customers getting the best piece of fish or whatever’s on offer throughout the course of the year

“It’s the stuff you don’t notice, he said.

Each envelope contains $10 to $15, and local banks usually stock up on crisp new $5, $10 and $20 bills, which are a hot commodity during the two-week celebrations.

These red envelopes are a gesture of goodwill and generosity, and it’s not uncommon for individuals to dole out thousands of dollars.

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