Cater­ing guilds ob­ject to re­moval of pric­ing rules

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Restau­rant own­ers and cus­tomers in China are wit­ness­ing a see­saw bat­tle be­tween cater­ing in­dus­try guilds and com­merce au­thor­i­ties over “un­fair re­quire­ments”.

The China Tourist Ho­tel As­so­ci­a­tion, which is ad­min­is­tered by the China Na­tional Tourism Ad­min­is­tra­tion and has more than 2,600 mem­bers, is­sued an open let­ter to the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion for In­dus­try and Com­merce on Mon­day, urg­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to rec­tify some “im­proper di­rec­tions” made by the Bei­jing com­merce au­thor­ity to lo­cal cater­ing busi­nesses.

On Dec 9, the Bei­jing Ad­min­is­tra­tion for In­dus­try and Com­merce asked cater­ing busi­nesses in the cap­i­tal to re­move six re­quire­ments that it deems un­fair for con­sumers.

The re­quire­ments in­clude re­quir­ing con­sumers to pay for table­ware, re­quir­ing they spend a cer­tain amount of money to use VIP rooms and for­bid­ding them from drink­ing liquor they bring to a restau­rant.

Restau­rants must cease th­ese “un­fair” prac­tices within one month, the Bei­jing ad­min­is­tra­tion said.

How­ever, the ho­tel as­so­ci­a­tion said it be­lieves the gov­ern­ment should not med­dle when the mar­ket can gov­ern it­self by its own rules.

“If a busi­ness dis­plays its do’s and don’ts at the en­trance or in­forms con­sumers in a proper man­ner, and then the con­sumer chooses to stay, then we can deem that the con­sumer has re­ceived th­ese con­tracts,” the as­so­ci­a­tion con­tended in the let­ter.

In ad­di­tion, a restau­rant rather than the gov­ern­ment should have the right to for­bid con­sumers from bring­ing in and drink­ing out­side liquor, the let­ter said.

“The gov­ern­ment should not make a com­pul­sory stip­u­la­tion; oth­er­wise it com­pro­mises the mar­ket’s func­tions,” it added.

The ho­tel guild was not alone in con­demn­ing the new rules.

The China Cui­sine As­so­ci­a­tion, which claims to rep­re­sent more than 12 mil­lion work­ers in the cater­ing in­dus­try, de­manded on Thurs­day that the State com­merce au­thor­ity revoke Bei­jing’s or­ders and that the mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tion apol­o­gize for them.

In re­sponse, the na­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion said that reg­u­lat­ing and elim­i­nat­ing un­fair con­tracts is one of the ma­jor re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of com­merce watch­dogs.

In­ter­net users in China have said they are long fed up with the rules of some restau­rants and sup­port the com­merce au­thor­i­ties’ move.

“In­dus­try guilds should stop the in­dis­crim­i­nate sup­port to their mem­bers and help to im­prove cater­ing busi­nesses,” wrote a ne­ti­zen who uses the name bozaideshi­jie3.

Qiu Baochang, head lawyer with the China Con­sumers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, said some un­rea­son­able rules im­posed on con­sumers have dam­aged en­ter­prises’ re­la­tions with con­sumers, so the prob­lem must be cor­rected.

“For in­stance, one of the re­quire­ments to be re­moved is that con­sumers must in­form the restau­rant 15 days in ad­vance if they want to make changes to a re­served din­ner, or they will be charged ac­cord­ing to the ini­tial con­tract,” Qiu said.

“It is rea­son­able that a cer­tain fee be charged as some sort of penalty, but a full charge is an in­fringe­ment on con­sumers’ rights.”

Yi Shenghua, an at­tor­ney at Yingke Law Firm in Bei­jing, though, said he be­lieves the com­merce depart­ment is well- in­tended in re­mov­ing “un­fair” clauses for din­ers but it failed to con­sider some ba­sic facts of the cater­ing in­dus­try.

“The reg­u­la­tors and con­sumers were usu­ally fo­cused on the price of liquor sold in restau­rants, which seemed very high,” he said. “They don’t see the ‘in­vis­i­ble costs’ of the en­ter­prises, such as dec­o­ra­tions and rent.”

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