A Pakistani restaurant called ‘Zam Zam’, located in China’s capital city Beijing, stands out in the city’s hyper-competitive catering industry, beating COVID-19’s heavy impact to become the second most popular restaurant in Beijing’s Haidian district, according to the Chinese food rating platform DaZhongDianPing. As a Pakistani businessman, Hammad Zaheer credits his success to his team and the vibrant business environment, which was enabled by advanced online services, according to Gwadar Pro. Even before the pandemic, the online food market was booming in China as a consequence of the country’s rapid development of e-commerce, where online and offline businesses blend together through the digitisation of the complete retail value chain. The rise of third-party rating and delivery platforms reshaped purchaser propensities and now, foodies in China prefer to order food sitting at their homes as those platforms provide time-efficient services, bulk discounts and user ratings. According to statistics released by Yiguan Analysys, trade volume for China’s internet catering market will reach RMB934 billion this year. “Hardly any restaurant owner would say no to bringing their business online in China, no matter before or during the pandemic. Online services can help increase customer reach and boost revenue streams.” Graduated as a student of medicine from Yangtze University, China, Hammad Zaheer boldly abandoned his major and went for his true passion– food. “I have spent almost nothing on marketing and advertising. As a foodie, I’ve decided that the most important thing for my restaurant is the taste, the quality of cuisine, so I spent the majority of my resources on forging the best chef team.” Hammad said. He hired his chef directly from Lahore to make sure that his kitchen would only send out the most authentic Pakistani food. “At first, Zam Zam was just a place for friends to hangout, then word got out, our rankings on rating and delivery platforms kept climbing. So yes, platforms do help us to reach more customers, yet the quality of food is the ultimate trump card.” However, during the pandemic, online services became critical, “We stayed open when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak in China. There were over one thousand Pakistani students who lived close to our restaurant, stranded in their dorms. Food delivery services helped them, as well as ‘Zam Zam’,” Hammad said. Online food services do help restaurants maintain their revenue and stay in business when dine-in options were restricted due to the pandemic. The 2021 annual report of the catering industry in Beijing, jointly carried by China Hotel Association and Xinhua Net, indicated that the epidemic accelerated the digital process of the catering industry and promoted the overall acceleration of digital transformation. Although the proportion of catering enterprises specialising in takeout is not high, the average proportion of takeout sales still increased by 0.41pc year-on-year, reflecting the momentum of digital transformation to a certain extent. Can the Online Food market be a way out for Pakistan’s restaurants during the pandemic? Hammad shared his opinion: “I think for Pakistan, ‘third-party’ or not, the development of the online food market is necessary, especially during the pandemic. Currently, online ordering services such as FoodPanda are only available in major cities in Pakistan. Customers have not yet developed consumption habits to order online. The epidemic is devastating for everyone, yet it also opens vast opportunities.” Pakistan, still haunted by the pandemic, is already witnessing the light of digital transformation in all sectors. Last year, mass transit startup Airlift launched a 30-minute grocery delivery platform to counter the impact of pandemic. Since then, the platform’s revenue has grown 30-50pc MoM on average, and has currently raised $85 million in its Series B financing round. Can the pandemic accelerate the digital transformation process for Pakistan’s catering market? Will Pakistan get its own delivery platforms in the future? Time will tell, the report added.