Restaurants in Hong Kong, suffering as customers stay at home for fear of catching the deadly SARS virus, are hyping hygiene even more than cuisine as they plead with patrons to return.

“We are providing anti-bacterial hand gel for the convenience of our guests at the table,” the American-themed Ruby Tuesday chain said in an e-mail, listing stepped-up cleanliness measures and offering a discount to mailing-list customers.

Lebanese restaurant Beirut has sent letters to customers, assuring them that “extra sterilized agents are being used in everyday operations for cleaning tableware, glassware, chairs, floors and all cooking utensils on the premises.”

Business at restaurants and retail outlets shops has plunged since the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome last month. Hong Kong residents are staying away from crowded places and many would-be visitors are avoiding the city entirely.

The virus, which has killed 25 people in the city and infected more than 900, is believed to be spread by droplets from sneezing and coughing.
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