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on the pricing of vegetables at some chinese restaurants

on the pricing of vegetables at some chinese restaurants
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  • Post #31 - September 7th, 2008, 9:00 am
    Post #31 - September 7th, 2008, 9:00 am Post #31 - September 7th, 2008, 9:00 am
    HI,

    A few years ago, I was at Szechuan Kingdom for their buffet lunch. A group of Chinese businessmen at the next table ordered a la carte. Casseroles, whole dungeness crabs and lots of other interesting food began arriving to their table. I asked the waiter for their dinner menu. I looked it over very carefully to find not one dish on that table represented there. When I told the owners I wanted to someday come back for a siimilar meal, they gave me their Chinese-language family style menu. CrazyC translated this menu as a community service. If you compared the family style meal offered on the American menu to that on the Chinese menu, two things were glaringly obvious: 1) More interesting food on the Chinese menu, 2) Chinese menu was also cheaper.

    There is also not a comfort level serving non-Chinese this Chinese menu. They put us in a location of the restaurant where American customers would not likely see what our table ate. Clearly they are not interested in cultivating American's interest in the more authentic food. It can be it is less profitable or maybe they simply believe they are responding to their market's demographics and still try to retain some Chinese clientelle.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #32 - September 12th, 2008, 11:57 am
    Post #32 - September 12th, 2008, 11:57 am Post #32 - September 12th, 2008, 11:57 am
    One possible reason is opportunity cost. Even if a large dish of vegetables costs less to prepare (in material cost and labor), a patron will likely order that in place of an entree. The restaurant still needs to make money on the customer, so it makes sense to price them similarly.

    As for the specific examples of meat dishes that are significantly cheaper, these are usually just a handful of items on the menu that are very cheap, not a trend of all meat dishes being cheaper. Seems like this could easily be explained away as the same category of the fast food value menu - they won't make money if people come in and order exclusively form the value menu, but you rarely get an entire party who does. They lose a few bucks on some ribs, but make it back with the rest of the party's order.
  • Post #33 - September 12th, 2008, 1:42 pm
    Post #33 - September 12th, 2008, 1:42 pm Post #33 - September 12th, 2008, 1:42 pm
    I guess I have an opinion or two.

    I do not agree that the pricing of vegetable dishes is excessive. Actually the convese is probably true - the pricing of protein dishes is a bargain. Of anything you can buy at a restaurant, the percentage markup of a steak is the smallest, or so I was told a while back.

    And the highest percentage markup is on noodles. (I am excluding beverages because they are in a different class entirely). I am surprised that this discussion has not moved on to pasta yet. Noodles are dirt cheap, non-perishable and simple to prepare. Many years ago a good friend who had spent some time working in Italian restaurants shared his standard rant with me on why he would never, never, never order pasta in a restaurant. Fifty cents worth of pasta, plus 50 cents worth of sauce becomes a $12.95 pasta dish. Makes the value proposition of Chinese veggies look downright wonderful.

    I suspect the markup on the ingredients in a cheese pizza is also massive, but since you need a pizza oven I guess that makes it easier to see value in that?

    My view is that I pay for a lot of things when dining out, including convenience, atmosphere of whatever sort I want (from gritty to posh), quality and freshness of ingredients, service and the skill and palate of the chef. To focus on the relation between the price and the cost of the ingredients is to devalue those other things, plus it is guaranteed to reduce my enjoyment of the meal, so I do not do it.

    I am not saying that price does not enter into my choices, as I am always looking at whether a place is a relative value or not. But I compare each place to the universe of other places providing food that is comparable, rather than to the cost of making the dish myself. Not saying there is anything wrong with comparing it with the cost of making the dish, just that if I did that it leads me to the conclusion that the only food worth buying out will be steaks or complicated stuff I could not make at home, and my palate does not agree with that.

    Having said that, I have gone through the same process that Cathy mentioned - try a food, try cooking it at home, discover I can cook it easily and quite inexpensively at home, stop buying it at restaurants. Seems a natural progression. I rarely, if ever, will buy pasta carbonara at a restaurant for example, because it is so darned easy and cheap to make (plus so many restaurant versions are tarted up monstrosities).

    So I will continue to be an omnivore, even if protein is the best bargain.
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #34 - September 12th, 2008, 3:00 pm
    Post #34 - September 12th, 2008, 3:00 pm Post #34 - September 12th, 2008, 3:00 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:HI,

    A few years ago, I was at Szechuan Kingdom for their buffet lunch. A group of Chinese businessmen at the next table ordered a la carte. Casseroles, whole dungeness crabs and lots of other interesting food began arriving to their table. I asked the waiter for their dinner menu. I looked it over very carefully to find not one dish on that table represented there. When I told the owners I wanted to someday come back for a siimilar meal, they gave me their Chinese-language family style menu. CrazyC translated this menu as a community service. If you compared the family style meal offered on the American menu to that on the Chinese menu, two things were glaringly obvious: 1) More interesting food on the Chinese menu, 2) Chinese menu was also cheaper.

    There is also not a comfort level serving non-Chinese this Chinese menu. They put us in a location of the restaurant where American customers would not likely see what our table ate. Clearly they are not interested in cultivating American's interest in the more authentic food. It can be it is less profitable or maybe they simply believe they are responding to their market's demographics and still try to retain some Chinese clientelle.

    Regards,


    This is one of the things that really gets to me. I had a similar situation a few years ago with my local elotes cart. I walked up and ordered some corn for $1.50. A Spanish speaking woman came up and got the same thing for 50 cents. I asked what the difference was in the pricing and the guy just shrugged his shoulders pretending not to understand me. I demanded my money back or the difference and he finally obliged.

    It's not about the money, retaining the integrity of their markets' demographics, or market competitive pricing. This comes down to principle and fairness. If a restaurant or anyone else feels its okay to charge white Americans one price and persons of another ethnicity less, it's just wrong. If I owned a burger stand and charged Americans $5.00 for a burger and fries but charged Asians $8.00 for the same thing, I would be shut down.

    These stories tend to make people distrust these types of restaurants. It's too bad, but it seems to be par for the course at most Chinese, Thai, and Korean restaurants that I've visited. I never go without a local or someone "in the know" and never order $10 eggplant.
  • Post #35 - September 12th, 2008, 3:19 pm
    Post #35 - September 12th, 2008, 3:19 pm Post #35 - September 12th, 2008, 3:19 pm
    This is one of the things that really gets to me. I had a similar situation a few years ago with my local elotes cart. I walked up and ordered some corn for $1.50. A Spanish speaking woman came up and got the same thing for 50 cents. I asked what the difference was in the pricing and the guy just shrugged his shoulders pretending not to understand me. I demanded my money back or the difference and he finally obliged.


    This is a strange anecdote, or at least strangely timed, since I was just going to observe (after a delicious meal at Yum Thai in Forest Park last night, one of those "secret menu" places), that the pricing / quality practices seem restricted to Asian restaurants, and that you'd never see a Mexcian restaurant offering cheaper tacos to countrymen, or withholding some delicious offal or unusual cut of meat because it 'wasn't suited for you [gringo].' In Latino restaurants of all origins, everything is right there for you on the menu, usually at ridiculously low prices (pupusas, tortas, eyeballs, etc.).

    Now, I'm a pluralist and (small u) unitarian, and cherish enclaves all around the city to the point of trying to learn everything about them and become an honorary member wherever possible, but what is it about Thai and Chinese restaurants and immigrant culture (much moreso than Korean and Japanese) that leads to secret menus, ingredient lists, and pricing? Why hold back your best product unless you read the native tongue or have friends on LTHForum.com? If you do publish everything, why have waitstaff actively denying requests from the more colorful parts of the menu?

    I'll have the Isaan, exploded catfish, hotpot, chicken feet, and heaping plate of $2 pea shoots, please.
  • Post #36 - September 12th, 2008, 4:32 pm
    Post #36 - September 12th, 2008, 4:32 pm Post #36 - September 12th, 2008, 4:32 pm
    One longtime restaurateur told me that he didn't like to serve authentic Chinese dishes to Americans because they didn't like them and either sent them back or simply didn't return to the restaurant, causing a loss of business.
  • Post #37 - September 12th, 2008, 5:30 pm
    Post #37 - September 12th, 2008, 5:30 pm Post #37 - September 12th, 2008, 5:30 pm
    Santander wrote:
    This is one of the things that really gets to me. I had a similar situation a few years ago with my local elotes cart. I walked up and ordered some corn for $1.50. A Spanish speaking woman came up and got the same thing for 50 cents. I asked what the difference was in the pricing and the guy just shrugged his shoulders pretending not to understand me. I demanded my money back or the difference and he finally obliged.


    This is a strange anecdote, or at least strangely timed, since I was just going to observe (after a delicious meal at Yum Thai in Forest Park last night, one of those "secret menu" places), that the pricing / quality practices seem restricted to Asian restaurants, and that you'd never see a Mexcian restaurant offering cheaper tacos to countrymen, or withholding some delicious offal or unusual cut of meat because it 'wasn't suited for you [gringo].' In Latino restaurants of all origins, everything is right there for you on the menu, usually at ridiculously low prices (pupusas, tortas, eyeballs, etc.).


    I think it's fair to mention that this was the only time that I've experienced this situation with a Mexican food vendor. I just used this anecdote because it was the only time that I've caught someone in the act of upcharging me based on ethnicity. I've been living in Bucktown/Wicker Park for over 12 years by now and have experienced way more generosity at Mexican/Latin restaurants/grocers than not. In fact, Danny of Danny's (formerly Jimenez on Western) Grocery has been very generous over the years, handing out free advice and free house (secret) rubs.

    I've also heard the excuse that the western and eastern palates clash but that's not an excuse for upcharging.
  • Post #38 - September 12th, 2008, 7:21 pm
    Post #38 - September 12th, 2008, 7:21 pm Post #38 - September 12th, 2008, 7:21 pm
    I think it's fair to mention that this was the only time that I've experienced this situation with a Mexican food vendor.


    Indeed. It's a good story which I'm glad you posted, and just goes to show that whatever "rule of dining" one can develop, there are always exceptions.
  • Post #39 - September 12th, 2008, 7:26 pm
    Post #39 - September 12th, 2008, 7:26 pm Post #39 - September 12th, 2008, 7:26 pm
    This topic has finally been the catalyst to stop lurking.

    Tiered pricing is just part of the Chinese culture. We have a mixed family. If our very obvious Chinese grandmother is not with us, we get the higher prices. If we haven't visited a restaurant in a while, we get the higher prices. Even asking the winsome child to order in her Sichuan accent may not help. We got a bad meal at Double Li because Mr Li, while charming, simply did not believe that we like authentic.

    While visiting a "small" town near Chendu, China this summer; we witnessed a spirited exchange between our host and a local shopkeeper. I asked our daughter to eavesdrop and translate: "He told the owner that he had given us friend pricing, but he needed to give us family pricing." Our host is the brother of the wife of the brother of the grandmother. In the US, that would be no relation at all.

    All across China, admissions and tickets have tiered prices -- local residents, other Chinese, and other. If you visit the great wall, or Xian terracotta warriors, or one of the tombs -- here is a big tip. Hire a college student and take a local bus -- it will be about a tenth of what the hotels are charging, and it will be a lot more fun.

    We did take one tour arranged by a friend, and the tour guide told us NOT to tell the others what we paid.

    Airlines and hotels do the same.

    If you don't like the tiered prices, stay out of Chinatown. I don't know a single good restaurant that does not have secret menus and different pricing. By all means, don't get acupuncture -- they charge different prices as well. Grandmother gets the family rate, we get the friends rate, but we see other non-Chinese charged even more. We've seen the same "practice" at the dentist and doctor. That's the advantage of not using Roman numbers on the not-so-secret prices; they are usually posted on the wall.

    As far as why they don't serve authentic to us long-noses? (That's the translation for foreigner that we sometimes hear directed at us.) It's because they are convinced that we won't like it, and they will go out of business. In Iowa, we visited a local Chinese restaurant where the most that my husband understood after another lively conversation between the local owner and our grandmother was "McDonald's." Basically, the owner/chef was saying that we would not like the food as it was not really Chinese, but it was better than McDonald's. She maintained that Iowans would only eat food with gravy, so she had modified all the recipes to include some. Remember all the early famous Chinese dishes were really developed in the US -- chop suey, crab rangoon, ..... They have some history on their side that Americans won't want the real thing.

    But on the other hand, we are always up for meeting new people and introducing them to chicken feet, pork bellies/intestines, and fish served heads and tails.
  • Post #40 - September 12th, 2008, 7:40 pm
    Post #40 - September 12th, 2008, 7:40 pm Post #40 - September 12th, 2008, 7:40 pm
    Thank you for posting, Chinois, and I hope your lurking has been long and enjoyable (and that the need to post becomes a positive if it's not already).

    This is a seriously valuable contribution and insight - I am very interested in the cultural underpinnings here and have been exploring and debating them with friends from China for several years, and we have no consistent explanation.

    Suffice it to say, I am greatly indebted to those friends, and more recently, those LTHers, who have opened the doors to a variety of dining and pricing tiers for me and so many others. I've always found Chicago to be an open-minded place willing to support and reward honest, proud hard work, and hope all restauranteurs out there know there is an audience for home-cookin', even if that home is in backcountry Yunan or Si Sa Ket Province.
  • Post #41 - September 13th, 2008, 10:43 am
    Post #41 - September 13th, 2008, 10:43 am Post #41 - September 13th, 2008, 10:43 am
    Santander wrote:
    Tyrus wrote:This is one of the things that really gets to me. I had a similar situation a few years ago with my local elotes cart. I walked up and ordered some corn for $1.50. A Spanish speaking woman came up and got the same thing for 50 cents. I asked what the difference was in the pricing and the guy just shrugged his shoulders pretending not to understand me. I demanded my money back or the difference and he finally obliged.


    This is a strange anecdote, or at least strangely timed, since I was just going to observe (after a delicious meal at Yum Thai in Forest Park last night, one of those "secret menu" places), that the pricing / quality practices seem restricted to Asian restaurants, and that you'd never see a Mexcian restaurant offering cheaper tacos to countrymen, or withholding some delicious offal or unusual cut of meat because it 'wasn't suited for you [gringo].' In Latino restaurants of all origins, everything is right there for you on the menu, usually at ridiculously low prices (pupusas, tortas, eyeballs, etc.).


    This was one of the major turn-offs during my visits to the old International Market on Cicero; Despite it being predominantly an Asian-themed market with a lot of Latin products, the fishmongers were all Hispanic. Every visit I witnessed Hispanic clientele ask for (in Spanish) and receive special pricing or "under-weighting" on their seafood purchases. It made me feel badly, in particular because I can speak Spanish and understood everything that was going on.

    Of particular interest to me however, is our family has never received any special pricing deals simply because we were Asian or spoke the language. Certainly reading the specials on the wall will afford specialty items or reveal certain deals, but we've never experienced the family pricing vs friends pricing vs whatever pricing. The only time we see special pricing is when dining in huge groups with family members of the owners - but that would likely hold true in any type of restaurant. We've certainly never paid more or less than the prices stated either on the print menu or on the wall.

    Of secondary interest however, was a visit to New York Chinatown where I received a tax-free discount if I paid the dim-sum bill in cash vs credit - but we ALL know why that discount occurred... and had nothing to do with the way I looked/or language I spoke. :wink:

    Of tertiary interest, despite looking Asian, we still experience age, lack-of-language and non-Korean discrimination when attending Korean restaurants. It's been that way since college: Young Koreans often receive worse service, less pan-chan etc when dining in Korean restaurants - less gratis things. Young non-Korean-speaking Koreans receive EVEN WORSE service, less gratis, etc. They take it as an offense when you don't reply in Korean. Can't really say these items are gratis, but should accompany the full-fledge meal, but are sometimes conveniently forgotten - like "We ran out of pori-cha, or we don't have 8-bean rice, or we don't have any more such-and-such pan-chan..." Then you see these items magically appear at the next table. THIS really gets my goat.
  • Post #42 - September 14th, 2008, 4:22 pm
    Post #42 - September 14th, 2008, 4:22 pm Post #42 - September 14th, 2008, 4:22 pm
    Another analogy of tiered pricing that has nothing to do with ethnicity, but is more of a "neighborhood" thing, one that's applied, I'm sure, to encourage repeat business.

    Because I live around the corner from a well-known blues clubs, the folks there drop the cover charge for me or give me a hefty discount. Consequently it has become my bar of choice in the neighborhood. Locals often get treated differently from the new patron, anything from immediate seating to a complimentary dessert to a special greeting to a special menu. We all like to be treated equally (and it sometimes makes me angry when I'm on the other side of that equation, too), but it also can be good business to treat your best and closest customers with special consideration. To offer another extreme example, I've never been comped for a room in Vegas, but I don't feel cheated when somebody else is.
    "The fork with two prongs is in use in northern Europe. In England, they’re armed with a steel trident, a fork with three prongs. In France we have a fork with four prongs; it’s the height of civilization." Eugene Briffault (1846)
  • Post #43 - September 15th, 2008, 3:00 am
    Post #43 - September 15th, 2008, 3:00 am Post #43 - September 15th, 2008, 3:00 am
    Chinois wrote:As far as why they don't serve authentic to us long-noses? (That's the translation for foreigner that we sometimes hear directed at us.) It's because they are convinced that we won't like it, and they will go out of business.... They have some history on their side that Americans won't want the real thing.

    This is the explanation that a longtime restaurateur gave me as well.

    And -- members of this forum aside -- they are often right.

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