UK Chinese restaurants really have only themselves to blame
Is it the same where you live?
Remembering back to a report in the UK's Sunday Times not too long ago where is was stated that the respective Chinatowns of Liverpool (the oldest in the UK), Manchester and Newcastle are in serious decline, diner numbers having reduced dramatically with some restaurants sadly having to close. The situation has not been remedied either by the arrival of the pandemic.
The main reasons they cite for the closures are:
a. the emergence of world foods bringing a much bigger choice for the consumer
b. lack of suitable chefs to run the kitchens
c. competition from new retail schemes, restaurants and 'street food' collectives in more salubrious and accessible parts of the cities
I am the first to concede this may indeed be the case. Yes, new retail and dining experience schemes do indeed take away from the traditional Chinatown areas that have now not only become somewhat tired in comparison, but have increasingly - in fairness, through no fault of their own - been left in areas that are now seen as somewhat dull and uninviting office-lands.
But it goes deeper than that if taking Manchester Chinatown and my own recent experience there as an example. Our visit was a litany of poor minor experiences all adding to the greater overall larger poor experience. I won't mention the particular restaurant by name, but sadly, it wasn't the first time I have encountered this in Manchester. And it wasn't particularly pleasant given the great value and service on offer from my local suburban Indian restaurant, replete with its own free car park and a complimentary Indian cream liqueur and an Elizabeth Shaw mint for each diner after the meal.
Where Chinese restaurants need to up their game is:
1. Don't attack me with "What do you want to drink?" the moment I step into your premises and before I have even managed to hang my coat up. I don't have a drink the moment I step into my house at home, so why should I do so immediately I walk into your restaurant? Yes, I like a drink with my dinner, but if I want a drink the moment I step inside a premises, I will go to a pub instead.
2. Stop topping my glass up with your over-expensive wine or sparking water each time I take a sip from my glass. I am capable enough of doing it myself, at my own pace, and I certainly do not wish to finish the entire bottle with your unnecessary assistance before even my starter arrives. Unless this is some ancient Chinese before-dinner ceremony I have missed somewhere along the way.
3. A voluntary jug of iced water with enough drinking glasses, like they offer in most Indian restaurants, would be quite nice please. And worry not, there will still be orders for a Chinese beer or two and some G&T's
4. Please stop putting so much chicken and sweetcorn soup in your bowl of mono-sodium glutamate.
5. Can you use something else other than Blue Dragon sweet chilli sauce for the dip and Wing Yip Schezwan sauce for the main meal please? Your sweet and sour chicken, lamb in OK sauce and crispy 'fry bee' tastes exactly the same as in does in all the other Chinese restaurants in Manchester. The only differentiation is the price.
6. If you are going to charge me for four portions of rice, make sure they actually are four, individual adult portions as paid for, not just one slightly larger than normal single portion in a medium-sized salad bowl.
7. Please don't make such a fuss over the seaweed. It's only deep friend lettuce and is the most profitable item on your menu, costing you around 9p a portion to produce (in competition with the rice). It is what it's not.
8. Please let us all finish our meals before you clear away the plates. Cutlery/chopsticks placed parallel beside each other across the approximate diameter of the plate/bowl of each diner will help alert you. Oh. And if it's not too much trouble, can you please sweep away the spilled rice from the table after you have removed the dishes and cutlery.
9. Please do not automatically add a service charge of 10% to my bill. I will decide whether the surly misery who waited on my table is worthy of a tip, which, by the way, had better go directly to the staff members themselves. Not that I mistrust you, you will of course understand.
This is not a diatribe against the wonderful Chinese communities in the UK. It is a commentary on business practices and querying whether it is the same where you live.