Saturday, June 22, 2013

Misfortune Cookies

When I’m choosing where to eat, I don’t care about the food, I could eat shit food until it annihilates me from within; it’s the experience that I’m interested in. And I think that's the case with most of us; we want an experience! Decor, atmosphere, comfort, quality for money and staff so nice that they'll restore your faith in the human race. I know me I’d happily visit a place with mediocre food and a fantastic atmosphere over one with great food and a stupid bitch who can’t speak to people politely. This is the part that puzzles me about how most Chinese restaurants are run. Do they not want to make money?

For starters, let’s talk about my local Chinese restaurant. If I had to sum up this place in one word, I think it would be...'depression'. The food is fine, but I ate there once and I think I may have discovered the coldest place on earth. Not literally, but more in the sense that I’ve seen psychiatric wards with more personality than this place, not to mention my house, which has been the only place I've consumed their food since that one...yawn...experience.

Often there will come a time when I want a dine-in experience, and in that case I'll travel the extra ten minutes to somewhere a little less...annoying.

Close your eyes and imagine eating in this: a room with white walls, white tiles, a white ceiling, white tables with black metal back-support chairs, a counter and a display fridge, on top of which sits a portable stereo that looks and sounds older than I am. That's it aside from some picture frames, like that would make much of a difference. Even the tables are bare; no table cloths, not even utensils.

I wish I could say something different about the staff, but I can’t, in part because there aren't any staff. Its just a husband and wife. He’s the cook and she’s the everything else. She runs back and forth between the counter and the kitchen and the tables like she’s passing a baton onto the next runner. This woman though, speaking of things that are bare, for someone that works with people she is one of the blandest people I have ever met; she’s an absolute dial tone! Pleasantries deflect off her like she’s Clark Kent - 'hello' nod, 'how’s it going?' Nod, 'busy?' Nod. Never smiles, never makes eye contact, she just stares at your hands all the time, probably waiting for the money. Since she is basically forced to do everything, they’ll bring in their daughter as an extra pair of hands on occasion. She’s a touch more personable, I’d presume that’s because she can speak better English and is probably more assimilated.

The restaurant area is sizeable too. It’s probably one of the biggest family-owned Chinese restaurants I've seen. It could fit about three groups in my opinion, with space left for a few couples. Want to know how many people I've seen in there at any one time? Maybe two couples. No word of a lie. They don't home deliver, so I've been in there a lot to pick the food up. I'm quite sure I saw a tumbleweed the last I was there.

I can't just pick on them though. Don't get me wrong, they are the worst I've seen, but a similar business mentality ripples throughout majority of the restaurants that serve Asian cuisine, mostly Chinese. 'Baffled' would describe the expression on my face right now.

So my question is: why do they all collectively seem like they're not interested in bringing in more customers? Is that not strange? This is what goes on: the owners, typically a husband and wife, are at their drab restaurant for every minute that it’s open, normally six or seven days a week, making just enough money to stay alive and in business, and then eventually they’ll die, having achieved nothing. This all makes zero sense, because the whole idea of owning a business (as per my Western upbringing) is to build the business up until you have enough money to hire a staff, maybe open up more businesses and eventually enjoy the fruits of other people’s labour without having to get out of bed and put your big-boy pants on. And there you have it! What you’ve exhausted years of your existence into building is now operational.

These people aren't building shit!

All they do is put tables and chairs in a room, sit around not living life, cook fried rice, tell you how good looking your children are and sometimes they'll bring in their kid to take people’s orders - that's the pinnacle of their growth! Why even bother? Just go work for somebody at an already established business! You’ll end up doing a fraction of the work for more money!

So they’re there; Mr Deng, Mrs Deng and Little Deng, just playin’ with their thumbs.

Meanwhile, in a neck of woods a little farther from my own, there is this mammoth Chinese restaurant rolling in figures well over two hundred thousand dollars a month. A month! Now, that’s get-out-of-bed money! The reason they make that money: because it’s not horrible to eat there! They didn’t do anything amazing. They didn’t put cocaine in the food to keep ‘em coming or anything. The place is just well designed and the staff are nice. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff.

So for kicks, let’s put this into perspective: there are probably thousands of Chinese restaurants in Sydney alone. You don’t need to open up a map on your phone to find one, you just need to open up your eyes and chances are there will be one right in front of you. So considering that this is an already flooded market, wouldn’t that be the ultimate motivator for you to strive toward being unique and the most desired? They just have so much competition and they’re sitting there doing nothing about it! I’ve got to be honest, considering the frequency of these restaurants, I wouldn’t even open one now, let alone open one up and not doing anything special with it. And have you ever walked into a Chinese restaurant without already having an alright idea of what you might be ordering? I haven’t! That’s how alike these places are. The shit is all the same! Fried rice, spring rolls, chicken and cashews, barbeque pork...same! It’s like if you opened up a restaurant that sells Big Macs and French Fries but you didn’t try to make it better than McDonalds, there are still screaming kids and hungover staff; who would go there over an actual McDonalds?

But let’s pretend that Chinese cuisine is a niche market and your business is the only place in the area selling this food. Even then, why not make it nice? Why open a business and pour so much time and money into something and not do whatever you can to squeeze every drop of juice out of it? So, let me get this straight: they’re going well looking for a place, they get a loan on it, register for an ABN, register for a business name, they buy all of their particulars and thennnn...that’s it? Is that the end of the initiative-rope for them?

I just don’t get it. It’s not like the Chinese aren't good at making money either, especially with electronics, my gawd! Just open up a Forbes list: there’s Lenovo, Hisense, Huawei, ZTE...then whatever crazy shit they’ve got in business over there. That’s just China; if you consider all the world-renowned companies in Asia; wow! I mean, Nintendo didn’t just make some dreadful console or just release one great game and then just left it at that for thirty years like Microsoft did with Windows Mobile - they brought out console after console, great game after great game and then expanded into handheld gaming; that’s business. It must just be something about the Asians that come here, the plane ride must make them lazy. Clearly ching ching doesn’t translate very well to ching chong.

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