Culture Food

Stop Chasing Those “Time-Honored”Restaurants in China

Of course, we can't say that the level of appreciation of food by public diners is perfect, and their comments are not necessarily scientific or objective, but you don't have to choose restaurants with low scores from the public judges, do you?

As we all know, China is a country with a long history. But what you may not know is that in business, China is very young.

Japan, China’s neighbor separated by a strip of water, is often mistakenly the first impression of the far East, including China, in Europe and the United States. In the modern society with a developed commodity economy, Japanese enterprises that have been passed on for decades or even hundreds of years have left a deep “ancient” impression on people in Europe and the United States.

It is easy to imagine that Europeans and Americans will look at China’s corporate and commodity economy in the same way. After all, many of them can’t tell the difference between Japanese culture and Chinese culture.

If you can’t tell the difference between China and Japan, you should be careful when you travel to China. 

Traditional Japanese companies tend to give people a sense of antique, long culture, exquisite and high quality, but in China, it is no exaggeration to say that the result is often just the opposite.

Today we will talk about China’s “time-honored” restaurant, and sincerely advise you that if your Chinese proficiency is good, or have a good relationship with Chinese friends, the next time you come to China, please do not eat in the “time-honored brand”.

Let’s talk about those famous time-honored brands

Coincidentally, just this fall, there was a famous dispute over time-honored restaurants in Beijing.

The problem came from a Tianjin time-honored brand, called “GouBuLi” steamed stuffed bun brand. The storefront in question is a decades-old store in Wangfujing, Beijing. Wangfujing is one of the core urban areas of Beijing, the main functions of this area are trade and tourism, it is conceivable that both food and service in this place are relatively expensive.

Tragically, such a high price does not bring a particularly high-quality catering experience-for Beijingers who are fastidious to food, eating in Wangfujing is definitely not a good choice.

This “GouBuLi” restaurant has been publicly criticized by a travel blogger. To make things worse, the store’s operator surprisingly thought the travel blogger was deliberately slanderous and demanded that he withdraw his criticism and apologize to them.

At this point, the core question has become “whether this restaurant is really not delicious”, and it is clear that after a storm of public opinion, there are few speakers who think that this “GouBuLi” is reasonable in price and excellent in quality.

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Most people think that the restaurant is a typical business for tourists, and most diners will experience shoddy food at high prices and then will not visit again. More importantly, because Wangfujing is a famous tourist area, the restaurant does not need to expect tourists to visit for a second time, so it is not necessary to improve its way of doing business.

But in any case, due to the explosion of public opinion, the brand had to make a public apology and revoke the restaurant’s operating qualification.

Sacrifice a small restaurant to save the whole brand. Most consumers feel this intention and do not pursue it any further. After all, there is no need to point out that “the whole GouBuLi brand is actually expensive and unpalatable”. Because in China, most time-honored brands are like this.

A typical example is the famous Beijing Roast Duck time-honored brand, Quanjude. On October 26, Quanjude disclosed the third-quarter report of 2020.

According to the report, the company’s operating income in the first three quarters was 516 million yuan, down 56.71 percent from the same period last year, while the net loss was 202 million yuan, an increase of 484.4 percent over the same period last year. From 2017 to 2019, Quanjude’s net profit totaled 254 million yuan, equivalent to losing three years’ profit in three quarters.

Obviously, Quanjude was hit by the COVID-19 epidemic. COVID-19’s epidemic brought China’s tourism industry to a near standstill, while Quanjude used huge losses to prove that the famous old restaurant is almost completely unattractive to local consumers in the absence of tourists, and as long as it opens for business, it is tantamount to losing money.

There are various accusations about Quanjude. In fact, Quanjude’s roast duck level, even if it can no longer represent the best roast duck in Beijing, but is not really particularly bad. However, Quanjude’s service level is poor and the price is very expensive. Diners spend the most money, but there is no way to enjoy the best food, naturally can not be satisfied.

Leaving Beijing, “Chinese time-honored brands” in other cities actually face similar difficulties. In Suzhou, Songhelou and Deyuelou are representative enterprises of Suzhou cuisine. The former is said to be founded in 1737, while the latter is said to have opened in the early 19th century.

During the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, Deyuelou became the only Jiangsu restaurant to stay in Expo Park. In the famous food documentary “A Bite of China”, Deyuelou was also praised by the film crew.

But Suzhou locals don’t like these two restaurants. They think the two restaurants are expensive and not delicious. If you open China’s most well-known review category app “Dianping”, you will find that the consumer scores of Songhelou and Deyuelou are not too high, or even relatively low. Some diners believe that the two restaurants are too cost-saving in cooking, using a large number of industrial semi-finished products to produce classic dishes, resulting in poor taste.

A similar problem occurred in Guangzhou, the food capital. People in Guangzhou often say that they often take guests from the north to “Diandoude” to experience Cantonese-style morning tea, but they never choose Diandoude when they do not need to accompany the guests, but only to have morning tea on their own.

Beijingers and Shanghainese also laughed. Beijingers say that we ourselves will not eat the famous “Donglaishun”. Shanghainese say that no one usually eats “Lvbolang”.

That’s weird. What is the problem with these time-honored brands?

Why is the time-honored brand in China not good?

After reading the above paragraph, you may be at a loss. If I am right, there are some Chinese restaurants that you have been to or have heard of in the above restaurants. And when you are invited to go or hear about them from various channels, they are clearly very good restaurants that can produce excellent Chinese food and represent the ancient Chinese culture. Why do we criticize these restaurants so much when you watch pandayoo.com?

If you don’t believe our judgment, you can open “Dianping” when you come to China and take a look at the scores of ordinary consumers on these restaurants. You will find that their ratings are usually not very high, focusing on about 3 out of 5, while restaurants preferred by Chinese locals tend to have 4 or 5 points.

Of course, we can’t say that the level of appreciation of food by public diners is perfect, and their comments are not necessarily scientific or objective, but you don’t have to choose restaurants with low scores from the public judges, do you?

If your Chinese is good enough, you can also click on the specific comments of these diners. You will find that the criticism focuses on two aspects: the food is not good enough (equivalent to an expensive price) and the service is very poor. Well, for a restaurant, if the food and service are poor, it may be difficult to save it in any other way, which is why Chinese locals seldom patronize these restaurants.

But why? Why do famous catering brands that have been historically proven have now become such a not-so-excellent restaurant?

The first reason: “verified by history” is not rigorous in the first place.

The modern history of China is very complicated. We are not going to talk about it here, but you can understand that from the end of the Qing Dynasty to the present, there have been many regimes with different systems and ideologies in China, and almost all parts of the country have experienced wars. peaceful times are mainly concentrated in the second half of the 20th century.

But even in the people’s Republic of China, a country that is generally peaceful and has not changed its regime, domestic political and economic unrest has occurred.

No matter the change of regime, war, or unrest, it has brought difficulties to the normal operation of the restaurant. Strictly speaking, the operations of most time-honored brands have been interrupted or forced to be interrupted, and after these time-honored brands are re-established, they may no longer have the previous talent, and the previous formula or experience.

To make things worse, some established brands are not only forced to be interrupted but even forced to rebuild. At the end of the last century, in order to protect cultural heritage, the Chinese government organized some businessmen and chefs to artificially restore the operation of some time-honored brands, and the relationship between these businessmen and chefs and former time-honored brands may be very far-fetched. In other words, some “time-honored” restaurants, the only ones that have really stood the test of history are their names. There are many such examples, such as “Daoxiangcun” in Beijing and “Deyuelou” in Suzhou.

The second reason: the impact of population mobility.

China is very vast, about Chinese food, we have written an article “Why you are not eating real ‘Chinese food’ in Chinese Restaurant?“, which can help you to help your understanding. What you need to understand is that the eating habits of different parts of China are very different, and the degree of mutual tolerance is very low. In the eyes of local people, traditional and delicious dishes may be difficult for people in other places to swallow.

These famous restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are obviously aimed at tourists from all over the country. Therefore, when a large number of tourists who do not adapt to local eating habits and seasoning styles arrive, in order to avoid large-scale bad reviews, restaurants are bound to gradually adjust their tastes so that the dishes can suit most people-not only outsiders, but also foreigners. As a result of the adjustment, the dishes must gradually become a mixture, which is not authentic and can hardly be delicious in the eyes of the local people.

However, even with such a sacrifice, restaurants can only reduce bad reviews at best, but it is difficult (almost impossible) to get unanimous praise from the whole country and even abroad. Therefore, the restaurant transformed by tourists is no longer suitable for local people, can no longer represent local food, but is unlikely to become a delicacy in the eyes of outsiders. This is a tragedy.

For more time-honored brands that are not particularly famous and do not receive special protection, their shareholders will change frequently, and eventually, the actual controllers and operators will simply become outsiders. In such business activities, it is certainly difficult to maintain local characteristics.

The third reason: lazy, do not want to make progress.

Who says bad restaurants can’t make money? Do not offend tourists although it is not conducive to the improvement of food, but can always earn tourists’ money, even if tourists will not come a second time. As a result, after operating for a few years or more, these time-honored brands often find that they can reap a lot of profits without any effort, which naturally causes them to lag behind other unknown new restaurants, which are improving their food and service every day in order to cope with the fierce competition.

You may wonder, this logic is the same everywhere, why Japanese time-honored brands are better than the counter part in China?

This may be because several revolutions experienced in China have greatly changed the inherent social structure and basically broken the monopoly of a small number of families in the industry. In short, Japanese time-honored brands are often family businesses. On the one hand, they need the ability to protect the family heritage, on the other hand, they do make progress through a long period of accumulation and improvement.

In China, referring to the “first reason” above, there is no decisive difference between these time-honored brands and emerging enterprises to a large extent. The starting point is not high, and the motivation is not strong, it is normal for them to degenerate day by day.

In addition, “laziness” and “lack of progress” are also problems that Chinese people often criticize state-run restaurants. Unfortunately, many of the famous time-honored brands are state-run restaurants. State-owned enterprises form an important part of China’s economy, but history and now have proved that some industries are not suitable for the state, and catering is one of them.

Perhaps, for the ever-changing catering market, operators must experience enough fierce market competition in order to make due progress.

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