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By Andrea Lo | October 11th, 2017

All Tea No Shade with Andrea Lo. 

At some point in the last year or so, service in Hong Kong restaurants took a nosedive.

At upmarket restaurants, waiters openly shade you for not studying their menu properly (“Could I try a white wine that wasn’t as sweet as the one before? “Um, we don’t have sweet white wine here.” “Then what was the white wine you just recommended me?”).

Hipster joints force us to move tables twice in a meal, then loudly ask for more tips.

At bars charging $180 per drink, waiters see you walk all the way into the end of the (half-empty) establishment but don’t even acknowledge you (we gave them a good 20 minutes, then left).

In others, door staff refuse to let smokers back in because they’re now suddenly “at capacity”.

Certain faux-fancy dim sum restaurants are the worst offenders, because they put on a front of being customer-oriented when really they’re just as bad as a fiery-tempered dai pai dong owner with a toothpick and cigarette simultaneously dangling out of their mouth (“I was just told you are out of har gao — could we have another dish please?” “I don’t even KNOW what you’re talking about.” Walks away).

And before you pin me down as that diner who causes issues, be rest assured that this happens to plenty of foodies I know. At a nice hot pot restaurant (read: a la carte, not all-you-can-eat), the waitress hustled R so hard into ordering more expensive alternatives to what she wanted, she snapped the menu shut. “I’m not doing this,” she said — and understandably so. At a posh steakhouse, L asked her waiter if the beef was dry-aged. “What do you think?!” — followed by laughter — was his response.

I don’t mean bad service in a cha chaan teng or cheap local eateries: that comes with the territory. There was one particularly memorable meal at one of the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter eateries located on water, where we were screamed at through the meal, and on the sampan that took us back to dry land. “All these terrible gweilos who keep getting drunk and falling into the water!” yelled the ladies who ran the eatery. (For the record, that wasn’t us.)

No, I’m not talking about those. For unbeatable prices in a no-frills setting, where toilet paper is provided as napkin, what would you expect other than hilariously terrible service?

It’s the places charging $500 per head and up, where I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect better treatment than in cheap joints.

I don’t understand, in an environment as tough as Hong Kong’s food and beverage industry, how these places expect to survive. Do you want customers to walk through the door? Or do you want hideous reviews that put everyone off?

Yes, there are still restaurants in Hong Kong with excellent service. But of course, their prices tend to be at the upper end of the spectrum.

Besides, I know it’s not impossible for mid-range restaurants to do better. There are two restaurants my por por frequents where she tips so well — in lai see, to waiters and managers — they can magic up a table for six at 7pm on a Saturday night at a moment’s notice. (She hates bad service — and waiting.)

Maybe that’s the problem here. There simply isn’t enough of a tipping culture in Hong Kong to incentivize those working in the hospitality sector. Or perhaps it could be blamed on problems that arise partly due to the prohibiting costs in operations — limited budgets for training, and high turnovers rates.

So is paying through the nose what it takes to get good service in Hong Kong restaurants?


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