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Anyone ever owned/run/worked at a Chinese take out resturant?

Gabriel_PittGabriel_Pitt (effective against Russian warships)Registered User regular
edited September 2010 in Help / Advice Forum
Apropos of nothing(I swear) has anyone had experience with the behind the counter side of Chinese take out? What kind of problems did you experience in relation to getting people in, getting them to come back? Are there any big does or do nots that experience makes you want to pass on? Suggestions for how to prevent possible problems from popping up?

Gabriel_Pitt on
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    SpacemilkSpacemilk Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Are you starting your own take-out restaurant? If so, is it ok if I tell you some things I would like, as a customer? If that's not the sort of stuff you are looking for, that's fine; but I really like take-out and wish places would improve a couple of things!

    Spacemilk on
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    Gabriel_PittGabriel_Pitt (effective against Russian warships) Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    No, but a very close (Chinese, for what it's worth) friend of mine is, and he keeps asking my opinion about various things (I represent generic white America, which will make up the majority of his customer base). I thought it might help to draw upon the well of experience others might have so I'd have useful advice to offer. Otherwise, all that I have is what I've learned from watching 'Kitchen Nightmares' (the BBC version, which is heavy on useful restaurant running info, and much lighter on manufactured personal drama).

    Hit me with whatever you've got. I'll weigh, evaluate, and distribute as needed.

    So I guess it is apropos of something after all :D

    Gabriel_Pitt on
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    EshEsh Tending bar. FFXIV. Motorcycles. Portland, ORRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Have your friend buy this book and read it.

    You don't have to go to the extremes that this guy does, but it's chock full of amazing ideas and concepts.

    Esh on
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    AethosAethos Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I worked at one all through highschool. It was a great time, good people working there, and the chefs and owners were all Chinese and super funny and friendly.

    Make sure you have all the stereotypical stuff that people order. The one I worked at didn't have General Tso's Chicken, and that alone made people not order from us sometimes. As in they'd call, get all the way through the order, it would be the last thing, we wouldn't have it, so they'd just cancel and call another place. It was busy all the time still though, so it wasn't a big deal, but it could be for someone starting out.

    Are they planning on delivering as well? Make sure the delivery guys aren't fuck ups. This goes for most places that deliver. They should hopefully know their way around and be able to at least fake friendliness, and defer all complaints to the phones, their job is to deliver, not to be a mobile complaint department.

    Have they ever ran a restaurant before, of any kind? I can't really think of much advice to give that someone who has worked in the business wouldn't already know.

    Aethos on
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    EshEsh Tending bar. FFXIV. Motorcycles. Portland, ORRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Aethos wrote: »
    I worked at one all through highschool. It was a great time, good people working there, and the chefs and owners were all Chinese and super funny and friendly.

    Make sure you have all the stereotypical stuff that people order. The one I worked at didn't have General Tso's Chicken, and that alone made people not order from us sometimes. As in they'd call, get all the way through the order, it would be the last thing, we wouldn't have it, so they'd just cancel and call another place. It was busy all the time still though, so it wasn't a big deal, but it could be for someone starting out.

    Are they planning on delivering as well? Make sure the delivery guys aren't fuck ups. This goes for most places that deliver. They should hopefully know their way around and be able to at least fake friendliness, and defer all complaints to the phones, their job is to deliver, not to be a mobile complaint department.

    Have they ever ran a restaurant before, of any kind? I can't really think of much advice to give that someone who has worked in the business wouldn't already know.

    Make sure everyone isn't a fuck up. Also, don't hire your friends.

    Esh on
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    nukanuka What are circles? Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Have fun with language barriers!

    I worked at a sit down Thai restaurant, so not exactly the same deal. Not all the chefs were from Thailand, I've worked with people from Laos, Vietnam and China. I don't see why your buddy's place would be any different. Don't hire a translator because that would be too much, but keep that in mind that not everyone is going to all be speaking the same language, let alone English, and you need to have clear communication channels in a restaurant. In any place really.

    It wouldn't hurt to write down a copy of the menu in different languages to be kept in the back.

    nuka on
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    EshEsh Tending bar. FFXIV. Motorcycles. Portland, ORRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    nuka wrote: »
    Have fun with language barriers!

    I worked at a sit down Thai restaurant, so not exactly the same deal. Not all the chefs were from Thailand, I've worked with people from Laos, Vietnam and China. I don't see why your buddy's place would be any different. Don't hire a translator because that would be too much, but keep that in mind that not everyone is going to all be speaking the same language, let alone English, and you need to have clear communication channels in a restaurant. In any place really.

    It wouldn't hurt to write down a copy of the menu in different languages to be kept in the back.

    You're assuming that the cooks are going to be Chinese or not speaking English. There's a sushi place downtown here that has a bunch of Mexican guys making the sushi.

    Without communication a restaurant (and especially the back of the house) will fall apart really quickly. It's generally not a good idea to hire people don't speak a lick of English unless the place is run by someone who speaks their native tongue.

    Esh on
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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    edited August 2010
    I have one thing, as a customer, that I would like to change about the local Chinese place. I *adore* the local Chinese place; pepper steak is my favorite dish since I was a kid, and these guys make the absolute best stuff I've ever had, anywhere.

    But...

    They have three different people answering the phones. One sounds like an American college kid, no accent, no nothing. He's really nice, and he's really cool. There's a guy with a very thick accent. He's hard to understand, but patiently repeats anything he needs to, and he's nice and cool too. Then there's a woman who answers the phone, has a very thick accent, and is increasingly belligerent every time I need her to clarify what she just said. I don't mind accents, and I don't (generally) mind angry people answering the phone as long as I get what I order. When you combine the two, it makes for kind of a shitty experience. Were I not so determined to order their pepper steak specifically, I wouldn't have called there again after the first time she answered the phone because she was actually quite rude.

    So I guess my advice is to try to make sure the most patient of the group take the calls. Patience always helps in customer service, because let's face it, customers are assholes, but if they have any kind of accent they are almost certainly going to be asked to repeat everything they say two hundred times a day. That can wear on even the patient.

    ceres on
    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    DeebaserDeebaser on my way to work in a suit and a tie Ahhhh...come on fucking guyRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    make sure they de-vein the goddamn shrimp if they aren't going to just butterfly it. seriously, shrimp poop hidden in fried stuff is gross.

    Deebaser on
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    ThundyrkatzThundyrkatz Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    There are a couple of decent Chinese food places in my town. One has better food, and is a little cheaper then the other. But we don't usually go there because... They don't have any of the dinner combinations. Like lo mien, rice and an appetizer or two. so you end up having to order enough food to feed an army just to get what you want. This is fine if we have a bunch of people going, but if it is just my wife and I...

    The other place is not quite as good, but you can get a box of food with a bunch of different things for each person, which is much more convenient.

    Thundyrkatz on
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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    its not good take out unless there is an angry chinese woman answering the phone sounding annoyed at you.

    Combos are not critical if its cheap enough to justify getting extra. i mean think of the leftovers.

    mts on
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    bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    As a very frequent Chinese food order-er, I appreciate the people who take my order being able to understand what I say. If they have thick accents or aren't friendly enough to understand that some people will ask them to repeat frequently, even in a single call, they probably shouldn't answer the phone.

    bowen on
    not a doctor, not a lawyer, examples I use may not be fully researched so don't take out of context plz, don't @ me
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    solsovlysolsovly Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    bowen wrote: »
    As a very frequent Chinese food order-er, I appreciate the people who take my order being able to understand what I say. If they have thick accents or aren't friendly enough to understand that some people will ask them to repeat frequently, even in a single call, they probably shouldn't answer the phone.

    Having numbers on the menus helps greatly when trying to break that language barrier. Some places I will just order "C34, Pepper Steak" or whatever.

    solsovly on
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    CauldCauld Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I disagree that combos aren't critical. It's all I ever order.

    I do agree that being putting a nice person in front and answering phones is very important as I often will decide I like a place purely from the front person/phone answer person. Numbers are a good idea. Make sure the delivery people are nice (smile, say thank you, etc.).

    Make sure you put "No MSG" prominently on the menu and in the store. Also make sure you use no MSG. A lot of people care about that, I'm always surprised by it.

    There are probably at least 10 Chinese takeout places that deliver to me, try to find something to stand out. I still haven't tried them all. If only one of them did something different or extra(besides the one that costs more), I'd try them next. For example, if they didn't have their battered chicken delivered ready to be fried, or even offering lo mein in combos instead of rice (possibly for more money).

    If they can find a way for their menu to stand out from a design point of view that would be good too. All the menus here are almost identical.

    Cauld on
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    amateurhouramateurhour One day I'll be professionalhour The woods somewhere in TennesseeRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Don't over grease the rice.


    I hate take out places that are cheap and have that yellowish fried rice that ruins the rest of the meal.

    amateurhour on
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    SpacemilkSpacemilk Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    I know Cauld just said "no MSG" but in my opinion it's good to offer that option, with certain dishes, but do not make every item MSG-free! I personally like it.

    I agree with bowen - good rice is important, be it white or fried. And make sure that your top 3 dishes (usually General Tso's chicken, orange chicken, and beef and broccoli/veggies) are done well.

    Personally, there are places I go to where the combos are obviously the best deal. And that's a good thing. But sometimes I would like to eat take-out without getting a shitton of food. For one thing, I try to control my portions so I don't overeat, and for another, it's a complete waste because if I have leftovers, they usually taste nasty the next day (imo) and so I don't eat them. So maybe have a "healthy" section of the menu (you can put the no-MSG dishes here too!) where there are smaller portion sizes for a cheaper price. [fake edit: Just realized Thundykratz said pretty much the same thing! hi5!]

    Spacemilk on
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    VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    It may be a regional thing but I can't think of a single take out place in Boston that uses MSG. Almost no one wants it here. And if a place uses it in anything I don't eat there. I'd rather eat at the place that doesn't so I don't have to worry what does and doesn't.

    VisionOfClarity on
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    SpacemilkSpacemilk Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    It may be a regional thing but I can't think of a single take out place in Boston that uses MSG. Almost no one wants it here. And if a place uses it in anything I don't eat there. I'd rather eat at the place that doesn't so I don't have to worry what does and doesn't.
    Interesting. I've had no-MSG Chinese take-out once or twice and I just didn't like the taste. :? Maybe I just went to a bad spot... but that's why I said I prefer to have the option of MSG - because it wasn't good when I tried it.

    Spacemilk on
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    VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Like I said, it may be a regional thing.

    VisionOfClarity on
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    acidlacedpenguinacidlacedpenguin Institutionalized Safe in jail.Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    if you offer "plain rice" make it just that. Every chinese food place around here will have all kinds of shit thrown into the "plain rice" dish. . . if I wanted vegetable rice I'd order the vegetable rice. . .

    acidlacedpenguin on
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    ChenChen Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    MSG adds flavor. I don't get what the big deal is if it's tasty. Do people really care if it's MSG free? Or do you have to label it as a food additive? Seems a bit silly on both accounts. It's not harmful to most people.

    The most important thing is to get the food right. If it's tasty for a reasonable price, people will come back.

    Chen on
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    SiskaSiska Shorty Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Fried Bananas coated in syrup and served with vanilla ice cream. Well, that is what I'm missing from the local Chinese restaurants around here anyway. In fact they have no desserts what so ever.

    Siska on
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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    edited August 2010
    Siska wrote: »
    Fried Bananas coated in syrup and served with vanilla ice cream. Well, that is what I'm missing from the local Chinese restaurants around here anyway. If fact they have no desserts what so ever.
    If awesome pepper steak place had desserts I would never, ever leave.

    ceres on
    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    CauldCauld Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Chen wrote: »
    MSG adds flavor. I don't get what the big deal is if it's tasty. Do people really care if it's MSG free? Or do you have to label it as a food additive? Seems a bit silly on both accounts. It's not harmful to most people.

    The most important thing is to get the food right. If it's tasty for a reasonable price, people will come back.

    I agree, but the fact is MSG is something a lot of people don't want. There's no use in arguing with potential customers, they just won't try your food and you'll lose money because of it. No one in my extended family will eat it. My wife and I don't really care, but there's too many people who don't understand, care to understand, or genuinely believe that its a bad thing to risk your business for an additive that isn't essential.

    Cauld on
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    SpacemilkSpacemilk Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Chen wrote: »
    MSG adds flavor. I don't get what the big deal is if it's tasty. Do people really care if it's MSG free? Or do you have to label it as a food additive? Seems a bit silly on both accounts. It's not harmful to most people.

    The most important thing is to get the food right. If it's tasty for a reasonable price, people will come back.
    Actually, I know several people (my father is one of them) who gets unbelievably horrible migraines if he eats anything containing MSG. It's not really worth a $75 shot to eat at a chinese take-out for it. So I completely understand not wanting it in, though I really really like it.

    Spacemilk on
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    VisionOfClarityVisionOfClarity Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Also, some people just don't care for it. I don't like MSG, I don't think it 'enhances the flavour' I think it masks it. Some people also want to avoid places that add more sodium to a dish, especially a dish that already has more than you'd want in one meal.

    VisionOfClarity on
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    ChenChen Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Who will know and taste the difference? It's not something that can picked up easily. I'm not saying to add copious amounts of it, just bits of sprinkles to make it more flavorful.

    Or do people genuinely ask if there's MSG in the food before ordering? I've never heard of this in my lifetime, but I wasn't brought up in the states so maybe it's indeed a regional thing.

    Chen on
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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    edited August 2010
    American Chinese food is famous for it, so yeah, people ask.

    edit: Honestly I never minded that much, but I just looked at the menu and the local place actually does put on their menu that they use no MSG.

    ceres on
    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    MSG is naturally occurring in a lot of foods. Unfortunately it popped up as some "THIS WILL KILL YOU" scare of the month a few years back and since then a lot of companies are advertising MSG free. You may want to advertise that you can make meals MSG free by request, as there are some people allergic, or rather, intolerant to it. MSG makes food taste "better", and occasionally some restaurants that deal with Chinese food go a little overboard.

    Health nuts that tend to follow crash diets and other crazy shit like that tend to be concerned with MSG. It's just like being concerned about the levels of sugar that get added to your diet soda behind your back. Basically, it's stupid.

    bowen on
    not a doctor, not a lawyer, examples I use may not be fully researched so don't take out of context plz, don't @ me
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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    bowen wrote: »
    MSG is naturally occurring in a lot of foods. Unfortunately it popped up as some "THIS WILL KILL YOU" scare of the month a few years back and since then a lot of companies are advertising MSG free. You may want to advertise that you can make meals MSG free by request, as there are some people allergic, or rather, intolerant to it. MSG makes food taste "better", and occasionally some restaurants that deal with Chinese food go a little overboard.

    Health nuts that tend to follow crash diets and other crazy shit like that tend to be concerned with MSG. It's just like being concerned about the levels of sugar that get added to your diet soda behind your back. Basically, it's stupid.
    i actually watched a show Food detectives where they tested the MSG headache thing.

    granted it is a tv science but they basically called BS on the headache adverse reaction to MSG and people prefered teh taste of it.

    mts on
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    Monolithic_DomeMonolithic_Dome Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Some stuff I like about my local place:

    -I can order online
    -They deliver it obscenely fast (I do live pretty close)
    -In addition to all the "American Chinese" favorites, they have a selection of more crazy Cambodian dishes. I love this because I can get something 'safe' and something new in the same order.
    -They've got a refrigerator magnet punchy card.

    Monolithic_Dome on
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    CauldCauld Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Look, I'm not saying it isn't stupid. I'm not saying there isn't a large amount of evidence discounting the myth, I'm just saying if you want to be a successful Chinese takeout place you should follow a no MSG rule and advertise it otherwise you'll lose potential customers.

    People ask all the time, and for every person who asks there's other people who won't be bothered to ask and will just assume its in there. Those are people who won't be customers. A large number of people who ask won't order if the place uses MSG in any food at all, figuring it will either get into their food or that the cooks won't listen or don't care to not add it to their order.

    I think the important thing is that being MSG free and advertising it will lose you very few customers and gain you a significant amount.

    One other thing I forgot to mention before. If the kitchen is at all visible from where customers can be make sure it is always very clean looking and very clean. I know at busy times sometimes its easier to leave some empty trays stacked up on a counter or something, but the appearance of cleanliness is just as important as the actual cleanliness. If people get sick off the food they probably won't come back, but if people think the kitchen is dirty they may not come back either.

    Cauld on
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    bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Or, instead of not using it at all, you could just put "MSG FREE BY REQUEST" on the menu.

    The ones who care can eat shitty food while everyone else will have the tastiest Chinese food in the area.

    bowen on
    not a doctor, not a lawyer, examples I use may not be fully researched so don't take out of context plz, don't @ me
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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    edited August 2010
    mts wrote: »
    bowen wrote: »
    MSG is naturally occurring in a lot of foods. Unfortunately it popped up as some "THIS WILL KILL YOU" scare of the month a few years back and since then a lot of companies are advertising MSG free. You may want to advertise that you can make meals MSG free by request, as there are some people allergic, or rather, intolerant to it. MSG makes food taste "better", and occasionally some restaurants that deal with Chinese food go a little overboard.

    Health nuts that tend to follow crash diets and other crazy shit like that tend to be concerned with MSG. It's just like being concerned about the levels of sugar that get added to your diet soda behind your back. Basically, it's stupid.
    i actually watched a show Food detectives where they tested the MSG headache thing.

    granted it is a tv science but they basically called BS on the headache adverse reaction to MSG and people prefered teh taste of it.
    I would be interested to hear about that if they had proper controls and a double-blind test with people who said they get the headaches and people who said they don't, then followed everyone for about 12 hours. Bonus points for trying this with more than 5 people. :P

    I don't mind TV science when it looks like actual science, but I probably wouldn't risk customers on it.

    To the OP, re the MSG thing: assuming you get this kind of input, have your friend check all the other local Chinese places and see if they advertise that they don't use MSG. If nobody says "NO MSG", then the locals probably don't care and you don't have to either. However, in that case not using it might make your friend stand out to customers, and in the case that NOBODY uses MSG you might not want to be the place that does.

    ceres on
    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    Someone did do a double blind and did indeed find it was bullshit. I think Wikipedia has info on it.
    To the OP, re the MSG thing: assuming you get this kind of input, have your friend check all the other local Chinese places and see if they advertise that they don't use MSG. If nobody says "NO MSG", then the locals probably don't care and you don't have to either. However, in that case not using it might make your friend stand out to customers, and in the case that NOBODY uses MSG you might not want to be the place that does.

    Or he could end up being the best tasting Chinese food place in the area. But locale plays a huge part in that. He wouldn't want to do it if they were in SanFran or NYC, but, Texas would be fine for instance.

    bowen on
    not a doctor, not a lawyer, examples I use may not be fully researched so don't take out of context plz, don't @ me
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    mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    mts on
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    OnTheLastCastleOnTheLastCastle let's keep it haimish for the peripatetic Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    This thread has made me very hungry. Gonna get me some teriyaki chicken tonight.

    We have cheap chinese takeout places here. They all have the same decor (old, wrinkly pictures of flower vistas in China), pictures of food (also old and wrinkly) and probably food. They're cheap, you know what you're getting.

    We have very nice place that is also a sit down restaurant. I say it's nice because it has carpet, the colors are dark and rich (greens, browns, dark blues). The tables are polished wood. It just looks a lot classier. The food is marginally better but it is mostly how excellent the place looks that makes you enjoy being there or ordering. It's a popular place. It's not that much more expensive than the 'cheap' places, maybe a dollar per entree, but the entire experience is just much better on all fronts for me.

    OnTheLastCastle on
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    EshEsh Tending bar. FFXIV. Motorcycles. Portland, ORRegistered User regular
    edited August 2010
    This thread has made me very hungry. Gonna get me some teriyaki chicken tonight.

    We have cheap chinese takeout places here. They all have the same decor (old, wrinkly pictures of flower vistas in China), pictures of food (also old and wrinkly) and probably food. They're cheap, you know what you're getting.

    We have very nice place that is also a sit down restaurant. I say it's nice because it has carpet, the colors are dark and rich (greens, browns, dark blues). The tables are polished wood. It just looks a lot classier. The food is marginally better but it is mostly how excellent the place looks that makes you enjoy being there or ordering. It's a popular place. It's not that much more expensive than the 'cheap' places, maybe a dollar per entree, but the entire experience is just much better on all fronts for me.

    Carpet is generally the mark of a low class of restaurant.

    Esh on
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    bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    This is just for my general information, but I'm genuinely curious as to why that's the case. Cheaper than wood floor?

    bowen on
    not a doctor, not a lawyer, examples I use may not be fully researched so don't take out of context plz, don't @ me
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    dlinfinitidlinfiniti Registered User regular
    edited August 2010
    there really should be no reason why you would carpet a place where food would be passing through all day. Its easy to stain and hard to clean and just more effort on everyone's part to maintain. Unless you want to be replacing the carpet on like a monthly basis, i would avoid that at all costs

    dlinfiniti on
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