As anyone familiar with the food scene on the mainland knows, it's much easier to find satisfying downscale eating experiences than upscale. I am always on the lookout for higer end restaurants that I can recommend to people, but far too often these places are more style than substance, even the big names, and the food isn't good. Before eating at a higher end restaurant I usually stop in, ask to look at the menu, and chat with the servers to get an idea of what customers would experience. A few signs that warn me to eat elsewhere:
Every price on the menu ends with multiple 8s. The point is to impress your guests with the amount of money you are spending. The food is irrelevant.
Aspiring fashion model robot servers. Young, tall, beautiful, and completely expressionless.
Crass ostentation, culinary style. Shark’s fin, abalone, bird’s nest, or other luxury ingredient in some pointlessly expensive preparation. Orchids perched on every plate, or in your glass of juice.
A huge, heavy menu. The size and weight of some menus in upscale restaurants is seriously ridiculous. It’s getting difficult to stand upright while holding them. One menu I looked at the other day had a heavy elaborate metal cover that made me fear for the tabletops.
Overdecoration in grand period Chinese or fusty Western style. Some places have not only cloth chair covers and layers of tablecloths, but add place mats on top of the tablecloths. With water shortages in other parts of the country, the thought of the laundry alone makes me ill.
A restaurant is a business after all, and it's an unfortunate fact that a very successful restaurant here does not have to serve good food. It remains to be seen whether all the forces driving down the quality of the food served in China can be countered. I hold out hope that as standards of living rise ordinary people will eat out more frequently and will demand higher quality experiences from the upscale places as well as their neighborhood restaurants.