Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Shenzhen Restaurant Sanitation

When I first moved to Shenzhen almost a year ago, one of the first thing I adjusted to was the food. It is very well known that different areas of China have vastly different cusine... which means that I wasnt initially used to the soups and the seafood.

One of the things I didnt expect to see was a difference in pre-meal practices. In Shenzhen, before any ordering or eating is done, everyone washes their bowls and utensils with tea. The process goes something like this:
  • First the hostess pours tea in the customer’s tea cup
  • The customer swirls the tea back and forth in the cup so that the tea touches all sides.
  • After doing so, the customer pours the tea from the tea cup into the bowl in a process that also passes the tea by the chopsticks and spoon.
  • The customer swirls the tea inside the bowl
  • He pours the tea into a communal bowl depository, which the hostess takes away and discards.

This process is supposed to help clean the utensils and make them more sanitary to eat from. (I don't know how effective it is.) It is definitely an established tradition that everyone here in Shenzhen participates in.

Recently, there have been increases in the number of restaurants that send their china and utensils out to be sanitized. After cleaning the china with their heavy duty machinery, the sanitizing company then sends the cups and bowls back in convenient and individually wrapped plastic. This is to ensure that all of the materials are clean and sanitary. Restaurants usually charge the customer 1 RMB for this service.

Although many customers do not think this charge is a big deal, the majority of Shenzhen is talking about this outrage. I recently heard talk radio programs condemning this unjust charge. Here’s their argument:

  • It is the restaurant’s duty to provide clean and sanitary china and utensils for their patrons.
  • Because it is the restaurant’s duty and responsibility, (many believe that) any cost for this should be within the operating cost of the restaurant and should not be directly charged to the consumer.
  • If this charge is to be charged to the customer, then it should be done in a fair way. The average cost for a restaurant to perform this sanitation service is only 0.40 RMB. Why are restaurants charging 1 RMB for the service?

This issue has been debated and talked about for the past weeks on the internet and different radio shows. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, keep a watch out for the nicely packaged china and utensils at a restaurant near you.