Monday, May 4, 2009

Western restaurants in Suzhou

Sticking to Chinese restaurants in Suzhou saves you the disappointment  (as well as some kuais!) 

What a weekend!! I’ve been doing everything but surfing the net, just the way it should be (don’t get me wrong, I love blogging and writing but I tend to spend too much time in front of my computer every day already, so when I can get away from it during the weekends I see it as a good thing!).

Friday’s brunch was outstanding. Everyone drank too much except for me. I ate too much. Oh well. No one (including me) was surprised.

I rarely eat at western restaurants here in Suzhou, mainly because I don’t think there are any good ones in (I prefer to make my own western food if I get cravings). This weekend, however, we made an exception and went to a restaurant at Suzhou’s rainbow walk. One of the reasons why I don’t like most of the western restaurants here in Suzhou is because the service is normally quite poor. When the staff at a western restaurant sees that you are a laowai, they refuse to speak Chinese with you and as a result… everything goes wrong, wrong, wrong.

Another reason why I don’t like western restaurants here is because they are quite often extremely overpriced! For the money you pay at a western restaurant here in Suzhou you can eat five times at a Chinese one. Worth thinking about.

Anyways. Our weekend-dining-experience was yet another reminder why we should continue cooking our own food. I ordered an apple pie (45 yuan -one of those ready-made pies that come straight form the freezer) that came with a tiny bit of cream. I don’t like cream, so I asked for some vanilla ice cream instead.

-You want to order some extra ice cream? Asked the waitress.

-Yes please. Some vanilla ice cream please.

-OK no problem!

Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Twenty minutes (!) went by and I asked about my ice cream twice.

-Oh, they are making it! Said the waitress.

Sure they are. Making vanilla ice cream from scratch. I don't think so. 

Finally on waiter appeared, carrying a plate with one single scoop of strawberry ice cream.

-Eh… I ordered vanilla! I said, slightly annoyed.

-Oh I am so sorry! He said.

Another five minutes went by. Then another waiter came with the SAME plate of (slightly melted) strawberry ice cream and put it on our table.

-Here’s your ice cream!

-But… like.. what the… I’ve already sent this back. I ordered vanilla ice cream.

-Oh!! I am so sorry!

Ten minutes later the single scoop of icy and lumpy vanilla ice cream came (15 yuan). By then, our pie had gone very cold. And the whole experience wasn’t that great anymore.

Like I said, no point eating out when it only makes you annoyed.

(we had to wait another 30 minutes for the bill too but that’s another story).

It occurred to me when I sat there that it’s actually not the staff’s fault. They obviously didn’t know the difference between vanilla and strawberry, because no one has trained them. Which makes me think of Starbucks in China… I don’t know about the staff’s English in general, because I rarely speak to them about the weather, but one thing is for sure, they almost always get you order right. Ask them for low fat milk, extra this and none of that and you’ll get it. If they mess it up they’ll re-make your coffee, or upgrade you for free… I know they have some sort of Starbuck’s manual/training program that they have to go through before they start working there, and I wonder why more western restaurants aren’t going for the same thing? Is it because of the owner’s lack of China experience, or is it because of plain laziness? Because seriously, they cannot honestly believe that adding an extra amount of 10 staff that don’t know the difference between vanilla and strawberry are going to make things better, can they? Or maybe they can.

Cheaper and tastier!


Chong Hum said...

Having experienced the restaurant scenery in China, I blame it on the low pay and lack of interest/commitment for their job. On the other hand, many Chinese customers are very demanding of service. I feel like they talk down to the servers. Your scenario can probably apply to many restaurants world-wide regarding over-price food & lack of service. Jonna, how's your ankle ???

******************** Shanghai MiFeng said...

Jonna , I totally agree about eating out at a western Restaurant in China . After my Wedding in Shanghai on 08 Aug. '08 , yes one of them Couple's . Hehe
I had my Mom ( from Germany ) my Uncle and Aunt ( from Calif. ) and a good Friend and his wife ( from Wash. State ) staying at the same Hotel as us . So one of their last night's in Shanghai , my Mom wanted to go eat a good Steak ( her word's ) so my Wife and I , knew about Lawry's ,had Lunch together there ones , not bad at all . But this was going to be Dinner for twelve People and my Uncle wanted to Pay . I of course told him before sitting down , no you don't , I'll go halfer's with you . Well , when the Bill came , I think he was relieved at my offering to pay half . It came to $ 986 dollar's .It was great food , but almost a thousand buck's for Dinner ? I don't know how any Local can afford to eat there . To think ,it was not that empty that night . Like you said Jonna , waaaay overpriced . As it goes , they think American's are all rich .

Annie said...


I just discovered your blog today and I must say I love it!! It's so interesting to learn about the minute cultural differences.

Yep, China needs some serious improvement in English...specifically in places that cater to foreigners. When I stayed in a high-end hotel in Beijing, it was quite frustrating to see so many easily-preventable errors (it's called spellcheck) on signs labels, etc...pretty amusing too since quite a few of the customers were Westerners.

Incognito said...

were you speaking English when ordering at that time? if so, cut them some slack. hehe

淡淡花香 said...

Next time you can tell the waiter in Chinese that you want a 香草味 ice cream if what you want is vanilla taste.
The photo at the end of the article actually shows a Chinese dish?

Martin said...

I have been following your blog for many months, and I wanted to tell you that I quite enjoy your writing.

I just returned a week ago from China, but your blog was part of my research before I went.

I also went to a western restaurant (in Hunan), and was kind of amused at everything...but not so amused with the price. Especially funny for me was the over sized fork and spoon. But this is China.

Keep up the great blogging.

The Casual Observer said...

I'd love to travel to other countries, but I'm afraid the lack of American food would cause me troubles. I'm very much a "meat and potatoes" person. Chinese food in particular does not agree with my palate.

When I was a kid, we would occasionally make ice cream from scratch. The kids would take turns rotating the manual crank. The ice cream was good, but my arm was always sore.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Chong Hum -ankle is fine!! Ran 3 times last week... no problems. Or OK, one problem. My fitness. But that one I have to work on now once the ankle is back on track! :)

I think these people in the restaurant were working quite hard... to me, the problem isn't their attitude, but their bosses attitude. Why let people who are not familiar with working conditions to the job? Why not first train them so that they can do a good job?

Shanghai MiFeng -yeah they sure think I am rich here just because I have blonde hair.. oh if they only knew! Haha! Anyways, the overpriced western food here is outrageous.. at least when I pay so much I want it to be good... but quite often it is not. So better to go for Chi food.

Annie -Glad to hear u like the blog! I think most of the Chinese are doing their best with their English... it's hard for them to learn.. just as it is for us to learn Chinese! So I give them credit for that. But I think it is their bosses responsibility to teach them important vocab if they r working in the restaurant business! How can he just let them work if they don't understand what they are serving?? ahhh.... drives me crazy.

Incognito -I tried but it is useless. At most western restos (including cafes like Subway) the Chinese waitresses REFUSE to speak Chinese to you. They can speak English and therefore we speak English. I guess in this case I should have insisted a bit more though. I always start off in Chinese but when they respond in English or with a 'whaaat?!' I switch to English... thinking my Chinese maybe isn't good enough.

Apple -I know I should have done that... next time. Sure the photo shows a CHinese dish.. it's 'qie zi bao' (eggplant)

Martin- thanks a lot for that comment. So lovely to hear on a slow and slightly gloomy Monday like this... :)

Casual observer -if u go to Shanghai you don't have to worry about food.. there are so many western restaurants in SH that u can eat meat and potatoes every day all year around at different restos... :) although it might not be that cheap... well not as cheap as eating at Chinese restos anyways. THere are a lot of western restos here in Suzhou too but not that many good ones..

Anonymous said...

Jonna, I am very happy to see you finally come back to your blogging. I felt there is something lacked during your absence of blogging.

J said...

Wow, that is extortionatley expensive, espcially given the poor service/quality. Here, the very few Western restaurants are Chinese owned and managed - resulting in some rather peculiar dishes like steak topped with eggs and spaghetti.

Kyle said...

Interesting post.Keep it up! I myself am a Chinese and it's still entertaining to read your articles,since I've never been to western restaurants in China.

The Candid Yank said...

the terrible service I've encountered here is the #1 reason I don't do restaurants anymore. Back home I used to eat out several times a week, but I can't stand being ignored and talked down to in restaurants here, it's like they have a completely different view of capitalism while living in the same system. Hello? I am spending my money here, can I at least get a tiny bit of respect? The upside is that you're not expected to tip that much. God forbid I tip 20% to be ignored and brought out the wrong/cold food.

MJF said...

Should notice the fact that most waiters in chinese restaurangs(western or not) are not locals, most are migrant workers from countryside, low pay, short training.

Jonna Wibelius said...

MJF -like I said.. I don't think it's the staff's fault. I think the responsibility lies in the managers hands. I was wondering why more western food businesses aren't following Starbuck's (love it or hate it) successful training method.

lideting -promise I won't be gone for that long again.. haha! :)

J -hahaha yeah that's some dish!! It's funny when they mix western and Chinese food... I've tried different versions of spicy 'Sichuan' pasta a few times... delicious!

Kyle -I think it's about time u try one! :) Aim for one not totally overpriced though.

Des -gosh, is it that bad over there??! Well then I hear u I wouldn't go out and eat either if it was like that all the time. I like going to Chi restos here... most of the time the service is nothing special but at least it's cheap :) And yum!

Anonymous said...


When I stayed in a high end hotel in New york, no body serving Chinese customers speaks Chinese!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonna,

You are spot on about Western food restaurants in non Caucasian countries. Often the food isnt as good, and it's overpriced.

About your ice cream though, I wonder if it's because they didnt understand your English? One thing about people who speak English is you can get a wide range of accents. Maybe they were taught by, say an American, and werent used to a Scandanavian English?

Here in Singapore, if I go to MCDoanlds or Burger King and ask for a "Large Coke Light", the often repeat my order as "Large French Fries". If I ask for "two" of them, they repeat it as "three".

I try to avoid speaking as much as possible :)


The Candid Yank said...

haha, I dunno about the rest of Germany but Berlin is infamous for its horrible service. Just like at home I guess, the "cooler" the place, the crappier the service. I guess the main difference is that everything here is supposed to be cool, or maybe its just the districts I hang out in. Turkish business owners on the other hand, running just regular mom-and-pop type establishments, are much more polite and helpful, at least in my experience.

Brad Farless said...

I usually avoid western restaurants in Singapore because, with very few exceptions, they just don't quite get it right anyways. Those exceptions being places like Subway or McDonalds, which import all of their ingredients and bypass most of the opportunities for screw ups.

I can understand your disappointment over the ice cream. I've had to send things back before too.

mantse said...

i think sometimes is eat where your are... in China sure Chinese food, when i was in Beijing, sometimes i also want a japanese food or western food or even a HongKong food, however, compare to the price/quality ratio, i prefer cheap and good local food....

Shawn said...

You know maybe the staff there are not good at English and didn't understand you meaning.