There was a time when Quanjude was the place for visitors to Beijing to go to experience the capital’s most famous delicacy – roast duck. However, as is apparent immediately from the moment one steps of the plane and enters China, times are a changing.
Having had a restaurant open at Qianmen since 1864, Quanjude is without doubt the longest running duck establishment in modern Beijing. Unfortunately there is evidence to suggest that the once ‘King of Cuisine’ is beginning to rest on its laurels, if only slightly.
Health-conscious local residence have always been critical of Quanjude’s “overly” greasy appreciation of Beijing’s top dish but for many foreigners that has always been part of the attraction. The greasy succulence undeniably adds to the flavour of the dish and for diners wishing simply to enjoy duck in the most indulgent way available the gems of poultry perfection that glided off the Quanjude conveyor belt have always been irresistible.
However, it is not the quality of the duck on offer that is slipping. Nor is it the comparatively high price that particularly rankles (A roast duck can be bought in the capital for as little as 40Rmb but Quanjude charge 169-199Rmb). The price would be acceptable in exchange for the whole experience of dining at one of Quanjude’s many restaurants but for one thing – the service.
The poverty of service is noticeable right from the beginning of the dining experience. At the branch on Wangfujing foreign visitors to Beijing are more often than not directed immediately to the top (fifth) floor of the restaurant. Unbeknownst to the trusting diner is that the top floor restaurant charges a good 30Rmb more per duck than the lower floors. Although the difference is not massive (working out at just over £2 sterling or just under US$4) it is the principle that counts.
As with any visit to a restaurant, being able to choose freely is part of the attraction. However the problems do not stop there. Presumably keen to bump the service charge up serving staff pressure customers into ordering more and more dishes and often expensive ones. Although it is common in restaurants in China for a waiter or waitress to recommend an expensive dish as one of their establishment’s specialties, once the paying diner has chosen whether to order the dish or not the matter is dropped.
Numerous visitors to Beijing who have eaten at a Quanjude restaurant have complained that the waitresses persisted in trying to persuade them to order more than they originally wanted. In fact it takes some strength of will to order just the roast duck on its own. Nor does the torment stop there.
If a customer has not complied with every wish of their particular waitress or waiter they will be treated to a level of neglect previously only seen in the plotlines of Hollywood blockbusters. A very uncomfortable experience.
Along with the many benefits a the strength of the economy has brought, middle-class Chinese are now becoming more and more aware of the advantages and indeed pleasures of good service. Beijingers are buying products from companies that they know provide good service, frequenting clubs and services with quality and friendly staff and eating at places where they know they will be treated well.
In the competitive environment of the Beijing restaurant market, not only the quality of the food but also that of the staff is becoming increasingly important to the success of an establishment. There are hundreds of different places to eat Roast Duck, many of them providing equally excellent eating to that on offer at Quanjude restaurants.
Quanjude needs to address the problems with its staff and service or it may find that before long the duck has flown the nest.
- Lichun Kaoya Dian, Beijing Xiangfeng Hutong tel. 6702 5681. Before this little gem made it into the guide books it was a fantastic Beijing duck experience. Although it has lost much of its charm it is still a great place to eat.
- Tianwaitian – a reliable chain restaurant with reasonably priced duck. Restaurants all over the city.
- We would recommend trying to locate your own duck eatery around the backstreets of Beijing – you may yet uncover another Lichun.
Wonder at the Great Wall, be awed by the magnificent Forbidden City, drink in the scenery from a boat on the Summer Palace’s Kunming Lake.