Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tipping in Chinatown (Lucky Plaza Restaurant 新旺城酒家)

Char siu pork fried rice (叉燒炒飯)

It's not that I'm some sort of cheap soulless asshole (okay... maybe just a little), but I hate tipping. I don't understand the point of it, and I doubt I ever will. Before everyone goes apeshit explaining how "tips are the only way a lot of waiters/waitresses make ends meet as single parents supporting their five kids when their spouses fail to pay child support," let me explain exactly what I mean - I think the current system of tipping is dumb. There are certain expectations I have when I go to a restaurant. I feel like good customer service is a fairly reasonable one. So why exactly do I have to pay extra on top of the bill for something that should inherently be included? Because the social norm in the US is straight demented. The way the system in Japan works... everything that goes into the meal - ingredients, preparation time, service, etc. - is already priced into final cost. Maybe costs at restaurants would be higher, but there'd be no awkward post-meal deliberation of how much to leave and no one would leave feeling jipped for paying for an awful experience. That would be just dandy wouldn't it?

It's bad enough that I basically have to dole an additional 20% just for sitting down in a restaurant, but there's something worse. Far worse. Like when restaurants automatically append gratuity to their bills (party of two if it matters). When they do that... it removes any incentive for the waitstaff to do anything and it also removes my ability to voice displeasure without being confrontational. That's not me. I sip Haterade™, but I'm not out to advertise that. Anyway, why am I bitching about tipping all of a sudden? Because it happened in the last place I'd ever expect it - in Chinatown, at a place called "Lucky Plaza Restaurant," where I got hit with a $5 tip on an $18 meal. Are you freakin' kidding me? That's almost 28%. If I'm paying that much then you best be wiping my ass after I use the bathroom too. What makes this even more ludicrous is the fact that the service straight sucked. When I asked to box stuff up to take home, some chick literally tossed takeout boxes on the table and told me to do it myself. That ain't worth a 28% tip yo.

Oily rice particles

I wish I could tell you not to go there because half the staff needs to chill their hormones, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit the food was actually pretty dope. Lucky Plaza's a Cantonese restaurant with a menu that looked pretty stereotypical of random diner places in Hong Kong. They like doing shit like roasting meat and putting over rice, frying up slick plates of oily noodles, and making various types of dumplings - all of which are awesome things. That said, their char siu fried rice (叉燒炒飯) isn't bad. It's basically one part oil, one part rice, and one part roast pork... a delightfully heavy dish that's moderately flavorful for its simplicity. The pork isn't so tantalizing that the dish becomes the epitome of all fried rices, but it's on par with generic places in Hong Kong. I feel like the act of simply replicating an "authentic" version is testament enough to how well this was made. It's something I'd probably enjoy infinitely more if I were drunk... that kinda thing.

Beef chow fun (乾炒牛和)

Check that shit out. Glossy as a motherfucker. I'm probably not really the best person to ask about beef chow fun, because to me... the oilier it is the better it tastes. In my mind, there are few things in the world more sensual than rice noodles swimming in a pool of rendered beef fat. Aw yeah. Lucky Plaza might not be very good at refilling your water and junk like that, but at least they understand that oil is the key to making some sick rice noodles. Their version screams mediocrity, but given how difficult it is to make oily noodles taste any sort of bad, by default that makes it taste decent. Does that even make sense? Probably not. Peep this - similar to the fried rice, it's not a destination worthy dish, but if you're hungry and don't feel like waiting for the line at Wah Fung... it's not a bad consolation prize.

Soup dumplings (小籠包)

They also make soup dumplings. Eight of 'em for like $5. When you compare that to places like Joe's Ginger - and other places with "Joe" in the name - that seems pretty awesome (before they decided to tack on their asshat automatic tip I mean). To be entirely honest they're like everything else this restaurant does - good, but not life changing. Solid enough where you're impressed, but not so ridiculously awesome that you'd ever sell your firstborn for the recipe. Their soup dumplings have that stupid little nubbin of dough at the pinch point, and they don't possess translucently thin skins, but they are filled with a fairly surprising amount of soup. All for a super reasonable price... sort of. Plus if you think about it, most dumplings taste okay anyway. It's a meatball wrapped in dough... a pretty likable combination... even mediocre ones.

So yeah tl;dr time - Lucky Plaza makes pretty good food. They're pretty good at shit like roasting meats, stir-frying things with lots of oil, and making reasonably priced soup dumplings, but they need to chill the fuck out with their automatic tip (or step up their waiting game). That shit is ridiculous. I'd probably get food there again, but probably not eat there. Also, I still think tipping in the US is stupid.

Lucky Plaza Restaurant
81 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002


Jessica said...

I've been to Lucky Plaza before but, only once so I'm probably not the best person to ask in terms of tips and what's good there. I tried their clay pot rices, pretty delicious! I'm not a big fan of beef chow fun because it looks so oily! =[

Jessica said...

In addition, this is New York City... how can you not expect to get hit with tip? Do you normally have problems with paying tip?

Katie said...

When I go out, it starts as a 20%...and then we round it. So if with the 20% tip it's like %39.99, it's pretty fair, but sometimes it ends up being like $ the wait staff makes some extra money.
When I was in France, there we some not so intelligent members of our party, who used to tip on top of the included VAT...

Kevin said...

Wtf? I've never heard of an automatic tip of such a high percentage and for so few people, but the fact that it's in Chinatown is all the more shocking. I'd stop going there based on principle alone.

Rodzilla said...

This is one of the better non-tipping/mandatory service charges I've seen. They make a pretty valid argument.

Does lucky plaza mention their near 30% gratuity somewhere? That just doesn't seem reasonable.

Unknown said...

I find it annoying and disrespectful... I got 18% automatic tip (all for 2 people) at Clinton Street Baking Co. (brunch), Il Corallo Trattoria (lunch), & Menchanko Tei (dinner). It doesn't mean we are tourists b/c we are Asians and taking pics for our food.

Hungry said...

I wonder if they add the gratuity when you do take out. They better not!

Nicholas said...

Katie - yeah, that seems reasonable and probably what the majority of the US does, but I still think it's a stupid system. Tip should be correlate to performance, not a simple bonus for the waitstaff. Like I said, that fosters laziness.

The rounding thing also doesn't make sense to me since that's rewarding an arbitrary bonus based on final bill amount rather than competence.

Kevin - yeah, but the food... it is good haha

Rodzilla - no, their signs are all neon construction paper telling you how cheap their shit is (only during certain times and I guess for take out).

That article pretty much sums up how I feel. Include the charge of service in, and if it's baller and shit, then reward the waiter yourself past 18%.

Ariel - hahaha, mutually exclusive things. As annoying as that seems, it's less of a surprise because it's an American eatery. I was mainly shocked because it came in Chinatown. Maybe it's because my dining partner was white...?

Hungry - don't think so. PLUS if you go before 4 pm, the lunch pricing is pretty damn ridiculous. I think it's actually not such a bad place aside from the stupid tip thing.

Danny - two. That's it. I guess I can understand the sociological ramifications of tipping, but what you described is entirely cultural. We're conditioned to tip and our waiters/waitresses are expecting it. If it were possible to convince everyone to just... include it - in the long run I feel like the quality of service would reach an equilibrium.

Our waitstaff have grown to expect a tip for something they should be providing as a general service, but I would think that time would fix that.

anh said...

hi, i'd like to use your picture of chow fun if that's okay. i'll link back to this page and all that jazz.

as for the tipping biznaz -- about 20 years ago, when my family ate at a chinese place in the suburbs, the waiter came running out after us to tell us it is customary to leave a 15% tip. i don't remember the ensuing conversation, but my dad looked indignant and did not give the waiter any more money. we never ate there again. so yes, i agree that the expectation for gratuities makes for awkward situations.

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