Kauffman: In the chain-averse Bay Area, why are we so crazy for Asian restaurant chains?


#1

I think its less so of this:
‘We Bay Area diners do seem to rush to embrace chains that seem exotic to local tastes’

than it is this:
‘Perhaps what we line up for is novelty, the very opposite of what restaurant chains provide.’

ETA: I think there are other stronger factors at work, though. I have to think that through.


(Gary Soup) #2

To oversimplify, I think the food in Asian chains tends to be better because their breeding ground is typically high-end urban shopping malls, where there is competition for the dollars of patrons with relatively more sophisticated tastes. American chains tend to begin as scattered, roadside businesses where convenience trumps quality.


#3

You have a point that some of those chains are good options even back home. I think some of those better chains showing up are a little bit like if a Bay Area expat in Seoul getting excited about Tartine or B Patisserie showing up.

That said, I think the chain-averse Bay Area population is a different population from the group who frequent these restaurants. It is quite common to see even good restaurants operating as mini-chains in Asia.


#4

Do you think economics plays a role too? Chains in the US tend to have cheaper food. OTOH, DTF in Shanghai is way more expensive than smaller shops serving similar dumplings. Are Asian chains more expensive in general in Asia compared to mom and pops?


(For the Horde!) #5

I think Souperman hit it here. These chains mentioned are the higher end chain from Asia. Din Tai Fung, although not a high end restaurant, is a relatively high end among the soup dumpling restaurants. Moreover, these chains bring some quality and legitimacy from Asia to US.


#6

Eh. I think everyone’s overthinking here.

The correct answer is, I think, that the premise is incorrect: Bay Area diners are not, in fact, chain-averse. They aren’t averse to Asian chains, and they also aren’t averse to non-Asian chains. (I remember all the hysteria over Krispy Kreme coming to the Bay, but there are plenty of less-dramatic examples. Jack in the Box was many, many people’s late-night food of choice when I was in my 20s, and people went nuts over Halal Guys’s arrival simply because it was frequently discussed by people who had tried it in New York.) The fact is that any novel concept that 1) has a lot of marketing hype behind it, 2) doesn’t have a reputation for terrible food, and 3) is considered a big deal by people somewhere else, will probably attract large crowds of people who want to brag that they were among the first to check it out. (Ahem.)

The Bay Area’s laws are chain-averse, because they reflect the preferences of a small minority of people who have historically had an amount of power that is very disproportionate to their actual numbers. But that is not the same thing.