SFGate How Uber makes staffing a 22-year-old Islamic Chinese restaurant in SF incredibly challenging

Embedded in the big picture story about the restaurant industry is an insightful profile of Old Mandarin, which apparently was a launching pad for chefs and/or owners at Kingdom of Dumplings, Beijing Restaurant and Boiling Beijing and unidentified others. Kingdom of Dumpling has itself sprouted over a dozen businesses throughout the Bay Area, identifiable through public records or their conical Xiao Long Bao.

Old Mandarin Is a standby, and it’s sad to hear that they are having trouble with staffing. It is walkable from the zoo and, despite the small size, I’ve been able to secure seating during weekend lunchtime several times in the past year. The dish recommendations in the article are solid (though I’m not keen on their pancakes), and I would add pickled cabbage with fish or lamb. Egg surface tofu, which a friend describes as an egg foo young analogue is a savory and mellower dish sized for a group.

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Sorry to hear that Old Mandarin is having staffing problems, but “Uber is causing their staffing problem” is a pretty silly way of framing the story, made worse by Gentile’s reliance on purely anecdotal evidence as support for that narrative. (“Wages on Uber are better than wages in family-run restaurants, and unnamed sources tell me their prospective workforce would rather drive on Uber than work in kitchens for less money, therefore we can confidently say that Uber is the cause” is…not an analysis anyone should take seriously.)

A much better way of thinking about the problem is that family-run restaurants, whether they can help it or not, generally pay crap wages, and that a strong local economy with a tight labor market tends to put the squeeze on any firm that can’t or won’t pay better than crap wages. Blaming the problem on Uber and Lyft providing higher-wage opportunities for immigrants is nuts for a lot of reasons, but a big one of those reasons is that given the state of the local economy, even if Uber/Lyft didn’t exist there would simply be some other growing sector hiring immigrants which anyone could claim is “causing” all these problems for restaurants. But “how an awesome, red-hot Bay Area economy is bad for favorite inexpensive restaurants that underpay human beings for labor” doesn’t make for a narrative that’s nearly as comfortable.

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