Blog: With dim sum, maybe less is more

Photo by Rebecca Ip/NWAW

Nancy Leson of The Seattle Times wrote about the closing of New China Gate Restaurant under the management of Alan Woo recently.

In the article, Faye Hong, spokesperson of Hop Sing Tong, which owns the property, said the recession has hurt Chinatown restaurants.

Even before the recession, the old China Gate was in trouble.

When New China Gate was opened, everyone expected it to be new and different if not better. Instead, the menu was more of the same.

The reason why New China Gate didn’t make it has more to do with competition than the recession. There are simply too many dim sum restaurants in the International District. Within a short walking distance, from 6th Avenue South to 12th Avenue South, you will pass 11 dim sum eateries.

However, you cannot distinguish many of them from one another because their dim sum menus are practically identical. The same sui mai and meatballs. The same shrimp balls. Several customers have told me that they could not tell which restaurant they are eating at if you blindfold them.

The only apparent difference is the price.

It is a sad fact that most Chinese restaurants work hard, but lack marketing knowledge. They don’t know how to develop their niche or specialty. They are great at copying successful restaurants. And when they are desperate, they reduce prices to survive. This was New China Gate’s way of increasing traffic to the restaurant. When they went back to their original prices, the customers abandoned them.

Another reason for the loss of business is that dim sum restaurants are everywhere. They don’t exist only in Chinatown. They are all over the suburbs. People no longer need to come here for dim sum unless they want affordable dim sum. Prices in the ID for dim sum are 10 to 15 percent lower than elsewhere.

With the intense competition, customers have benefited. Now, dim sum is available day and night in many restaurants even though it was traditionally served as a leisure lunch. Dim Sum King (located at 617 S. Jackson St.) is the newest dim sum restaurant. It opened last year and allows customers to buy one item at a time instead of three to four in an order. Can you believe it? It’s only 50 cents for a shrimp dumpling and 60 cents for chicken hum bao. Now you don’t have to go with friends to get dim sim. You can go by yourself.

This is the newest innovation in Chinatown.

I’ll talk about more marketing strategies for restaurants in a future blog. ♦

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