Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The incredible shrinking breakfast

The other day, I'd been working up in Haidian early morning, so dropped into popular Wudaokou student hangout Helen's Café for one of their English Breakfast plates. And I found it..... much diminished.

Roughly halved in size over the last time I had it a few months ago, in fact.

Only one of those squitty 'sausages' rather than two; only one rather tiny hash brown (perhaps there only ever was one of those; although the menu says hash browns in the plural); a crappy Chinese brand of baked beans now being used, and the pot barely half-full rather than brimming as before; only one hunk of a tomato rather than a whole one (and they'd forgotten to introduce that to the grill); and a fairly modest heap of shredded mushrooms rather than the towering pile we used to get (and they tasted decidedly off on this occasion). Even the 'two eggs any style' seemed a reduced portion; if you order them scrambled, you give the staff there an opportunity to fob you off with only one egg (or perhaps they've just started using smaller eggs now?).

In general, I deplore reducing serving size as a stealth price increase tactic; but in this instance, I quite understand. Helen's is a budget place, chasing the impoverished student crowd, who might well prove very price-sensitive. And there was reasonable scope for cutting down on the portions a bit: many of the dishes were a little excessively generous (two scrambled eggs on two slices of toast with a heap of mushrooms on the side is a decent meal for anyone, without all of those other yummy extras; well, it is for anyone other than an American gourmand!). But cutting them back by getting on for 50%?? That's rather too swingeing.

I suppose that breakfast is still pretty fair value at only 28 rmb. But, psychologically, finding it that much smaller is a hard blow to take.

And I am inclined to see it as an emblem of how expensive Beijing has become. My cost of living, I calculate, has gone up by around 30% over the last two years or so (unfortunately, my income has also declined quite notably during this period; it's really getting difficult for me to stay here).

Then again, maybe the breakfast at Helen's is supposed to be just as generous as it ever was, and this was merely a case of the staff stuffing up.

[The service at that place is vying for the prize as Beijing's worst. Yet again (this has happened the last two or three times I've been there) there was no sign of my food appearing after more than 20 minutes, although I was just about the only person in the place. I had to go into the kitchen to collect my breakfast for myself, because all the wait staff had mysteriously disappeared, and it hadn't occurred to the barman or the cook to bring it to me.  Sigh.  This is old school China!]

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