Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Top Five Cases Where More Is LESS

Sometimes, you know, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

These are the cases where it most often bugs me.

The Top Five Instances Where More Is LESS

5)  'Happy Hours' too long
One ought not to complain about extended 'happy hours', but... they rather lose their quality of being an exhilarating but limited discount to start your evening off if they're not, well, limited. A 'happy hour' that goes on most of the day doesn't feel like a 'happy hour': you tend to be oblivious of it, and just assume that the prices are this keen all the time. And, because of that, it can come as a particularly rude shock when the full tariff suddenly comes into effect. The Den is the most notorious 'offender' under this heading: you really need to make sure you know when the 'happy hour' is ending (is it 10pm these days??), and remember to get your last drinks orders in a few minutes before. However, my new favourite occasional haunt Mississippi is even worse: their 'happy hour' runs from 4pm to 11pm. Ridiculous! They might as well just have the same prices all the time. The place is never likely to be a late-night drinking den, anyway. All this pricing policy does is risk causing bad feeling amongst folks who come in between 10pm and 11pm and only manage to order one or two drinks before they find the prices abruptly shooting up (and probably unannounced, too). 'Happy hours' should be fairly standard and predictable: starting at 4pm or 5pm (6pm or 7pm seems a little niggardly in penalising those who've been able to bunk off work early in the afternoon), and ending at 8pm or 9pm (it's supposed to be an 'early evening warm-up' promotion, dammit), with a consistent discount across all drinks (traditionally 50% off, though we're now having to learn to live with a more miserly 25% or 30%).

4)  Too many bands on the bill
Two hours of live music is more than enough for anyone. Particularly if it's not very good.... and the act you really want to see is likely to come on last. And you didn't even get started until 10.30 or 11pm anyway. The standard model in just about any other country where I've gone to see live music is 1 main band + 1 or 2 support bands. 3 support bands is pushing the envelope a bit. 4 is definitely too many. And yet it is depressingly common to find venues around Beijing advertising bills with 4 or 5 bands, or even 6 or 7 - OK for a half-day mini-festival, but not for a regular Saturday gig night, thank you very much. D-22 is the worst offender on this front (not only because they have bloated bills but because they start so late and because many of the acts they have padding out the lineups are absolutely abysmal), but all the medium-to-large venues are guilty of it from time to time.

3)  Food portions too large
With the possible exception of pizza, which I rather like to eat a slice of cold the next day, I do not want to be served more food than I can comfortably eat at one sitting. Trying to take it home is too much of a pain in the arse. And the chances are, I never will get around to eating the leftovers, anyway. When I do have surplus food on my hands, I'll usually try to pass it on to folks in the bar, or street sleepers I encounter on the way home.  For me, it's most often a problem when I order in Chinese food at my favourite neighbourhood bar, 12 Square Metres: whenever you dabao (order take-out in boxes) from a local restaurant, they tend to get absurdly generous, and give you a much larger portion than they would if you eat in (often twice as much), for the same or less money; hence, it is impossible not to over-order, and there's almost always some extra to be offered to fellow regulars. This, one gets used to. But there's really no need for Western-style bars and restaurants to be following such a policy. I often hear, for example, that the titular sandwiches at Grinders are too big for one person to eat - even for a North American of prodigious appetite. They are also (at 60 or 70 rmb each!) too expensive for one person to pay for. I don't want to be tied to always eating in a pair, having to share my food with a friend; and I don't want to be eating the stale remains of a monster sandwich a couple of days later. I want a sensible-sized portion at a sensible price.

2)  Beer list too long
Do you really think anyone is impressed by a beer list that includes 100 or 200 different brands? NO! Even 15 or 20 beers on the menu is too many: it takes too long to read, it's too difficult to find the things you really want, and the staff - almost certainly - are not going to be able to remember what all those different offerings are or how they are priced; and the punters aren't really going to have much confidence that everything has been sourced recently, that the 'less popular' items on the list haven't been languishing in a storeroom for months and gone well past their 'sell by' date. Having half a dozen or so carefully chosen beers on a menu is fine; perhaps a dozen or so, at a push. But having 25, or 57, or 188 is just a stupid affectation, and it irritates the crap out of me. Yes, BeerMania, Stumble Inn, you irritate the crap out of me!!

And - surprisingly??!! - my No. 1 bugbear in this area is.....

1)  Beer too strong
I don't like a beer that is too strong. I don't like a beer that is too sweet. I don't like a beer that has too powerful a flavour about it. Beer is for volume drinking, over an extended period of time. The chief virtue of a beer should be that it is quaffable: refreshing, easy to drink, and not (rapidly) debilitating. The ideal strength of a beer is 4.5-5.5% alcohol, with an acceptable range extending perhaps just less than 1% either side of that. Much below 4% just doesn't give you a buzz (well, not if you've got such a well-trained tolerance as me; I sympathise with less regular drinkers who may prefer a 'light' beer); much above 6% tends to inhibit your rate of drinking (and/or get you steaming drunk way too fast). I do not like Belgian beer. Not the 'speciality' kind, anyway. That sort of Belgian beer is a poncey affectation. It is beer created for people who need to get 'high' on one or two drinks (i.e., monks), or for people who probably really prefer wine and are approaching it with the attitude of a connoisseur - NOT for people who want to enjoy a long night of mellow drinking. If there's one thing that pisses me off more than wading through a menu with dozens of beer options, it's wading through an overlong beer list where 90% of the items are above 6% alcohol content. That's a complete waste of space. I've always been a great believer in the adage, Do ONE THING well. For bar owners, that first point of excellence you should start with is keeping your draught beer really well. Everything else is just icing on the cake. I prefer draught beer to bottled. And quality, consistency, and value matter more to me than variety. If you have only one draught beer, but it is reasonably priced, and it is always in good condition, then I will be your loyal customer. And hundreds - perhaps thousands - of other frustrated beer drinkers in this city will be too.

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