Economy of scale
Updated: 2011-01-12 15:11
By Shi Yingying (China Daily)
Fancy dining at a top-class restaurant without turning out your pockets? Shi Yingying has the inside scoop.
The Shanghainese have long been known as shrewd bargain hunters. And now, they've married this skill with the latest online innovation from the United States - group purchase - or what is popularly known as tuangou in Chinese.
This is really an economy of scale in action. When you buy in bulk, no matter if it's a car or gourmet meal, you get a much better price than if you were going it alone
"The very first thing I do every morning when I turn on the computer is to check the group-purchase websites," says 25-year-old Jiang Xuelai. "It works this way: Once enough members join the group, typically 12 to 50 depending on the item on sale, the team leader or person responsible will approach the dealer and negotiate a reduced price."
This includes food, and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, whether they are offering quality buffets in five-star hotels to cheap street food. The most popular ones online in Shanghai are Sichuan food and hotpots, since these are winter favorites to chase away the damp and chill.
Group purchases are also popular with top-notch hotel buffets.
"Eight thousands people booked our dinner buffet within 33 hours after I placed the advertising online, can you believe it?" says Holiday Inn Shanghai Pudong's Jackey Yang.
"That's because we offered 60 percent off so customers can enjoy the 228 yuan ($34) buffet for only 98 yuan," Yang says.
Although the hotel may not make a lot of money from such a deal, it makes up for it in drawing the customers in and in establishing a reputation - something all hotels are after.
"It was like a huge advertising campaign for us, and other hotel PRs were calling to ask about it."
At the Westin Bund Center Shanghai's Italian restaurant Prego, plans are afoot to offer a new Italian-theme buffet on the local tuangou website www.manmanzou.com next month. More than 2,000 people bought coupons in a past promotion, says Westin's Cindy Chen.
The Prego's main attraction is its cheese station - packed with all kinds of blue cheese, flavored pecorinos, goat cheese and two favorites: Pizza Salami and Pizza Margherita.
Chef Stefano de Geronimo serves buffalo mozzarella with baked tomatoes, so "you can really concentrate on the pure taste of the tomato when you don't have to deal with the seeds and the skin anymore."
Potatoes and cucumber salad, with bacon tops and fresh chopped dill, and oven-roasted mixed seasonal vegetables are other attractions that set the chef's buffet apart. Although he keeps one eye on healthy and organic ingredients, he refuses to compromise on serving seasonal food.
"We try to appreciate the flavor of the seasons, which means we don't push for a menu where 100 percent of the ingredients are available 12 months of the year," he says. "We're trying to make food that sticks to the basics and keeps its natural flavor."
And of course, most importantly, Westin closes the deal at 188 yuan per person (service charge included) rather than the usual price of 317 yuan. And that's the beauty of dining in a crowd. You get affordable quality, with a bit of Shanghai wit.
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