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Aggressive dim sum strategy

In a discussion about a dim sum meal where a poster had trouble getting the best dishes and service one poster had what seemed to me like good advice

"It's a dog-eat-dog world at a dim sum restaurant ... My tip is to be really aggressive in ordering. Here are some things I do at a dim sum restaurant:

1) If I don't see something I want in the trays that come by, I ask for it. If they say someone else has it, I ask them to ask that person to swing by.

2) If I don't get what I ordered on the sheet any time soon, I ask the waiter. Not the bus boy or the women steering the carts, but the person that's usually dressed more formally and is the one that cashes you out at the end of the meal. If asking him or her doesn't get any response, I ask another person dressed formally. I make it a team effort.

3) I make friends with the women steering over. So after asking them what they have, I might joke about the crowds or their shift or what the cook might be doing that day. If I'm friendly with one, then hopefully she'll come back with different selections or send some of her friends over"

Another poster chimed in ...

"I've was in some place (can't recall the name) where patrons actually stood at the kitchen door and hovered in wait for their choice dish. (I joined in once...)"

So, any other tips for getting the good stuff at a dim sum restaurant and the attention of the staff (in a good way)?

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  1. At dim sum parlors where the ladies always seem like they're passing me by, I'll take my ticket and just go to the cart I want. I wish I didn't have to as I would prefer a leisurely dim sum experience. But there's nothing I hate more than lukewarm/cold dim sum.

    And while I don't hover by the kitchen door, my eyes are always on it (if I'm sitting where I can actually see the door).

    1. Do Chinese Chinese people get faster seating and more attention than those are not?

      One time I saw some people that must have known the manager because when he saw them he just gave them a table while the rest of us schmucks waited and waited.

      I hate going up to the carts but I do find myself going up to the carts if Im frustrated enough. At least I don't pick at the steam bowls like others do.

      The only thing I can recommend is sit on the side where the food comes out. Anyone else?

      3 Replies
      1. re: sleepycat

        I think you're going to find favoritism everywhere. If the owner/manager knows you, you will definitely get preferential treatment. I don't think that being Chinese Chinese has anything to do with it. I've gone out with my in-laws who are Chinese and haven't received better service because of it. But I've found that if you order the more expensive dishes (eg. live fish preparations) they'll offer better service and give you dessert at the end.

        1. re: sleepycat

          No I don't find that Chinese people get faster service or faster seating. In some places they do give preference to customers who are "in the know". I remember a thread sometimes ago about what you can expect from a restaurant if you are a long time repeat customer. Well if a restaurant does give preference to long time repeat customers, I don't quibble. Also remember that the que for 4 tops is different from that for 6 or 8. So if there are less than 4 in your group, those with 8 or more may be seated ahead of you.

          1. re: PeterL

            Repeat customers, as with most restaurants, get better service. My MIL frequents one place enough that they all know her. When we're with her, they bring special plates out first to her and she gets whatever she wants. She's a big tipper, too.

        2. Way back when this used to be a problem at some dim sum places. I have not had those kinds of problems anymore. The places I go to. carts usually come pretty frequently. On occasions I'd ask the waiter/captain person and I'd usually get it directly from the kitchen. In places where you order from a list again it's not a problem. They usually have the list on the table and check off dishes as they come.

          1. When I am in a dim sum resto, I am constantly scanning the room, watching to see what is on the different carts, and watching the flow of the carts in the room. When I see an item I want, I actively track the cart, and if I think it will pass our table by, or if I think they'll run out of stuff I will actively get the attention of the person pushing the cart (with smiles, head bobbing, hand waving and general enthusiasm). If need be, I will enlist the aid of the waiters. And as a last resort, I will walk over to the cart (I try to avoid this). It is a very active process, I am always eating and scanning. It can be a very difficult process if I have a neck injury or back injury. If I could do the Exorcist thing and rotate my head 360 degrees, I would! The key is to be friendly and polite, and when the cartpushers see how excited I am to eat their product, I find they are very attentive and seem to come around more frequently. And after the food coma hits, I turn into an immobile ball, and that is a very good sign that I am finished...

            3 Replies
            1. re: moh

              Actually walking over to the cart is a very common thing in genuine dim sum restaurants, at least for the ones in their native countries. In fact, all your moves are quite legal and common in those places.

              Your style of description has been quite entertaining :)

              1. re: tarteaucitron

                Oh Thanks for making me feel less weird about walking over to the cart! I never seem to see anyone do that here. (BTW, I hope all is well with you :)

                Re: language: I recently had a successful attempt to locate a food item by coming into the restaurant with a picture and the chinese character of the soup dumpling. They saw the paper, and were able to direct me to a similar product, and also let me know that they sometimes have actual soup dumplings on occasion as well. The replacement product was very good, and I had one of the waiters write down the name on the paper as well. Very handy!

                1. re: moh

                  Thanks for your well wishes. I'm still trying to settle in :)

                  I think in the city where you are (and most others in North America), the dim sum restos feel the need to adapt to and accommodate western-style dining norms, and people who eat there are less comfortable "serving themselves". For example, you don't see people swiping paper napkins and cutlery from an empty nearby table for their own use.

                  Someone needs to bring this culture to all the dim sum places that are "abroad"! It's generally a good sign when the noise level is high because everyone is chatting as if at home, and you see people chasing after the carts that carry their favourite dishes.

            2. Learn what your favourite dishes are called in Cantonese, and learn the phrases, "Ching mun, _____ hai bin do aa?" ("Excuse me, where is the _______?") and "Yau mo _____?" ("Do you have ______?" -- the response will be "yau", for "yes" and "mo" for "no".)

              I'm a fat white guy so this always causes much hilarity -- but they holler across the room in Cantonese and I get the stuff I want 90% of the time.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                well, I was the one who probably started the discussion, and as I mentioned in the original link, Moh's waving tactic didn't work for me, though I tried. It is a HUGE restaurant, which also makes me wonder if being a preferred customer would help that much .well, I guess if you eat there often enough they will remember you, even though the place must do hundreds (?) of covers a day...

                But I could see where this approach might work, regardless of whether or not my accent is any good...so I guess I need language lessons! and, for me, a much better alternative than ollowing carts around, which is NOT something I want to do when I am trying to enjoy my meal and my dining companions...

                will try it, thanks for the tip!....

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  I'd have someone teach you the phrase rather than trying it phonetically. There are so many nuances to the language and it's hard enough to repeat when you're hearing it but I've mistakenly called my husband's uncle "ear" and his other uncle texturized vegetable protein. And, this is with hearing it pronounced and being fluent in Taiwanese. But, knowing what you want in Cantonese is more than half the battle.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Being very white myself, I try to learn the names of the items that I like and get it "as close as I can". I always figure that the cart ladies have dealt with enough white devils like myself that they can probably figure out what I mean (as long as I'm not insulting their heritage by accident or something like that!). Beyond the terms for the items though, I try to get across what I'm saying with simple english phrases, gestures and facial expressions.

                    As you say, trying to actually say a full sentence or more in Cantonese is going to be an uphill battle for a westerner who isn't trained in the language.

                2. Our best strategy, admittedly not readily available to just everyone, is to bring a Cantonese-speaking Chinese Chowhound with us. As all of these things describe one of the regular members of our Eatin' Posse, it's not at all hard for us to do that. In the absence of Mr. Lee, however, I have discovered that if I go out of my way to flag down a cart with some of my favorite "You No Like" stuff on it, especially the stewed tripe with hot oil sauce, then the hardcore carts begin drifting our way.

                  1. It is interesting to note all non-Asians want their dishes right away. I visit Chinatowns in NYC and Boston and have notice the Chinese take their time to enjoy Dim Sum. They order one or two dishes and linger over them for half hour or longer. They read the local Chinese newspaper, wait for others in their party, talk on the cell phone, or just catch up with their table companions. This routine is played out several times for two or three hours. I have started bringing the New York Times or Boston Globe and sit and enjoy the leisurely pace. What a difference! Sure, my Western instinct tells me I should be eating when the food is hot and in front of me. (Hurry. Hunt. Order. Hot. Eat.) When I slow down, eventually, all dishes I desire come my way. At the same time, I eat less but feel satisfied just the same.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: creamy

                      Some of the large dim sum houses here in Los Angeles are so big that even with two or three hours, you might not get the food you want. Hence, you can go looking if there's something you want.

                      In general, though, you're right. It's a nice exercise in the deliberate loss of control if you want it.

                      1. re: creamy

                        Respectfully disagree, half my family is Chinese and they're always looking for the carts. They'll wait around but if it gets too long they'll start waving their arms, looking for the carts etc. :D

                        1. re: sleepycat

                          I have to agree as well... I've always been in the part of the family that chows down and chows down quickly. Of course we still manage to be there for at least an hour and a half so we end up eating a lot (at least I do).

                        2. re: creamy

                          "It is interesting to note all non-Asians want their dishes right away."

                          Bull. I go out for dim sum on average once a month or so with a group of friends (all of us non-Asian) who have been doing this regularly since the early '90s. We actually hate it when we're bombarded with carts the second we sit down. We regularly wave carts on until we see precisely the dishes we want, we never go hunting down carts, and if something we're hungry for takes its time showing up (egg custard tarts and pineapple buns in particular can take ages to roll past), we wait patiently for it or end up doing without. Furthermore, we use the time mostly for talking, and it's rare that we get out of the restaurant in under 90 minutes. So let's try not to paint all non-Asians with the same stereotypical brush, 'kay?

                        3. I think timing your arrival is a factor that can help. After a little experience, I got a sense of the window between opening time when there's nothing much on the carts - and crazy time, (can't get a table) at a few regular places. The trick is hitting that sweet spot when you can get settled in just before things pick up and the kitchen starts pumping out the best and most fresh.

                          1. RW, I always see the food I wanted pass by just after I pay the bill.

                            1. Pray tell me the secrets here.

                              Here in Seattle, I expect two things with my Dim Sum, Chinese Broccoli, and a noodle dish. The carts come inconsistantly, and the further you are seated from the kitchen, the less likely you will get the popular stuff. Is it appropriate to place orders with the cart pushers? Is it acceptable to approach a cart before it has made it's way to your table? The responses to this thread have been great, and have given me some confidence about my next Dim Sum outing.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: phinious

                                Neither of which are dim sum dishes. Chinese broccoli are mostly infrequent. Sometimes they have a cart specifically to boil Chinese broccoli. You order noodle dishes with the waiter. If you don't see dim sum dishes you ask the waiter for specific ones. Don't ask the cart pushers because they are usually only concerned with what's in their carts. I think they frown on people going after carts. Imagine if a significant percentage of customers start to crowd the carts, it would be unmanageable.

                                1. re: PeterL

                                  Oh, but I do ask the nice cart ladies. OK..maybe b/c I am Chinese, they are nicer to me, but I have often had a lady ask her coworker for what I wanted b/c she knew who or what cart it was in. I do agree with you in regards to the broccoli and the noodles though. I always find it funny when I see people order noodles or rice.

                                  1. re: PeterL

                                    I couldn't disagree more. They're there to answer questions. If you ask politely you'll probably get an answer. And knowing that Chinese broccoli is called "gai lan" in Cantonese is probably helpful. :)

                                    Every cart-type place in Los Angeles has a gai lan cart, and most have a lo bak go (turnip cake) cart too. But you are right in that noodles are not normally served at dim sum and that you should request what you're missing from a waiter.

                                  2. re: phinious

                                    Many dim sum restaurants in the Los Angeles area have carts for Chinese broccoli, but none of them have carts for any noodle or rice dishes. You can order them, but you need to ask a waiter/waitress to do it (generally, they are better dressed and walk around). Do not ask a cart pusher for them.

                                    It is perfectly fine to approach a cart before it has made it to your table. Bring your check along if you want the dish, though. Another option is to ask the waiter/waitress if the dish is available. Usually, they will look for you, although they might forget because they have probably been inundated with similar requests if they're busy.

                                    1. re: raytamsgv

                                      The standard in Boston is that Chinese broccoli is available at a steam table that you take the ticket to, alongside things like clams, mussels, periwinkles, stuffed eggplant, etc.