Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Ontario (inc. Toronto) >
Mar 22, 2009 05:06 PM

A question about ordering in Chinese restaurants

Note to Moderators: This thread should stay on the Toronto board, as it discusses the serving style of Chinese restaurants in the GTA.

Four of us had dinner at Szechuan Legend last night. The food was wonderful, but our experience with the service was less than ideal. Rather than the usual complaint on this board of service being too slow, our complaint here was excessively quick service.

We over-ordered as usual: soup, three appetizers, and five or six dishes. Within ten minutes of ordering, our dan-dan noodles arrived. And in the next minute, EVERYTHING else that we ordered, including the main dishes, started flying out of the kitchen. We tried to explain that everything was coming too fast and to slow things down, but this fell on deaf ears. We really would have preferred that our appetizers and soup come first, followed by the main dishes.

We noticed that other diners had one or two dishes on their tables at a time, and after they finished these, one or two more dishes would come. Were they ordering their food little by little rather than all at once?

This question is addressed to those of you who best know Chinese food and restaurants in Toronto. How should we order our food the next time we go to Szechuan Legend? (We hadn't been there in awhile, and this didn't happen the last time.) Should we just order soup and appetizers and wait to order the main dishes?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. If you're eating at a casual place, then expect things to come at generally random times, depending on how efficient it is for the kitchen. In general you want everything to come at once, as the amount of food you order should be able to fit on the table (unless you really like to eat a lot, which in your case seemed to be the case). If you don't want everything to come at once I suggest you order in staggered increments, though if you're unlucky you may have to wait a long time... though I think if you do it more than twice the wait staff will consider you a pain in the butt.

    1. The soup should come first and follow by the dishes. Every dishes comes in at the same time is perfect. This is how it should be for a typical chinese meal. In a typical dinner, chinese usually order a bowl of plain rice for each and eat with the dishes on the table. You probably want to remind the server to bring the soup and appetizer first, follow by the dishes. But if you eat in a banquet style, the dishes come in one by one.

      You may want to follow Blueius's comment if you want dishes to come a few at a time, but people and servers will consider it very weird.

      1. It is odd that your noodles came before soup but everything else coming out at once is the norm whether in a fine chinese resto or a family one. The only time this doesn't happen is in a western chinese restaurant. The dishes are meant to be placed in the middle of the table for everyone to share and at or near the same time is great.

        8 Replies
        1. re: juliewong

          If the soup had come first, followed by the other items about ten minutes later, it would have made all the difference. But the soup came after all of the appetizers and about three of the main dishes.

          I agree that it's preferable to have all of the food, with the exception of the soup and possibly the appetizers, arriving at the same time. Next time we'll just have to specify this when ordering.

          1. re: Tatai

            I agree
            I like to eat the soup nice and hot and get that over and done
            If they launch a blizzard of dished after that then no big deal though appetizers first would be nice

            Soup is meant to be eaten before the meal
            Not during the meal and this applies to most cultures

          2. re: juliewong

            "The only time this doesn't happen is in a western chinese restaurant. "

            Not really, it depends on what style of dinner you are having, for banquet style or tasting menu/set menu style type, the dishes come out mostly one by one with the rice/noodle as the last dish to come out (if there is any). But for typical/casual dinning, the dishes usually come out mostly together and share by everyone at the table.

            1. re: skylineR33

              Including the soup and appetizers?

              1. re: Tatai

                Do you mean typical/casual dining ? If so, as I mentioned in my previous post. Normally, soup and appetizer should come before the main dishes, but it is better to remind the server to bring app and soup out first because not all restaurant do that all the time.

              2. re: skylineR33

                I usually wait till everything is at the table before eating. I hate having to wait 5 mins for the next dish. That's just the way Chinese communal meals are done.

                Also, I find most Chinese people don't talk much once the food is on the table, don't want to let the food get cold. I find N. Americans like to talk way more while actually eating. Chinese save the talking for when the food is done.

                The banquet style you'll generally be served by the waiter, they'll plate individual portions for each guest. Hence the dishes come one by one....

                1. re: aser

                  True for banquet style. But the set menu type does not necessarily plated individual portion for each quest and they are served mostly one by one.

                  1. re: aser

                    There's actually a Chinese proverb about being quiet while eating (not expressed quite like that) that I can't seem to remember off the top of my head... and yes, the Chinese have proverbs for everything.

              3. I don't think its unique to the GTA.
                Here in Los Angeles at casual Chinese places the soup comes out when its ready and it usually isn't first. Also everything will come out as its prepared and that can be all at once. My guess is they fix everything on the check and then go onto the next check with no regard for timing, that way they don't get backed up and don't forget to make something. They might even combine two orders cook them as one and then split them for the different tables. The only way things come out at different times depends on how long it takes them to cook, for example steamed pork hash can take 20+ minutes where as a noodle dish or other stif fry dishes take them a couple minutes to make.

                My suggestion is if you want the soup and appetizers first, then always ask. Don't expect it to come first....for some reason I think the soup takes longer to heat up than it does to make the other dishes.

                At banquets the appetizer plate first then soup then other dishes one by one and the fish is the last main dish served.

                13 Replies
                1. re: monku

                  Fish is not necessarily the last main dish being served in banquet style.

                  1. re: skylineR33

                    Are you talking about the fried rice?
                    I would say most of the time the fish is the last "main" dish served at practically all banquets I've been to and I don't consider the fried rice a main dish.

                    1. re: monku

                      No, I am talking about main dishes such as lobster, chicken, duck...

                      Mostly restaurants in HK and Toronto does not have fish as the last main course. Chicken is usually the last main course before rice/noodle.

                      1. re: skylineR33

               in the US, its usually the fish.
                        I've never been to HK and didn't go to a Chinese banquet when I was in Toronto.

                        1. re: monku

                          I see. That's why I say fish is not necessarily the last main course, I have been to banquet with lobster, duck, fish, chicken, vegetable as the main course nowaday.

                          1. re: skylineR33

                            I grew up with relatives with Chinese restaurants (in the US) and when I kept wondering when the food was going to stop coming they always said the fish will be the last dish and that signals the end.
                            If fried rice came out after that, they said that was to fill you up if you weren't.

                            1. re: monku

                              Ok I see, I grew up in HK of China and now live in Toronto. My relative never tell me anything like this.

                              1. re: skylineR33

                                Then maybe its a Chinese American banquet tradition?
                                I'm not making it up, ask any of your friends from the US.

                                1. re: monku

                                  No, please do not misunderstand, I am not saying you make this up. I am only saying the fish is not necessarily the last main dish to come out.

                                  1. re: skylineR33

                                    You can read something I found on the internet.
                                    Talks about Chinese banquets-read "The Courses"


                                    1. re: monku

                                      But the fact is if you go to a banquet in HK or Toronto nowaday, the fish is not usually or necessarily the last main course. Try go to well-known restaurants in Toronto such as Casa Imperial, Empire Court, Full House, Ambassador ... and well-known restaurants in HK such as Fook Lam Moon, Farm House, Tang's court .....

                                      1. re: skylineR33

                                        OK, then Toronto & Hong Kong are different than here in US.

                                        1. re: monku

                                          95% of my experiences has been fish comes last (before the rice and noodles, which are considered filler).

                2. It appears that, having grown used to the style of serving at Westernized Chinese restaurants, where it's the norm to serve the soup first, followed by the appetizers, and then all of the dishes for the table to share, I and my dining companions were overwhelmed by the flurry of servers bringing everything to the table at once.

                  Since I've grown to prefer authentic Chinese cuisine, I'll continue to frequent "real" Chinese restaurants, but will make a point of telling the wait staff that we'd like the soup and appetizers first. (It's funny, because we've been dining at authentic Chinese restaurants for a few years now, including at Szechuan Legend, and we'd never before had the experience that we did last night.)