Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Technology Leaving Us Old Diners In The Dust

Heaven knows it's tough enough ordering at an authentic Chinese restaurant if you don't speak Chinese. Throw in a technological hurdle and it's a gauntlet. I'm not talking about putting in your order on an iPad. I've kind of gotten the hang of that. But walking into Dasheng  BBQ in Monterey Park, I notice no menus. I asked the guy behind the counter for a menu, he says they don't have one. He then pointed to a poster on the wall and said you need this. "What that?" I asked. He then whipped out his smart phone and pointed to one of the apps. As it turns out their menu is only accessed somehow via the Chinese language WeChat app, with the menu only being in Chinese, though I had no idea of the mechanics since I didn't have We Chat on my phone.  

Coincidentally the Los Angeles Times recently ran an article by reporter David Pierson about how vendors of home made dumplings and other foodstuffs were selling their wares on WeChat    Pierson actually contacted me while writing this article as he was searching for someone  (even someone anonymous) who had purchased home made food items on WeChat to see if I knew anybody.  I couldn't help him except to give him the name of another person who might know.  But if you read his article you can see he did indeed manage to interview an end user.

The article quickly led to a thread on the Food Talk Central message board from people curious about how they could use WeChat to partake of these home made Chinese goodies.  Going to the WeChat application provides no apparent entry into this part of the foodie world.  There is nothing to indicate the existence of an equivalent to Facebook's Marketplace.  But where questions about the local food scene are normally quickly and easily resolved on this and other local food message boards, there has been no definitive answer posted.  

This silence actually isn't surprising.  When you read Pierson's article, strangely, depending on the particular food product involved, these WeChat sales may or may not be illegal.  It depends upon whether the food contains any meat or not, meat making it illegal.  Consequently, sellers certainly want to keep a low profile, while consumers don't want to put their food source at risk.  This is reminiscent of more than a decade ago when we used to buy frozen dumplings from a house in Monterey Park, from a "dealer" that we had heard of by word of mouth.   That operation was mentioned in a thread on the then vibrant Chowhound Los Angeles message board, but then the thread soon mysteriously disappeared.  Interestingly, that household operation subsequently became Mama Lu's Dumpling House.

I have since installed the We Chat app on my phone, though I'm still not sure what the drill is.  It probably has something to do with the QR Scan feature in WeChat.  Coincidentally, I just received an email with a Chinese language solicitation regarding Burberry products. The email had a QR Code embedded in it. On a hunch, I opened up WeChat's scan function, then put the QR Code image in the view box. and snapped it. That created a message link with the name and picture of a person who I presumed to be the seller, with the direction to first send a friend request to that person. Once you are friends then you can communicate with the person.  In conjuction with an article I found that incidentally noted that WeChat was a pioneer in a nascent business to customer direct messaging marketing approach, I'm thinking the answer lies is getting the vendor and the customer to identify and message each other on a one to one basis.  I'm guessing scanning the QR code is the facilitator in bringing the parties together, as opposed to something more organized like Facebook's Marketplace.  So I'm guessing when you go to Dasheng BBQ they give you a QR Code that you scan into WeChat which sends you their menu on your phone.  Or something like that.