At The Cheesecake Factory, new in Hong Kong, you form a line just to get a place in line, and for hundreds that’s fine. Not me
Told over the phone we would wait half an hour for a table on opening day of American restaurant chain’s new Hong Kong outlet, we ended up being kept waiting for three hours
There was a lot of hype around The Cheesecake Factory arriving in Hong Kong before it opened in the Harbour City mall, Tsim Sha Tsui, thanks to media reports and the pictures of cheesecakes that spread via social media. Many recognise the name of the restaurant from having studied on the American west coast.
But was the restaurant ready for the hordes of would-be diners who descended on it when it officially opened on May 1?
We tried to book a table by phone, but the receptionist said they didn’t take reservations. I asked if I came at 6pm how long the wait would be. She said about half an hour.
When we got to the restaurant (in the space formerly occupied by the Golden Gateway cinema) at 6pm, there was a massive crowd of people in front. This did not look good.
I elbowed my way into the restaurant’s entrance and to the reception podium and put down my name, whereupon I was told that it would take an hour and a half to seat us, though we should return in an hour to get a pager.
So we went somewhere nearby for an overpriced drink and waited. We came back at 6.50pm and there were still a lot of people in front of the restaurant.
When I told a Caucasian man in a fresh shirt and tie that I needed to get a pager, he told me to get to the back of the queue which had formed to the left of the entrance. There was another queue to the right – and that was just to put your name down. Many people eagerly joined that line. Did they know how long they would have to wait?
After about 15 minutes we finally reached the front of the line, at which point a young man told us we would have to wait another hour (until 8.30pm) as there were 17 tables of three in front of us – or would we like to have take-out instead? They apologised and said people were sitting at the tables longer than expected. I told them not to waste another minute and hand me the pager.
Once you are handed this gadget – a black device the length of a smartphone, but slimmer and with a red digital number on it that will vibrate when your number is up – you are totally vested in getting a table.
When I broke the news to my two dining companions, one of them joked we should order take-out and have a picnic on the floor in front of the restaurant.
My party of three soon became a party of two – one could not wait any longer, as her stomach was screaming for nourishment.
While the two of us passed another hour, we watched children around three or four years old become cranky and their parents insist they behave. (What did they expect – these kids were hungry, for God’s sake!) It was way past their dinner time – and mine – and the children didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
We wondered too.
The Caucasian man passed out small booklets with the menu printed in English and Chinese to people waiting in line. We got one and deciding what we would order once we sat down helped pass the time.
We noticed every second dish on the menu had the adjective “crispy” either in the name of the dish or the description. This is definitely not the place for healthy eating, though there is a section called ‘Super’ Foods featuring salads with antioxidant ingredients, but the portions were massive.
While there is a lot of typical American fare such as hamburgers, pizzas, salads and Tex-Mex dishes, there are some odd ones too, like fried macaroni and cheese shaped into balls, mandarin orange chicken salad, and spicy cashew chicken that sounds like kung pao chicken.
At 8.30pm I checked again with reception and the young woman explained there were still nine tables ahead of us. “You’ll definitely be seated before 9pm,” she said brightly.
Just before 9pm I went back to reception. The guy who handed me the pager remembered me and apologised for me having to wait so long. I said I’d been waiting for three hours and I was starving.
He looked quickly behind him at the bar, where two people were leaving, and asked if we minded sitting there.
Could they not have given this option in the first place?
We were seated immediately.