Authentic Chinese restaurants around Vancouver often only accept cash, which would seem like an economically unsound practice in our credit-card-centric world. This is such a prevalent practice in Vancouver that I would often judge the authenticity of an unfamiliar Chinese restaurant its “cash-only” sign. (Well, also the “No-MSG” sign would indicate an inauthentic Chinese restaurant)
So why would these restaurants go out of the way to inconvenience their customers? Why does it seem like a common practice amongst authentic Chinese restaurants?
Unlike Western cuisine where chefs are encouraged to create new and beautiful dishes, Chinese cuisine is rather rigid, and each dish has an idealistic and specific taste and texture. Customers expect the same Kong Bao Chicken from restaurant to restaurant. If one restaurant prepares the dishes better and closer to the expected ideal, the customers will go to that restaurant next time. With an universal and standard taste for the cuisine, it also becomes easy to determine which restaurants have the better value. In addition, unaware or unappreciative of Vancouver’s tipping culture, Chinese customers usually do not tip or tip very poorly.
As a result, Chinese restaurants have to compete with each other like fast food burger joints. They have a very small profit margin compares to Western restaurants, and they must find creative ways to cut cost.
The highest are credit cards, which charge vendors a couple percentage for using it. Debit machines also charge a fixed amount each month and as well as per transaction.
One of the benefit of cash transaction is that restaurants do not necessarily have to declare this income. It is dishonest and illegal, but there are no paper trail. Restaurants not only can lie about the income, but also pocket the sales tax they charge their customers. This is probably super racist: my fellow countrymen view tax evasion with a sense of pride and entitlement.
Then restaurants decided to pay their staff ‘under the table’ by cash. . Restaurants do not have to pay tax nor spend money of employee benefits by hiring mostly young people with language barrier and borderline indentured workers with or without proper working visa from China. They can also force workers to work overtime without having to compensate them properly. A woman I knew worked 90 hours a week being paid 8 dollars per hour, cash - business as usual, it seems.
Does it really mean ALL Chinese restaurants that only accept cash do all these unethical or illegal things? 99% Yes. Fortunately, the head of Canadian Tax Revenue Agency is a Chinese guy, and he is doing very well cracking down on these practices. Hopefully, we will see labour improvements in the near future. For now, you must judge for yourself if these issues matter to you when you choose restaurants.