May 15, 2004

P.F. Chang's: Why it's evil.

by psu

Places like this represent a new trend in the marketing of what is essentially bad fast food towards a more lucrative audience.

A couple of years ago, my new job took me to a set of offices that were situated close to a new retail complex in the Pittsburgh area. The complex was anchored by a large cineplex and a few "box restaurants" and a few more "box stores".

At some point, one of the "box restaurants" that opened was a chain of apparently high reputation called P.F. Chang's. At the front of the place stood two huge stone horses that were, apparently, meant to remind one of the terra cotta horses at the tomb of the First Emperor of China. Between these two horses sat the sign, in large vaguely Charlie Chan type letters: P.F. Chang's China Bistro.

For months after this place opened, you couldn't get into the place without waiting more than two hours. It was always full. It was full at lunch, dinner, late dinner, after the movies. There was not a time at which the place was not full.

So, obviously we folks at work had to try it out.

As you enter the place, you are greeted by a huge mural done vaguely in the style of a Chinese scroll. You almost expect to be greeted by a hyperactive immigrant from Hong Kong who you can't understand. But this doesn't happen. Instead, a nice person who you can understand perfectly leads you to a table. You look over the menu. The menu is filled with the standard assortment of American Chinese dishes that have been the core of thousands of cheap takeout joints for decades. There are dumplings, there are ribs, there is Ma-Po Tofu, there is fried rice, etc.

But, what you also realize is that this isn't a cheap greasy Chinese takeout joint. This is a high overhead, very expensive greasy Chinese takeout joint. But, while extremely expensive, the food is no better than your typical greasy Chinese takeout joint. You order an $8 plate of pot stickers that you can buy frozen in a bag for $4 for 50. You order the ribs, they are chewy and not sweet. You order a series of gloppy greasy entreés with no real distinctive flavor. You order Ma-Po Tofu and it has frozen peas and carrots in it. The dan-dan noodles taste like spaghetti and hoisin sauce.

So, what do you get for all the extra money you spent? As far as I can tell all you get is a level of pretension and self-importance that is insulting. The horse statues, the "Chinese" lettering, the murals and so on are just the beginning. Before serving your food, some genius in marketing at P.F. Chang's Inc has dictated to the staff that they must give you a live demo of their "favorite" little nugget of Chinese Cuisine. So the poor student slob can't just serve you your food and escape, she has to sit there at the table and proclaim the wonders of the P.F. Chang's secret favorite Chinese dipping sauce that you should put on everything. What is this sauce? As far as I can tell, Hoisin sauce, soy, pepper sauce and maybe some oil. In other words, it's all just a humiliating sham. It's as if you went to an Italian restaurant and they serenaded you with the magic of their olive oil and ketchup bread sauce.

Basically, what P.F. Chang's and their brethren (other examples include Bravo! Italian Kitchen, Ted's Montana Grille, Olive Garden, Don Pablo's Mexican Kitchen, Cheesecake Factory, and so on) are after is to serve crappy food on nicer plates and separate you from more of your money so their margins are higher without them actually doing any real work. They crank out the same cookie cutter generic food as McDonald's, KFC, and all the rest, but they put on an elaborate show to try and make you think they are doing better.

Lost in all of this is the fact that even in a relative backwater like Pittsburgh there are smaller, cheaper, better places that are far more deserving of your dollars. They are found on the sides of roads, in shopping centers, and off of highways. They are run by real people who care about making decent food that is not so much Authentic as at least genuinely distinctive and fresh. But, the tide is against places that serve Real Food because they don't have the connections needed to get the huge spaces and exposure that even a crappy shithole like P.F. Chang's can manage just on sheer volume. This is just another case where the Big Evil Coporation is crushing the forces of light and goodness.

So, do everyone a favor and the next time you are to be dragged to P.F. Chang's, find the hole in wall Chinese place that is a bit further away, or the little Vietnamese noodle joint just down the road, or the street vendor selling fresh Falafel, or the little South Indian shack with the great paratha, or that tiny little place near the railroad tracks with the killer BBQ pork. Go anywhere else and get anything but the frozen cardboard tasteless shit that they will serve you at P.F. Chang's.

Do it for little guy. Do some good in the world. It will make me happy. Just this once, tell THE MAN to fuck off.

Posted by psu at May 15, 2004 10:59 AM | Bookmark This
Comments

There's a P.F. Chang's here in Silicon Valley on the corner of El Camino and Mathilda. It's always packed. My understanding simply fails, because there are so many good truly authentic restaurants o so many varieties within a five-minute drive. How do they stay in business?

Posted by Chris Hanson at June 1, 2004 11:26 AM

I know people who live in the Valley who claim to like this place. Specifically, people at Google.

Now, I don't understand why anyone would live out there in the first place. But if you did, why compound your suffering?

Posted by psu at June 1, 2004 10:03 PM

umm yea .. iw ork at PF changs and i duna what PF changs u went to but to make a website up about how evil it is. thats pretty gay. u kneeing loser

Posted by B at July 21, 2004 11:33 PM

Well, if P.F. Chang's is doing its job correctly, it shouldn't matter _which_ P.F. Chang's he went to, because the whole point of having a franchise is to serve the same overpriced, soulless food in every location. It's nice that you have some loyalty to the corporate teat you're sucking at, but the fact that they pay you a salary doesn't mean that we should ignore the fact that franchises like this are destructive to the local food ecosystem. Therefore, I agree with psu: P.F. Chang's delenda est.

Also, and this is just my personal opinion, using "gay" as an insult is really very 1987.

Have a great day.

Posted by peterb at July 21, 2004 11:56 PM

Try a large sake, lettuce wraps, kung pao chicken, beef ala sichuan. This is more than enough for two and it is a delicious combo for under $50.00 including tip. You won't find a better American Chinese meal. The best thing is they understand what the hell your needs are without having to get a translator. Also, very quality meats oppossed to the crappie dark meat that you get in most chinese restaurants. It's worth the money, don't be such a cheap ass tree huggin beaiiitch! Just kiddding!

Posted by Greg at August 7, 2004 07:53 PM

Speaking of quality meat and delicious combos, what does a Le Royal with cheese cost in your country? I'm guessing around $20 USD?

Posted by treehuggingbitch at August 8, 2004 09:34 PM

PF Chang's is one of the few restaurants with a gluten-free menu available. As a person with celiac disease (gluten intolerance), I salute them. Their food is tasty and reasonably priced for the overall "experience". It's great to have a place to go where I don't have to worry about accidental gluten ingestion which can be painful and is definitely dangerous to my health. Outback's is another place with a gf menu of similar price/quality I also salute.

Posted by Annie O at October 15, 2004 12:10 PM

psu
First of all the food at PF's is not that bad, not great, but not bad. Some dishes are quite tasty. The service is below amateur, but the typical diner at these kind of places has no idea of what dining is about anyway, and your not going their for a dining experience anywhay, at least I hope not. Here the point about these places :A high table turnover, and a national "evil corporate" (whatever the fuck that means) presence means that their food is fresh and their kitchens are clean, cause they would have alot to lose by being sued for something like food poisoning. Compare this to the hole in the wall places you seem to enjoy, usuually a 1 in 3 chance of diarrea 30 minutes later. U sound like one of the faggot hippie wanna-be intellectuals found in the Pitt/CMU area who think they appear more intellegent by the simple act of going against anything mainsteam. Or maybe you have some boring computer related job. And your probably ugly too. You should buy some stock in one of these national food chains, and then you'll appeciate the marketing tactics they use to feed unsofisticated diners, but that would probably violate some lame ethical priniple you made up.

Posted by DanM at April 2, 2005 02:28 PM

This reminds me, in a very odd way, of the same sort of reaction I got to my review of Gran Turismo 4. There seem to be a core contingent of people who take any criticism of something they like as a personal insult.

I don't get it.

P. F. Chang's is disgusting. I can see going there if you want something approaching Chinese food and are gluten-intolerant, but that's just about the only reason I can understand. And if you are getting diarrhea 1 time in 3 that you go to a decent non-mall Chinese restaurant, then you should see a doctor, stat, because you're obviously some sort of freak.

So, DanM, you like food that sucks. Fine. Just don't expect us to not talk about how the food you like sucks, because you're too sensitive and delicate to deal well with criticism.

Posted by peterb at April 2, 2005 04:56 PM

Wouldn't it sort of violate the "good" principle if these small places were dirty, made us sick, and didn't have fresh food? But I'm just a pseudofag hippie or something. The argument against independent restaurants really pisses me off, but I vented elsewhere. grrr.

Posted by a. at April 3, 2005 12:48 AM

DanM brings up many intriguing questions that I will have to consider more closely.

This sort of intelligent debate is why I love the Internet so much. I'm really glad that this great publishing system allows our readers to leave their valuable opinions and commentary on our articles. The site would be poorer without it.

Posted by psu at April 3, 2005 01:44 PM

So, I'm amused that people are still "commenting" [to use the word roughly] a year after you originally posted this.

I have strange thoughts on the topic.

When I was in Hell-Ay about 2 yrs ago, for reasons I can't recall, I wound up getting some take-away from a PF Changs, which was around the corner from the motel I was in. I'd been to one in Sandy Eggo and had kinda liked it.

I was amazed and a bit impressed. I got a cucumber salad. It was crisp and vinegary and a bit spicy and very tasty. I got some sort of spicy beef dish. It was tasty, hot but not tastelessly so, with crisp, fresh vegetables mixed in. I got something else, but I've long forgotten what.

I remember what I got because, some time later, I got the same two things at the Pittsburgh PF Changs. The cucumber salad was ... dull. The cukes were crisp. That's the only thing you could say. It might as well have been in vinegar-water. The hot beef dish was hot. No flavor, either.

So, are my memories of the ones in CA tainted? Are the ones out there actually *better* than the ones in Pgh.? Am I just totally insane?

In general, sure, I'd want to support the "Small Local Store" when possible. But sometimes you want to know that you're going to get the same quality you get everywhere. That's why chains survive.

Moose
Faggot Hippie Wannebe-Intellectual
With Fries

Posted by Moose at April 11, 2005 06:03 PM

P.F Changs SUCKS ASS! They used to be good about 8 years ago. The service WAS outstanding. But now it's like going to Chili's. Stand in line and wait to be seated. I remember when I used to go to the Phoenix restaurant and a manager actually remembered me and my family.
Now we live in Los Angeles. I can promise you I WILL NEVER RETURN AGAIN! THE MANAGER WAS AN ASSHOLE TOWARDS THE HOSTESS> I asked one of the managers if "They were now a franchise?" he answered" Ah,let me go ask someone?" What an IDIOT!
SO WHEN EVER YOU FEEL LIKE CHINESE>PF CHANGS IS NEVER GOING TO GET MY MONEY!

Posted by Jules Andros at April 15, 2005 12:12 AM

umm.. yeah well apparently you dont know good taste when it taps you on the shoulder because P.F. Changs is the best I mean best Chinese food around. so maybe you should go eat some lame chinese food.

Posted by for me to know and you to never find out! at April 21, 2005 01:49 PM

I love PF Changs! It is the best the best Chinese food that I have ever had. I have eaten at the local restaurants including the ones that are overpriced and those that are cheap. Iíve gotten sick from the cheap ones (does this taste funny to you?). PF Changs has lots of meat in there dishes instead of cooked cabbage to fill up the plate. The service has always been good, even though at times it could have been better. The employees actually speak English, instead of agreeing with whatever you say and not having a clue about what you are saying. I eat there with my family about once every two weeks and I have no desire to try another Chinese restaurant. I have found PF Changs to be the same in other cities.

Posted by Cincinnati Kid at April 26, 2005 08:22 AM

I also work at PF Changs, and I agree that it is a evil corporate monster, but I just wanted to set the record straight...there is no hoisin sauce in the dandan noodles (or anything by that matter...it just comes with the cantonese duck and the mu shu dishes) , the special sauce is made of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, water, chili paste, hot mustard, chili oil, and white vinegar, and ma po tofu only has broccoli in it. The food may be totally boring, but people love predictability and that is why they come in. Honestly, we try too hard, for sure, but I am just happy to be employed somewhere. I need to pay for college, and working at the YMCA wasn't cutting it.

Posted by PF kneeeeees Changs at April 26, 2005 02:35 PM

Reading the initial post reminds me of somone who really doesn't understand taste and/or class, and probably doesn't have a girlfriend because how would your girl feel if your idea of having a special night out included your traditional "hole-in-the-wall" special chinese hut instead of a respectable, clean, and wine and dine offering night at a P.F. Chang's? Of course you wouldn't really know, would you?

Posted by educatedsource at May 3, 2005 11:10 AM

Wow. Who knew PF Changs was some sort of test of social acceptability, sexual orientation and suitability for companionship? I always thought it was the Chi-Chis of Chinese food, but more expensive.

But I don't know why PSU got so worked up about it. As I see it, the peope at PF Changs are NEVER going to go find something independent and different. I say leave them where they are. They know they're going to get sick if they try a non-corporate food experience, so why disgruntle them? (After their comments I am sure PSU will appreciate the wisdom of this policy.)

FWIW, I've had one pretty decent "Chinese inspired" meal at a PF Changs and one horrible disgusting one. Both taken at the same location, a couple of years apart.


Posted by Xian Plus at May 4, 2005 04:59 PM

I am just curious, for people who work at PF Changs, how much are you making an hour as a host or server?

Posted by Curious at May 4, 2005 06:38 PM

You've really gotten yourself into a froth over a restaurant. When I don't like something, I usually ignore it. I guess some people just like whining, though.

Let me guess: You're one of these "NO BLOOD 4 OIL DOWN WITH AMERIKKKA" types, aren't you?

Posted by hugh at May 4, 2005 09:38 PM

Why must we always rag on the big guy. He used to be just like you. So he wants to let everyone enjoy his offering and make some change on the side. Good for him. PF Changs deserves to be as close to good as they want because many people would rather have it than not. After all nothings perfect nor entirely consistant. As long as thats their goal. PF CHANGS RULES!!!!!!!

Posted by some guy at May 5, 2005 04:53 PM

If you like what PF Chang's serves, why don't you just go to Panda Express (which is pretty good for what it serves), and save yourself a bunch of cash and a two hour wait? Panda serves the same non-Chinese food as PFC's, but still give you that same warm feeling that you won't catch food poisoning or will get served some animal you don't recognize. Even better, Panda is a big fat chain, so you don't have to worry that you'll be exposed as some sort of faggy commie bastard who likes to stick it to THE MAN.

There are only reason two reasons to go to PFC's: pay a lot of money to sit around in an overdecorated room, and demonstrate that you don't know jack about either cuisine or managing your discretionary spending.

Posted by Dr. Click at May 5, 2005 05:46 PM

Look, I am as much of a snob about eating in little individually run places as the next gourmand. The problem is we are talking about chinese food in Pittsburgh. The PIT. It is not a fluke that is our airport code. Stick a fork in it. This area is done. There is a reason why Zagat does not rate PIT.

In the original post, PSU brings up the obvious low points in the menu. However, he only does half the job. Where are all this secret havens of chinese food in PIT? Is there any other place that serves real dan dan noodles?

Oh, all the Vietnamese food in PIT stinks. While not Vietnamese, PF's pin noodle soup, only available at lunch, it is the only adequate noodle soup bowl within 100 miles.

Literally.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at May 6, 2005 10:20 AM

Here's where you can go that is better:

1. Chopstick Inn, North Hills.

2. Rose Tea Cafe, Squirrel Hill

3. Tasty, Shadyside. Although I have not tried it lately.

I haven't seen Dan Dan Noodles around here. Although LUCKY in Wexford used to have an OK version. The existence of Rose Tea makes up for that in my mind.

Posted by psu at May 6, 2005 10:55 AM

Amos,

In http://www.tgr.com/weblog/archives/000104.html, psu says:

"After my rant about P. F. Chang's you might ask, "Pete, where do you get chinese food you like in Pittsburgh?". Ten or so years ago, my answer would have been "I call my mom and ask her to come into town." Happily, things have gotten better since the dark days of the mid to late 80s and early 90s. Now I believe that there are four places in town that it is safe to bring your Chinese Mother Who Can Cook for a meal and stand a fairly good chance of not completely blowing it."

..and goes on from there to talk about them.

See this articles, also:

http://www.tgr.com/weblog/archives/000260.html

I found those by using the Google search bar at the top of the page. Thanks for your feedback.

Hope that helps,

peterb

Posted by peterb at May 6, 2005 10:59 AM

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