So far, the restaurants I have been to in Taiwan can be roughly split into 3 categories:
No Service – These are the places I go to eat if I want to save money. It’s the common man’s everyday (read dive) restaurant. These places include noodle soup houses, dumpling shacks etc. etc. The fare is ridiculously cheap about NT60 – 90 (US$ 2 – 3) yet pretty tasty. The vegetable factor might be lacking a bit, but hey, who likes vegetables anyway?
Here, the service and conditions are…ummm…not exactly on par with what we would expect from a restaurant in the west. They throw the food at you when it’s ready. You have to get your own drink, cutlery and napkins. Being offered a drink refill is the stuff of dreams here. You may see the occasional cockroach darting out of a corner during the summer months. The cook (who is visible) is probably smoking and/or chewing betelnut, so don’t be surprised at a little ash/betel juice in your food – adds character.
There is no tipping at these places. If for some reason, you try to tip them, they refuse your money – just not in the culture. Looks a bit like this:
Self serve – These are the buffets and the teppanyaki restaurants. I usually eat here. Besides the fact that I can stuff my face like a pig, the conditions are better AND they sometimes even have western style toilets! The food is also more varied with a lot more choice of vegetables and other appearingly “healthy” foods. I say that because everything in Taiwan is deep fried or stir fried – vegetables included.
These places can run you around NT120 – 250 (US$ 4 – 8 ish). While you still get your own drink and cutlery and stuff, at least the place is cleaner and most likely will be smoke and betelnut free. Maybe.
Here again, tipping is not accepted – they have chased me when I have left something (out of habit) to return it to me.
Full service – The rolls royce of restaurants. Here the waitstaff are wearing ties and aprons. They cater to your every whim, even wiping your bum after you use the toilet. This is where I go to treat myself. The menu includes 5 course meals, beautiful and elegant surroundings, absolutely no characters from A Bug’s Life
and blowjobs after every meal.
Here you can rub shoulders with the well off and get your fill of being pampered. If you frequent these types of restaurants, the price isn’t a consideration for you (NT 500+ = US$ 15+). These are the only places I have tipped in Taiwan, and even then, it’s only a 10% service charge added to the bill. They will not accept any more.
I spent a few years working in the restaurant/bar service industry, so I have an idea of what waitstaff go through on a regular basis. I have to say that the service in Taiwan (at the restaurants that have it) is fantastic. The waitstaff are very alert, friendly and will bend over backwards to accomodate you – all for a fraction of the price you would pay back home. Refills are constant – my glass rarely gets half full, and their table management is organized and very efficient. Any little whim is catered to, and it’s all done with a smile.
Service at fine dining establishments in Taiwan has been made very, very affordable (only 10%) when compared to fine dining in the west (20%+). I have tried to leave more on numerous occasions, but they just don’t take it. For the price and value of service, I have to say that Taiwan’s waitstaff are leagues ahead of what I have experienced back home.