Six Sigma may have intrigued managers and CEOs but it has fascinated me as a writer and researcher in business. Never has this been so applicable to small businesses and large ones that aspiring managers have been digging notes and asking authors about it. Six Sigma can change and transform business into a success. So, what this is all about? Why is this called Six Sigma? And how can Six Sigma improve business, especially Chinese restaurants in the United States?
With 90% of Americans regularly consuming ethnic foods, the U.S. is now the world’s largest ethnic food market encompassing approximately USD$115.5 billion in 2015 (Jang et al., 2011). Chinese restaurants account for 30% of the total ethnic restaurant market in the U.S., with USD$17.5 billion in annual sales. It comes in various forms and styles, such as the deluxe-style restaurants with professionally-trained fine-dining chefs, large feast-like halls with complicated Chinese art decorations, smaller hole-in-the-wall cafés found in smaller Chinese population, and several others (Li, 2010).
It is not possible to fully understand the context of the Chinese restaurant industry in the U.S without first examining the origin of this business type. Historians have generally traced the concept of modern restaurants back in the 18th century during the French Revolution because of the developmental influx of taverns, inns, cook shops (also known as traiteurs) and boarding houses that offered food service, alcoholic beverages and lodging in Paris (Kiefer, 2002).
During the French Revolution, the concept of restaurants emerged due to the rage for the English lifestyle, including the taking of meals in taverns, the influx of a large number of revolutionary deputies from the provinces as well as cooks seeking reemployment after the breakup of aristocratic households (Symons, 1998). The restaurant concept became widespread when travellers in France brought news of these Parisian restaurants back to the American public which had already enjoyed a spiritual kinship with France ever since the country allied itself with their own revolution (Mariani, 1991). However, it was not until the 19th century that restaurants developed its function to solely serving meals, as most restaurants then had only previously existed in the form of lodging businesses that served meals as an additional service (Pillsbury, 1990).
As America economically expanded, the modern restaurant concept began to grow in sophistication and volume. By the late 19th century, restaurants catered to members of both the upper and lower classes. Upscale hotels and high-class restaurants, such as Delmonico’s also known as America’s “first real restaurant” which opened in 1827 in New York City, popularized dining out for wealthy clients. On the other end of the economic spectrum, members of the urban lower class frequently patronized saloons, cheap “eating houses” including oyster cellars, cafeterias, street carts and even the earliest Chinese and other ethnic restaurants serving the most basic fare (Horn et al., 2003).
Throughout the 20th century, restaurants continued to evolve through two world wars and the great depression. Economic growth further boosted the rapid increase of fast food restaurants by the 1950s, while the 1960s marked the beginning of casual family dining and chain restaurants due to the rise of suburbanization of urban areas as well as the growth of a new affluent middle class. With many families headed by two working parents and shifting consumer patterns, the trend towards dining out has become ever more prevalent, with the restaurant industry continuing to play a very significant role to the economy as the largest private sector employer in the nation (Pillsbury, 1990).
With close to 13 million people employed in the industry, equivalent to approximately 10% of the total U.S labour market, it has become increasingly fundamental for researchers to understand the nature of this industry (National Restaurant Association, 2012). However with its rich multi-ethnic culture, it is important not to forget the contributions of U.S ethnic restaurants within the restaurant industry as a whole. The United States trend towards diversity is expected to progressively increase (Josiam and Monteiro, 2004), with the U.S ethnic food market generating close to USD$75 billion annual sales, by which approximately 65% is attributed directly to the food service industry alone (U.S ethnic food market, 2005).
Along with the growth in ethnic restaurants is the rapid development of Chinese restaurants. According to the Chinese Restaurant News (2007), there are around 43,139 Chinese restaurants in the U.S which is more than the total number of McDonald’s Wendy’s and Burger King domestic outlets combined, generating over USD$17.5 billion in annual sales and accounting for one fourth of overall annual sales of all ethnic restaurants in the U.S.
Although Paris is subsequently cited as the birthplace of the restaurant business, the basic concept of restaurants has actually long existed in many other locales that have experienced similar growths in income, population, commerce and political change as Paris during the French Revolution. In fact, the concept of restaurants in China can even be dated back to the 13th century in Hangzhou, the capital city for the last half of the Southern Song Dynasty era (ca. 1127-1279) (Kiefer, 2002). Nonetheless, the American concept of Chinese restaurants differs significantly from traditional Chinese cuisine.
Chinese cuisine arrived in the U.S. during the 19th century when thousands of Chinese workers flocked to the western United States to build railroads, dig mines, and perform other types of hard industrial work (Jones, 1981). As mining and railroad work dwindled, and discrimination against the Chinese combined with a lack of language fluency, many Chinese workers turned to cooking and later opened Chinese eateries. By 1882, when Congress curtailed Chinese immigration through the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act, there were more than 300,000 Chinese nationals living on the West Coast with well over 90% of immigrants originating from Guangdong Province, whose capital city was Canton (Petersen, 1999).
As a result, most early-California Chinese restaurants were simple businesses run by Cantonese Chinese to feed their Chinese compatriots. However, Chinese restaurateurs soon also began to cook for American workmen, altering their dishes not only to satisfy American taste but also to better avail themselves of local ingredients. In the process, cooks adapted southern Chinese dishes such as “chop suey” and developed a style of American Chinese food that is not found in China (Smith, 2004).
Over the course of the first years of the 20th century, Chinese food became part of the eating experience of ordinary Americans, and as Chinese populations expanded eastward and began to move towards other major urban centers and to the Midwest (Johnson, 1987). Characterized by its light sweet and sour flavors, Cantonese-Chinese cuisine remained the most popular Chinese cuisine style in the U.S.
However, the liberalization of immigration laws in 1965 and President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 brought new arrivals and cuisine variations including Sichuan, Hunan and Mandarin styles. The first two styles are famous for their spicy flavors while the latter is characterized by elegant and mildly seasoned foods (George, 2001).
By the early 1990s, interest in Chinese cuisine increased with an influx of trained-Chinese chefs from Hong Kong and Taiwan, reinvigorating Chinese eating places and bringing in more diversity of regional foods from Fujian, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As the American clientele became increasingly well-travelled, they gained knowledge in classic Chinese food and their regional differences which continued to spark growth in numbers and sophistication of Chinese foods and restaurants that served them (Asia, 2000).
American Chinese eating establishments have since developed into various forms ranging from opulent, luxurious restaurants with many professionally trained chefs that can serve exquisite banquet dishes to hundreds of patrons in large dining halls embellished with elaborate Chinese art decorations to small hole-in-the-wall cafés in facilities with only a handful of Formica top tables and basic interiors (Jung, 2011).
George, M. Maxey, J., Rowlands, D., & Price, M. (2005). The lean Six Sigma pocket toolbook: A quick reference guide to 100 tools for improving quality and speed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Jang, S., Liu, Y. & Namkung, Y. (2011). Effects of authentic atmospherics in ethnic restaurants: investigating Chinese restaurants. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 23(5).
Jung, J. (2010). Sweet and sour: life in Chinese family restaurants. United States of America: Lulu Press Incorporated.
Li, L. (2010). Why Chinese restaurants get stuck selling cheap.
Petersen, P. (1999). Total quality management and the Deming approach to quality management. Journal of Management History, 5(8), 468-501.
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