Fine Dining


Our Daily Correspondent


Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, Refeição interrompida (Interrupted Meal), 1883.

There’s a human-interest story that’s been making the rounds on the “Weird But True” circuit lately. It concerns a restaurant in Chongqing, China, that gives diners discounts based on their weight. Upon entry, customers step onto a scale. As China Radio International reports, “The policy says, for male diners, the more they weigh, the more discounts they are entitled to. If a male customer weighs more than 140 kilograms, then the meal is free.” That’s 308 pounds. For a woman to eat free, however, she must weigh fewer than seventy-six pounds. In other words, the promotion applies to overweight men and very thin women. It’s what you might call the Anti–Jack Sprat Initiative. The exact thinking behind the marketing scheme is not explained.

My family did not eat out very often. When we did, it was most often at one of two places: Pizza and Brew or the Ground Round. (I always agitated for the sophistication of Red Lobster, but I rarely got my way.) Pizza and Brew’s appeal was obvious enough—pizza, and I guess brew—but we went to the Ground Round for one reason only: Pay What You Weigh Night.

If you remember the chain, which was found primarily in suburban strip malls, you’ll recall that it was a family restaurant with a sort-of movie theme; they played old cartoons and slapstick silents on screens around the dining room, you got popcorn instead of bread, and there were peanut shells on the floor. (Which actually doesn’t have much to do with movies. I guess the motif was just general old-timey anarchy.) Judging by the name, it was probably known for its hamburgers. Since I only ever ate what they offered on the—understandably low-overhead—Pay What You Weigh children’s menu, I can’t speak to that.

I do recall, clearly, the humiliation of the weighing-in. This was technically the one time where our incredible runtiness was an asset, at least from my parents’ perspective, but I have stinging memories of mounting the scale and having some teenager slap a sticker to my shirt with a number on it. We usually went with other families; although their kids were several years younger, their meals always cost more. Then we’d get to choose a fifty-cent grilled cheese, or a sixty-five-cent hot dog, and stare at Elmer Fudd doing something on-screen. There must have been some hidden costs in there. Right? At the time it was merely sort of undignified; now the whole practice strikes me as nightmarish. 

In an age of increasing childhood obesity, this doesn’t seem like a very sensitive proposition. But it’s moot: in 2004 the Ground Round filed for Chapter 11, and most of the branches closed. The few remaining franchises have abandoned the kid-friendly vibe, and the current iteration “markets to the adult dining and cocktails crowd.” Presumably they wouldn’t take kindly to being charged for drinks based on weight.

But who knows? The Chongqing gimmick has apparently inspired imitators. Now there’s a place in Shanghai where only tall people get discounts.