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Thursday, 27 December, 2001, 09:58 GMT
Shiny pate for a clean plate
A cyclist rides past a McDonald's in Beijing
China's local restaurants are threatened by WTO entry
By BBC Shanghai correspondent Duncan Hewitt

China's restaurant industry is undergoing rapid changes with domestic businesses facing new challenges from foreign chains.

Food stall in Xinjiang, west China
Food hygiene in China is not all that it might be
It is a process that is likely to accelerate, following China's recent entry into the World Trade Organisation.

Many Chinese restaurants have sought to compete - with luxurious decor and smartly dressed staff with fashionable hairstyles.

But one restaurant chain is taking an alternative approach.

Consummate consomme

At the Hot and Spicy Crab hotpot chain they cannot guarantee that you won't get a fly in your soup - but they do promise you won't find a hair.

The restaurant, like so many in China, seeks to attract customers with its fashionably dressed young waitresses.

But there is one crucial difference - all its employees, from the manager to the chefs, are completely bald.

State media showed pictures of four smiling waitresses wearing traditional Chinese qipao dresses, their heads clean-shaven.

According to the chain's manager, the idea was inspired by frequent complaints from diners in Chinese restaurants that they have found hairs in their food.

She said the new image was both fashionable and hygienic.

Popular with staff

Staff at the restaurant, quoted by the Guangzhou Daily newspaper, said they liked the new look because they no longer had to spend a lot of time washing their hair - though some admitted that they did wear wigs in their spare time.

The bald-head restaurants have received so much attention that the theme is now reportedly being copied by other companies.

But they have their critics - health experts in Shanghai said forcing staff to shave their heads was no substitute for cleanliness in food preparation.

And some commentators have complained that in China's rush towards theme restaurants - ranging from prisons to Chairman Mao - quality of food is often being neglected.

See also:

06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's snakes 'at risk'
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