Last month, a restaurant in Shanghai began offering free food to tall customers. ("No need to take off your shoes, we go by the net height," explained the rule sheet, surely leaving the venue vulnerable to high heel-based bill abuse.) After that, two restaurants in Chongqing in southwest China started weighing customers as they arrived, dishing out discount coupons to overweight men and underweight women.
Now the big red "TREND!" button can be firmly pressed, as the appearance-based restaurant gimmick game has peaked at the Jeju Island restaurant in the east-central city of Zhengzhou. There, the most attractive customers—judged by a panel of cosmetic surgeons in white coats—claim free feeds. Punters in the adjacent Xin Coffee venue can take part in the offer, too.
Customers who reckon they're a bit of alright head to a "beauty identification centre" to have their faces scanned, with the images sent upstairs to the panel of surgeons from the Jimei cosmetic surgery hospital. The five highest-scoring punters in each of four different daily time slots get their meals free.
The move has caused a stink in local and international media and, more significantly for the restaurant, among the local council. The venue's gaudy new "Free meal for goodlooking" sign was swiftly torn down when authorities found out it had been put up without permission. Not that it's put the Jeju Island staff off continuing their offer—they're set to replace the sign with a laser-based effort.
Manager Xue Hexin told MUNCHIES that the inspiration for the promotion was an obsession that many Chinese have with culture in Korea, where cosmetic surgery is popular. "We are a Korean-style restaurant and our customers take great interest in Korea's culture of plastic surgery," she said.
Xue also explained that the plastic surgeon beauty judges didn't simply make calls based on their personal definitions of hotness—the process is far more scientific than that. Customers' faces are assessed on 18 different criteria before their final attractiveness score is determined.
"These include being close to the standard pupillary distance [the distance between the centre of each eye], which for men is 63 millimeters and for women is 51 millimeters," said Xue.
She continued: "The distance between the upper eyelid and eyebrow should be the same width of an eye. The forehead, tip of the nose, lips and chin should stand out and the width of the main face area should be five times the length of an eye. The boundary of the nose and forehead, the philtrum [the groove in the middle area of the upper lip] and the lower part of the lower lip should be sunk on the face."
It's enough to make you feel mildly self-conscious about your philtrum, isn't it?
"It's not mandatory," said Xue, in defence. "People only join in if they want and we haven't had any complaints."
Maybe they haven't had any complaints in the restaurant or café, but there have been a few flying around on social media. "News in Zhengzhou: This is a world where people are judged by their faces," wrote one user of Weibo (which is essentially China's version of Twitter). Another called the promotion "vulgar and vicious."
Furthermore, it could also be argued that beautiful people might not be those in most need of free stuff. From my experience with incredibly attractive members of the opposite sex in China, at least, it seems entirely possible to go through life never having to pay for your own drink or restaurant meal already. Shouldn't Jeju Island be giving free food to ugly people instead?
"Hmm, maybe we'll organise a follow-up event," said Xue.