Mayor of Seoul Announces Half-Price Government Restaurants


Last week, self-styled ‘social designer’ Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon unveiled a plan for ‘half-price restaurants’, similar to his ‘half-price tuition’ plans for universities. The phrase ‘half-price’ has become a rallying cry for Koreans furious at the steady increase in cost of living and economic difficulties. The plan calls for opening special restaurants which would sell food at heavily subsidised prices, in addition to offering employment and savings accounts for low income residents of Seoul.

While some press accounts have pointed out the potential unfair competition between private restaurants located near the half-price restaurants, the reaction in online comments has been overwhelmingly positive. NGOs have weighed in on both sides of the debate; the most famous commentator was Oh Se-hoon, Park’s predecessor in the mayor’s office, who sympathised with the goal of the restaurants but warned that they could cause economic problems.

As covered by koreaBANG here, South Korea continues to be divided between those who argue for more social welfare benefits to match the nation’s new wealth and those who claim policies like free school lunches and half-price discounts are ‘populism’, a term which carries a strongly negative connotation.

Article from Segye Ilbo:

Park Announces ‘Half-Price Restaurants’, but what about the family-run restaurants…

Park Won-soon, Mayor of Seoul, has started an uproar after announcing his intention to start ‘Half-Price Restaurants’ to follow up his policy of cutting the tuition at the University of Seoul in half. The move follows his promise when he initially took office to ‘make a Seoul where no one goes hungry.’ His announcement outlined plans for restaurants with an average price of ₩2500-3000 (conversion USD), which could be used by low income customers as well as anyone else.’ However, some have raised their voices in protest over the proposed restaurants, which could unfairly compete with nearby family-run establishments.

On February 8th, Mayor Park uploaded an announcement to his Facebook account, stating ‘following in the footsteps of half-price tuition, we are preparing a half-price series…we are planning to roll out ‘Half-Price Restaurants’ which will sell meals for ₩2500-3000.’

Park went on to describe the specific implementation plans for the half-price restaurants. ‘Our plan is to first have the community organizations in areas with a high proportion of low-income residents operate the restaurants.’ He added, ‘we will be borrowing some of the inner courtyards from apartment complexes, where we will set up ‘Half-Price Restaurants’ in cooperation with well-known restaurant chains and sell meals for free or at a cheap price.’

According to Park’s plan, low-income residents will also be able to use the restaurants as a type of savings bank, so that a portion of their bill is saved and added to an account every time they visit. For example, if a meal at the restaurants cost ₩5000, the customer would pay that amount, but they would be able to recover ₩2000 at a later time. Park stated that they already had a commercial partner for the ‘savings restaurants’ and the first one would open in a rundown area of the district of Yeongdeungpo in April. The city government will provide the funds to pay rent and wages for the kitchen staff, while the restaurant will be able to cover its capital expenses and other labor costs through the revenues it will collect.

Park also promised to expand up the concept introduced by the ‘Open Door Kitchen’ in Mapo’s Seogyo district. At the Kitchen, customers take as much food as they need from the counter and pay as much as they are able after eating.

The response on Twitter and Facebook to Park’s policies has been critical. Many commenters are claiming that ‘these policies do not take into account the concerns of family-run stores and are only intended to boost Park’s popularity.’ Twitter user ‘sh*****’ said, ‘If Seoul goes forward with these half-price restaurants intended to feed citizens then all of the surrounding restaurants will go out of business.’ ‘sb******’ pointed out the unrealistic nature of the restaurant plan, saying ‘As it currently stands, the ₩7000 that a restaurant charges for a bowl of kimchi stew leaves only 20% profit after the cost of rent, wages, ingredients, and gas are taken out. Reducing the portion size of side dishes could increase profits, but doing so will drive away customers. Despite all this they say they are going to make half-price restaurants?

In response, a city government representative said, ‘Due to possibility of half-price restaurants affecting the business of nearby family-run restaurants, we are taking great care in selecting the locations…as we are still in the early planning phase, we are listening to all opinions and will make specific plans for implementation accordingly.’

Comments from Daum:


For the sake of the family-run restaurants you would deprive our mothers and fathers of food?


Too much of my money goes to saving business owners..let’s have the little guy do well for lots of these restaurants..!!


Just go forward with the plan


You call people selling a meal for ₩7000-8000 family-run stores? I don’t think so…A failing restaurant can’t just jack up prices like that…if there is quality and flavor to match that price then customers will follow.


What the hell is this reporter talking about?! No one is going to go out of business due to the half-price restaurants. How’s your living situation, reporter? You can’t cover up the truth here.


The bias at the Segye Ilbo is unbelievable ke ke ke Since when have you cared about family-run stores? What the hell is this ke ke ke


So you shouldn’t put out poison because you’re afraid of harming the bedbugs?Mr. Mayor! I fully support this for the truly unfortunate people of Seoul!!


Park Won-soon for President..Onwards!!!


Since when has this paper cared about family-run stores….


You say half-price restaurants would disrupt the market? Then shall we start investigating the free soup kitchens as well? You call this violation of market freedom? ke ke ke


If the restaurants are for lower income residents then it only makes sense that it would be lower income residents who operate the establishment. The issue is not that these people are refusing to pay a fair price for food, it’s that they lack the funds to do so. I don’t see this policy as leading to problems.


This paper’s bias is clear: Park Won-soon is always to be attacked, Lee Myung-bak is always to be praised.


When it comes to food, people will always pay the menu price if it is good, but if the food isn’t good then even prices like ₩2000 won’t bring in customers..I don’t know if restaurants these days have any right to be charging more than ₩5000..


A surprisingly praiseworthy announcement from the mayor


Of course there are always people who will criticize a something no matter what, they only care about themselves


Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth…


It’s worth at least starting on a trial basis, they can always cancel the project if area restaurants start to go out of business


Looks like the reporter threw his conscience into his bowl before he mixed it up and ate it.. They are talking about a half-price restaurant for the homeless and low income families…how exactly would that harm area restaurants??.. And since when have they cared about family-run stores… how much of an issue would it be if people with money instead chose to go to half price restaurants… does the reporter even listen to himself??


Hahaha so the better solution would be to only have expensive restaurants? family-run stores oppose any drop in the price of food. ke ke keso the reporter prefers to pay ₩10,000 every day for his meal?


Wow, so now they are selling kimchi stew for ₩7000 a bowl.. that should just be another reason for the half-price restaurants. Tsk tsk if you turn it around, isn’t it the business owners who brought about this situation in the first place?

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