The price – This is a big draw card for many. While the items in the à la carte menu are reasonably priced, the set menu is even more of a bargain. A set lunch – complete with soup, a main dish, and tea or coffee - only costs about USD5.
The service – Except efficiency, there is nothing else to boast about. The waiter slams a glass of “clear tea” (which is what gives cha chaan teng its name) on the table as soon as the customer is seated and then just stands there with a notepad in hand to put pressure on the customer to place the order. No sooner has the waiter made off with the order than the food is slammed on the table, as hard as the glass of tea a while ago. Not that the Hong Kong customers would mind, though. They are well aware that they are here only for the food they regard as fast, cheap and tasty, not the service.
The ambiance – Well, it is a place with the most rudimentary facilities for a meal. At lunchtime, which is when most of the business is conducted, a cha chaan teng at a business district is like a battlefield, with waiters making war cries and hurling missiles in the forms of food and drinks. Not wanting to have their appetite affected, customers knowingly avoid looking at the floor strewn with left-overs which the waiters swipe from the table with a piece of greasy cloth, or glancing at the kitchen which is equally unsightly. Again, the very pragmatic, understanding and fair customers do not seem to mind, and as long as this is the case, there is never any pressure for the cha chaan teng to make improvement.
So this is what makes cha chaan teng a uniquely Hong Kong phenomenon. To be fair, the restaurant is exactly what Hong Kong people deserve.