When Feng Shangqing published a paper in a scientific journal, she was simply hoping it would prove beneficial to her medical career. She certainly didn’t imagine that the article would provide her with a discounted treat at a barbecue restaurant in Beijing.
The physician, who graduated from Fourth Military Medical University in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, was given a discount of 84 yuan ($12.67) at a barbecue restaurant that is popular with medical professionals as a result of the paper’s “impact factor”－a measure of the frequency with which articles are cited in a particular year. The 84 yuan discount was a multiple of the paper’s impact factor of 8.4, which is considered a good score.
Under the rules of the restaurant, scientists, medical professionals and social scientists are eligible for a discount if they have recently published papers in journals that are included on internet databases such as the Science Citation Index and the Social Sciences Citation Index.
The paper’s impact factor is multiplied by 10 to determine the discount, which can account for as much as 30 percent of the bill.
“I love barbecue, and often ate it with my classmates while at medical school. It was very enjoyable to share our joys and troubles while eating barbecue and drinking beer. There were many barbecue stalls on the streets outside our school and we used what is known as the lu chuan method (a way of eating kebabs straight from the skewer),” Feng said.
“As soon as I saw the restaurant’s promotional material on WeChat, I decided to visit and use my paper to try the food.”
Since the promotion began on September 21, hundreds of customers have visited the eatery－called Liuyedao, the Chinese name of The Lancet, one of the world’s leading general medical journals－near Beijing Jiaotong University in Haidian district.
The restaurant covers just 90 square meters, so there is only room for 12 tables. Because there are no windows, the room is illuminated by warm yellow lights and decorated with bright green plastic plants.
During the “rush hour”, customers often wait for an hour to be seated and served, and one out of every four diners is likely to have had a paper published in the world’s top academic journals.
Wang Jian, the restaurant’s owner, had no idea the promotion would make his restaurant famous among Beijing’s scientific community. The 29-year-old physician, a graduate of the Peking University Health Science centre, comes from an ancient barbecue centre and has always wanted to run his own eatery part time.
“Ancient stone paintings show that people from my hometown, Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, first ate barbecue during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), and even though there are a lot of barbecue restaurants in Beijing, I wanted people to experience the Xuzhou style for themselves,” he said.
Wang persuaded a former classmate, Cheng Si, to become his business partner, while 16 other friends, most of whom are doctors, invested in the restaurant.
He chose a surefire winner for his part-time profession because barbecue is one of the mainstays of Chinese dinner tables. Last year, it held a 20 percent share of the national dining market, second only to hot pot as the country’s most popular dish, according to a report by The First Barbecue Industry Salon, a forum organised by the China Cuisine Association.
Cheng, a 26-year-old physician, and Wang spent a lot of time researching their main ingredient－goat’s meat. “After analyzing the meat, we discovered that it contains a substance called 4-Methyloctanoic acid, a fatty acid that produces a special mutton-type flavour when barbecued,” Cheng said.
The restaurant opened on April 23, after a month’s preparation and with total investment of more than 1 million yuan. It quickly became so popular that Wang and Cheng had to hire a full-time manager so they could continue with their medical careers.
An educated clientele
The restaurant’s name ensures that it attracts many members of the capital’s medical fraternity; some are renowned authorities on a range of diseases, while others are lecturers at some of the leading medical schools.
“They all come along to support our business,” Wang said.
The promotion came about one night in June, when a doctor from Peking University First Hospital invited a colleague who was dining at a neighbouring table to have a drink with him. When the offer was declined, the doctor stood up and shouted, “Doctors from PKU First Hospital get up and have a shot with me!” leading more than half of the customers to stand up and raise their glasses.
The incident made a deep impression on Wang, and the promotion was born. “Initially, we only gave discounts to authors of papers published in The Lancet, but then we expanded the promotion to all papers covered by the Science Citation Index and the Social Sciences Citation Index so a larger number of scholars and researchers would also benefit,” he said.
The day after the promotion was posted, 16 customers arrived, all carrying copies of papers they had published in academic journals. So far, the highest impact factor has been 29.51, which earned the author a discount of 295 yuan.
Cheng said the discount system encourages the scholars to be more productive. “If their hard work receives unusual support like this, it makes things more interesting,” she said.
According to data released by the Ministry of Science and Technology, about 304,000 papers by Chinese authors were published in leading journals last year, while articles written by Chinese scientists have been increasingly cited in the past decade.
When Wang explained the promotion on WeChat, it quickly caused a buzz and attracted more than 100,000 views within an hour of being posted.
The best-liked response half-jokingly claimed that the restaurant would become one of China’s three top research institutes.
To that end, Wang intends to offer his customers meals and food for thought. “If we doctors enrich ourselves with more knowledge about advanced research, our patients will suffer less. In the future, we plan to fit a number of academic forums between meals at the restaurant, and professors and researchers from different branches of the medical profession will be invited to address the gatherings,” he said.
An unexpected meeting
Tan Ning, deputy director of the cardiology department at Guangdong General Hospital in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, heard about the restaurant from a friend, so he visited when he attended a meeting in Beijing.
“I was interested to see what a doctor’s restaurant would be like and whether there would be any special items related to medical science,” he said.
For Tan, it was a night of surprises because he not only encountered one of his former students, now a chief physician, whom he hadn’t seen for a decade, but also met Dr. William Summerskill, a senior executive editor at The Lancet in London.
Summerskill was attending a medical conference in Beijing when he heard about the restaurant named after his journal and decided to pay a visit.
“The food tastes good and I think the idea is fun. Doctors and medical students who have had articles published in journals will feel encouraged, which could provide the motivation to produce an even better academic environment in China,” he said.