Gwangjang Market to set rules on sizes of servings to address overcharging accusations

Bomi Yoon

A merchant makes mung bean pancakes at Gwangjang Market in Jongno District, Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

A merchant makes mung bean pancakes at Gwangjang Market in Jongno District, Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

Opinions on necessity differ among merchants

By Jung Da-hyun

The Seoul Metropolitan Government, the Jongno District Office and Gwangjang Market in Seoul are set to address concerns over merchants overcharging customers by introducing a system to specify the required quantity of food along with its price.

The city government is discussing the implementation of a method to mark the weight or quantity next to the menu item prices, possibly accompanied by a sample model that represents the typical portion size for the market’s signature dishes.

The issue of overcharging in Gwangjang Market came to the fore in November when a YouTuber, renowned for his global travel content, posted a video about visiting the market with two Vietnamese friends.

The video showed a situation where the amount of mixed “jeon,” Korean-style pancakes, priced at 15,000 won ($11.40) per plate was exceptionally small. The video depicted the merchant insisting that the patrons make additional orders, despite the YouTuber and his companions explaining that they wanted to try various dishes.

Concerns have been raised about potentially tarnishing Korea’s image as Gwangjang Market is a popular destination for foreign tourists as well as the issue of people being overcharged.

In response, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Jongno District Office have devised measures to address the problem.

Seven stores that sell Korean-style pancakes, including the one featured in the YouTube video, have agreed to note the quantity of food next to its price on their menu items starting this month, according to the city government.

Furthermore, later this month, district officials will conduct on-site inspections disguised as “mystery shoppers.”

While the city government, the district office and the merchant association of Gwangjang Market have all agreed on the system, specific implementation details such as the method of noting the quantity by weight or number are yet to be finalized. The idea of installing sample models of food is also under consideration.

A sign hangs at a store showing the amount of food with the corresponding price at Gwangjang Market in Jongno District, Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

A sign hangs at a store showing the amount of food with the corresponding price at Gwangjang Market in Jongno District, Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

Some merchants argue against the need for quantity notation in the market, citing traditional practices of accommodating customer requests.

“While there’s a standard portion we provide to customers, being a traditional market, we are more open to customers’ requests on the quantity of food,” said a merchant of a Korean-style pancake store located adjacent to the store featured in the YouTube video.

“Foreign customers in particular often request smaller portions, because they hesitate to leave food behind,” she added.

They also questioned the effectiveness of showing sample food models when customers can already observe the size and shape of the food being prepared in front of them.

Other merchants from the market have voiced criticism of the system, which brought attention to the overcharging issue. They argue that it is unnecessary for all stores to undergo such changes, while emphasizing the importance of imposing strict penalties on the establishments that are overcharging customers.

The store that appeared in the YouTube video posted in November faced consequences, such as a 10-day suspension of operations imposed by the merchants’ association of Gwangjang Market.

Despite differing opinions among merchants, visitors to the market have generally expressed positive views on the proposed system of disclosing the quantity of food with their respective prices.

“There is a little inconvenience because I have to inquire and assess if the price aligns with my expectations every single time,” said Choi Jeong-hyeon, who visited Gwangjang Market with her friend.

“If there’s a model, you can understand the quantity intuitively, making it easier to grasp the pricing and decide whether to buy it or not,” said Lee Hyun-chae, Choi’s companion.

Tourists visit Gwangjang Market in Jongno District, Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

Tourists visit Gwangjang Market in Jongno District, Seoul, Monday. Korea Times photo by Kim Kang-min

During lunch hour on Monday, approximately two months after the overcharging issue came up, significant numbers of foreign tourists were still crowding Gwangjang Market.

“I can know quite intuitively since the foods are displayed in the front,” said Cora Alvarez, a tourist from Australia, asserting that she perceives overcharging is not a big issue in the market.

However, not all tourists share this sentiment. DV Bui, another Australian visiting the market for the first time, acknowledged instances of unfavorable customer service experiences in traditional markets in Korea.

“There have been examples of bad customer service to foreigners, but at the same time there have been plenty of instances of good customer service as well,” Bui said.

“Maybe it would be better to show a short example or to specify the quantity,” he added regarding the city government’s new quantitative labeling system.

After the initial implementation of the quantitative labeling system, the city government and district office plan to expand it to 15 nearby stores next month, with further expansion encouraged until June.

Leave a Comment