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Haidilao: Taking Chinese Hotpot to the Next Level

Twenty-three years after opening its first restaurant, China’s Haidilao hot pot chain is hotter than ever before. With its special business model and service creativity, people happily wait in line for two hours before getting served. At Haidilao, even the lonely eaters never eat alone – they get a teddy bear to dine with them.

Manya Koetse

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Twenty-three years after opening its first restaurant, China’s Haidilao hot pot chain is hotter than ever. With its special business model and service creativity, people happily wait in line for two hours to get a table. At Haidilao, even the lonely eaters never eat alone – they get a teddy bear to dine with them.

It has been over two decades since Zhang Yong, the owner of Haidilao (海底捞), set up his first hot pot restaurant in Jianyang, Sichuan, with a mere investment of 10,000 yuan (±1470$). Now, 23 years later, it has become the dominant hot pot chain in the country. The restaurant is popular across China, where it has an annual turnover of approximately 450 million dollars.

In Beijing alone, the chain has 36 locations. From Shanghai to Shenzhen, Haidilao has 176 outlets in 53 Chinese cities. The chain allegedly opens 20 new restaurants every year. By now, Haidilao has over 15,000 people working for them and has also gone international, with more restaurants opening up in Singapore, the USA, and Seoul.

How did a restaurant serving such a traditional and ubiquitous Chinese dish become such a success? Hot pot restaurants, where fresh meat and vegetables are dipped in simmering broth, are extremely common across China. But Zhang Yong chose to market Haidilao and its authentic Sichuan hot pot with an innovative strategy: high-service, high-tech, and high-quality.

High-Service Hot Pot: “Brainwashing” Staff

Except for the tasty hotpot, anyone who has ever visited Haidilao will surely remember one thing: here, you can get a free manicure while you wait. The restaurant has become so popular that waiting in line for one or two hours to get a table is no exception. But with an entertainment area that provides customers with board games, free snacks, drinks, manicures, massages, and even shoe polish services, queuing has become part of the Haidilao experience.

The ‘entertainment area’ is just of the many ways in which Haidilao accommodates to its customers’ desires. There is ample staff for every table. Customers with longer hair get free hairbands to tie their hair back while eating. Customers with glasses are provided with eyeglass cleaning tissue. There are special aprons to avoid stained clothing, and even handbags get their own protection. At the Haidilao toilets, staff will hand out hand towels and provide customers with any toiletry items they may need.

Anyone working at Haidilao is thoroughly trained. On question-and-answer platform Zhihu.com, former Haidilao servers shared their experiences of working at the restaurant. They explain that all Haidilao workers have to follow a compulsory training after they are accepted to come work at the restaurant.

The training is provided by people who have worked at the chain for at least 3 to 5 years, who teach new workers about corporate culture and Haidilao food. The staff learns how to welcome guests, how to make small talk to set a good atmosphere, and learn about the restaurant rules (always smile, never quarrel with customers, etc).

According to some former workers, working at Haidilao is a bittersweet experience. Since the staff works, lives, and eats together, their whole lives basically revolve around their work, except for the 4 days off they have per month.

Although there are some who applaud the company for setting the work ethic and for its relatively luxurious common dorms and good canteen, there are also those who say that Haidilao “brainwashes” its staff by creating its own community with “ridiculous rules” (staff cannot use customer’s toilets, all workers have to turn in their mobile phones before their shifts, working very long hours, etc).

Haidilao’s staff management and training have become a popular topic for marketers and scholars in China. Over recent years, many Chinese academic books and articles have been published that focus on Haidilao’s business model innovation, its service creativity, and customer satisfaction.

High-Tech Hot Pot: Ordering through iPad

Although Haidilao is not as digital as ‘newcomer’ Wodi Huoguo, it does fully incorporate China’s digital developments into its restaurants.

All tables are equipped with a charge station for mobile phones (iPhone, Android), and a personal tablet for customers to go through the menu to order the hot pot and all ingredients and drinks. Items ordered through the tablet arrive at the table within minutes. The restaurant also provides free Wi-fi in all areas. Needless to say, they accept WeChat and Alipay as payment methods.

Haidilao also provides online reservation and ordering services. Customers can order the Haidilao hotpot to their home – they’ll even bring the pot itself. Afterward, they will come to pick up the dirty dishes.

The Haidilao Wechat app has several features. One especially fun one is its online gaming area, where gamers can compete and win discounts on their next hot pot bill.

High-Quality Hot Pot: Outstanding

No matter how good the service is, eventually it all comes down to taste and quality in order to make customers come back. The Haidilao chain has strict rules on quality control, and carefully selects its suppliers. This is something that is especially important to Chinese customers, since China has seen ample food scandals over the last decade.

Haidilao offers new variations on standard hot pot recipes, adding new recipes and dishes every year.

Haidilao also offers a condiment bar with over 20 dipping sauces, from sesame dip to spicy oil, as well as side dishes such as cucumbers, peanuts, and fresh fruit.

The restaurant consistently gets good reviews, also from the expat community. In the restaurant awards by magazines such as Time Out and Beijinger, Haidilao has often won prices throughout the year, including those for “Best Hot Pot,” “Outstanding Service,” or “Outstanding Chinese Restaurant of the Year.”

You Never Eat Alone

On Weibo, Haidilao is also praised by many netizens, although some say that “the service is so good that it actually becomes embarrassing.” (“I just needed a band-aid but the servant personally came and helped me put it on.”)

Recently, netizens find Haidilao’s latest service addition especially funny; whoever eats alone at Haidilao is now provided with a teddy bear to accompany them at the table. “I am happy with this new friend Haidilao picked out for me,” one netizen posted.

Many netizens post pictures of their Teddy friend on Weibo.

There are also those who post pictures of guests at other tables, saying: “So it really is true that people at Haidilao dine with teddy bears!”

One Haidilao story especially attracted attention when this WeChat conversation surfaced online. “I went to eat at Haidilao by myself (..) and I asked the waiter if it was true that I would get a teddybear to eat together with me. They said their restaurant didn’t have teddies and I said never mind. After a while they came up with this one [picture of a cat], and they asked me: ‘Is a cat ok too?‘”

For more about dining at Haidilao, check out our recent video blog here:

By Manya Koetse

Notice: What’s on Weibo is an independent blog and is in no way affiliated with Haidilao.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Exclusive QR Code-Based Service Under Fire: The 3 Major Downsides to Contactless Ordering

Self-service ordering is the norm in many restaurants across China, but its benefits do not always outweigh the downsides.

Manya Koetse

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QR code-based ordering is the new normal in Chinese restaurants, but contactless ordering also comes with major downsides. In a recent People’s Daily article, consumers’ rights expert Chen Yinjiang argues that contactless ordering can’t be the sole service option offered by businesses.

Along with China’s rapid digitalization, QR code-based ordering has become the norm for many restaurants across the country. Although many see QR code-based self-service – from waiting in line to ordering and paying – as a convenience that also saves the restaurant costs on staff, there are also downsides to these digital developments.

Contactless ordering is not just the new normal in many restaurants, it often also is the only way in which customers can order.

In a recent article published by Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily, the deputy secretary-general of China Consumer Protection Law Society, Chen Yinjiang (陈音江), argues that business owners in China should offer customers the choice, saying: “Consumers have the right to choose whether they want to order by scanning a code or order through a waiter. Businesses can’t just consider the costs without considering the customer experience – especially when they neglect the requirements of elderly consumers.”

Image via http://www.hnntv.cn/

On Chinese social media, the criticism of exclusive QR code-based service in restaurants has become a hot topic of discussion. The hashtag “People’s Daily Discusses QR Code-Based Ordering” (#人民日报谈扫码点餐#) received 280 million views on Weibo on Monday.

Both the People’s Daily article and the online discussions mention the following three major downsides to QR code-based ordering.

 
1. Missing the Communication with the Waiter

One downside to contactless ordering is that customers miss out on the experience of communicating their order directly with the restaurant staff.

One reason why people would prefer to place their order directly with the waiter is that it gives them an opportunity to inquire about the menu, get advice on the best choice to make, and to communicate any special dietary wishes and preferences.

But another reason is simply that talking to restaurant staff is part of the dining out experience, with self-service ordering being a rather bleak substitute for those people who would actually like to have some more human interaction when they go out for food.

“If a restaurant only lets people order through smartphone and don’t offer a menu, the entire sense of ritual [of eating out] is gone,” one person comments, with others agreeing: “Ordering food is part of the dining culture.”

 
2. Leaving the Non-Tech-Savvy Customers Behind

Contactless ordering is also a nuisance to the elderly and non-tech-savvy customers who struggle to scan a QR code and place an order. For them, the process of online ordering is not convenient or fast but actually makes their restaurant experience all the more difficult and complicated.

“We live in an aging society. We really need to have other ways of handling this for the future,” one popular comment on Weibo said.

Other commenters also indicate that even for people who are used to ordering online, the process can be a nuisance. When changing their mind about their order, or accidentally ordering a wrong item, the entire order is gone and the customer needs to start from scratch again. This makes the process far less convenient than ordering with a staff member.

 
3. Privacy and Spam Concerns

There are also those who find that QR-based ordering is an invasion of their privacy. Many restaurants require customers to register or to ‘follow’ them on WeChat or elsewhere before allowing contactless ordering.

This means that customers do not only give away some personal information stored in their app profile, it also means that it is easy for companies to keep on sending promotions and other information to their customers long after they have left their restaurants.

While this might be an efficient marketing strategy for businesses, many people see this as a major disadvantage to QR-based ordering, and this complaint is one of the most-discussed ones on Weibo.

“Contactless ordering is actually a good thing, it is the fact that you need to register or follow the company before you can place an order that’s the problem,” multiple commenters say.

“I just want to order food – why would you need my phone number for that? Why would I need to follow your account for that?”

Many commenters on Weibo indicate that if restaurants only offer QR code-based ordering, they would rather not eat there at all.

Despite the criticism on self-service ordering, it is also praised by many. The general consensus on Weibo seems to be that virtual ordering is great, but should not be the only way to order and that smartphones and tablets should never replace ‘old-fashioned’ menus and waiters.

By Manya Koetse

Featured image via http://dc.wio2o.com/new/diancan.php

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Food & Drinks

Viral Video Exposes Wuhan Canteen Kitchen Food Malpractices

Boots in the food bowl, meat from the floor: this Wuhan college canteen is making a food safety mess.

Manya Koetse

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A video that exposes the poor food hygiene inside the kitchen of a Wuhan college canteen has been making its rounds on Chinese social media these days.

The video shows how a kitchen staff member picks up meat from the floor to put back in the tray, and how another kitchen worker uses rain boots to ‘wash’ vegetables in a big bowl on the ground, while another person is smoking.

The video was reportedly shot by someone visiting the canteen of the Wuhan Donghu University (武汉东湖学院) and was posted on social media on November 7.

According to various news sources, including Toutiao News, the school has confirmed that the video was filmed in their canteen, stating that those responsible for the improper food handling practices have now been fired.

The Wuhan Donghu University also posted a statement on their Weibo account on November 8, saying it will strengthen the supervision of its canteen food handling practices.

“The students at this school will probably vomit once they see this footage,” some commenters on Weibo wrote.

Wuhan Donghu University is an undergraduate private higher education institution established in 2000. The school has approximately 16,000 full-time undergraduate students.

“I’m afraid that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” one popular comment said, receiving over 25,000 likes.

Students from other universities also expressed concerns over the food handling practices in their own canteens, while some said they felt nauseous for having had lunch at the Wuhan canteen in question.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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