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Hot Pot Paradise? This is China’s First 24/7 Digital Self-Service Hot Pot Supermarket

Chinese restaurant chain Wodi Hotpot (卧底火锅) is the new kid on the block in hot pot land. The start-up is China’s first digital self-service hot pot supermarket and restaurant. Combining China’s new digital trends with traditional tasty cuisine, Wodi is the typical post-1985 generation’s place to be.

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Chinese restaurant chain Wodi Hotpot (卧底火锅) is the new kid on the block in hot pot land. The start-up is China’s first digital self-service hot pot supermarket and restaurant. Combining China’s new digital trends with traditional tasty cuisine, Wodi is the typical post-1985 generation’s place to be. What’s on Weibo tried it out for you. [This is a premium content article.]

Hot pot cravings can come at any time. For those who want a tasty and affordable hot pot, whether it is in the wee hours of the morning or in the late hours of the night, there is a new popular Chinese 24-hour hot pot self-service supermarket & restaurant where digital is key.

It is not just its 24/7 opening hours and digital order-and-pay system that make this place special; their online-to-offline business model, supplier dynamics and revenue model all make Wodi Hot Pot (卧底火锅) a pioneering company in the wonderful world of Chinese hot pot.

WODI logo

‘Hot pot’ in Chinese is huǒguō (火锅), literally: ‘fire pot’. It has a history of over 1000 years, and it is generally agreed that the Chinese hotpot tradition must have come from Mongol warriors who camped outside and had dinner together circled around a pot on the fire. The idea is that while the hot pot brew is kept boiling, fresh ingredients are placed into the pot and are cooked at the table. Nowadays, hot pot tastes vary greatly across different regions in China, but what matters most is its enjoyment: sitting with friends and family around the boiling stew, sharing food, eating slowly, and talking.

The founder of Wodi, Qiu Xingxing (邱星星), once had the most delicious hotpots for 30 days straight in Chongqing and Sichuan. He then jokingly told his friend he would one day start his own hotpot restaurant. And it came true. The “digital self-service restaurant” Wodi Hot Pot first opened its doors to hot pot lovers in Beijing in January of 2016. The online platform of Wodi was established in October of 2015, with the offline supermarket/restaurant following a few months later.

Wodi’s Qiu Xingxing (see picture) is a post-1985 Chinese online entrepreneur who also co-founded the successful WOWO (55tuan.com), which is also known as ‘the Groupon of China’. Qiu is no stranger to e-commerce and its extreme potential; WOWO was the first Chinese company of its kind to be listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2015.

qiiuxingxing

In a way, Wodi is a typical Chinese post-1980 or post-1985 generation outlet. The post-1980s is a generation that is known for still valuing tradition but also being creative and innovative and not afraid to try out new things.

Wodi is described as a “Hot Pot Online to Offline Platform” (火锅O2O平台) by Chinese media, as its online business lies at the core of the company. On Weibo, Wodi calls itself “the world’s biggest online hotpot platform” (全球最大的互联网火锅平台), through which customers are driven to visit their offline stores. Wodi is well-known for its online food delivery services. Although ordering in hot pot is popular and convenient, going to the actual Wodi “offline restaurant” (线下门店) for some hot shopping and dining is far more exciting.

“It’s fu*king cheap!”

Dining at this new hot pot chain is not just a nice experience, it is also surprisingly affordable. “It’s fu*king cheap!” allegedly is a catchphrase often used by Wodi’s young customers, founder Qiu Xingxing tells Ebrun magazine.

whatsonweibo wodiSo much to choose from in the Wodi Hotpot supermarket.

One of the main reasons the Wodi Hotpot supermarket is relatively inexpensive is because Qiu decided to drastically change the supplier/supermarket dynamics in the Wodi outlet. [blendlebutton] Instead of working with the typical distribution system, where supermarket owners purchase from food suppliers and then resell to customers at a (much) higher rate, Wodi lets suppliers directly sell their food to its consumers. Because there is no intermediary profit, the prices at Wodi are exceptionally low.

The supermarket has a wide selection of products, offering all kinds of hotpot ingredients, such as a variety of mushrooms, fish, tofu, thin-sliced beef, etc. Besides the classic hotpot ingredients, they also sell sodas, beer, candy and snacks, and even Wodi’s own hotpots to take home (32¥/±4,8US$), all priced at a much lower rate than other well-known hotpot places such as Haidilao (海底捞).

You’re probably wondering – if Wodi does not make much profit from the food it sells, then how do they make money? Enterpreneur Qiu has thought of a new business model for this to be able to provide customers with low-priced qualitative food while still having a profitable business.

“The world’s 2nd time-based hotpot restaurant.”

Wodi’s success formula lies in the original concept of the outlet, that has a supermarket area and a separate dining area. When you have purchased hotpot ingredients in the supermarket, you sit and eat in the Wodi restaurant at a hotpot table – which you rent for a time-based price.

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The time-based costs vary on the size of the table and if it is peak hour or not. For a 2-4 person table during quiet hours, customers pay 5¥ (±0.75$) per 15 minutes or 20¥ (±3$) per hour. During the peak hours (17.30-22.30) this is 32¥ (±4.8$) per hour. For larger groups up to 8 people, quiets hours are rated at 40¥ (±6$) and busy hours at 60¥ (±9$). Private rooms are also available for 60¥ (±9$) and 80¥ (±12$).

By working with rentable hotpot tables, Qiu is a pioneer in his field. If you walk into the Wodi venue, a slogan on the wall reads “the world’s 2nd time-based hotpot restaurant” (“全国第二家按用餐时长收费的火锅”). When a journalist from the 36kr.com business news site asked founder Qiu where the world’s 1st time-based hotpot was based, he told them: “There is none. It is just that China’s advertising laws don’t allow companies to use the term ‘the first’/’number one’ (‘第一’), so we turned it into ‘the second’. Actually, we’re the first.”

The first Wodi restaurant in Beijing’s Chaoyang is over 1000 square meter and offers 206 seatings, with maximum table turnover possibilities since the place is opened 24 hours. The Wodi restaurant became popular and packed right after its opening.

“You just need to bring your mobile phone.”

Stepping into the Wodi near the Worker’s Stadium in Beijing, visitors are immediately directed towards the supermarket that has baskets and trolleys for people to put their hotpot food on. The first stop is the touch-screen ordering system for the kind of hotpot you want, which is where one employer gives us a Wodi card that we need to swipe when ordering.

There are multiple types of hotpot stew to choose from – from extremely spicy to non-spicy, from a tomato-base stew to a garlic-based one, or better: have a half/half one so that you can combine two flavors. Most of the stews are priced around 30-35¥ (±4.5-5US$).

wodi entranceSupermarket entrance.

Wodi hotpot sauce

option menuCustomers can select and order their favorite hot pot stews through touch screens.

After the order for the hotpot stew is completed, the shopping can begin. The supermarket offers a variety of fresh foods – some great mushrooms and vegetables, soft and hard tofu kinds, noodles, intestines, fish heads, octopus, shrimps, and more. Meat can be ordered and cut at the center counter.

options

Wodi meatThe supermarket counter where an employee slices the meat for you.

Once you’ve collected all you want to eat (no worries, you can always hop back in and out to get more food and drinks), the food is scanned at the special Wodi check out counter, where again you swipe the card to “pay” for it.

wodi pay

Wodi register

wodi payoutWodi’s supermarket checkout system.

Wodi has a great selection of different hotpot sauces that are all free. The most common one in Beijing is the plain majiang (sesame paste) dipping sauce, but there are many other options available at Wodi including ways to make your hotpot sauce more exciting by adding cilantro, garlic, chili, etc.

wodi 2 sauces whatsonweibo

wodi sauces whatsonweibo

Once at the table, your ordered hotpot is prepared by the Wodi staff and hot potting can start. Except for the hot pot placement, Wodi is completely self-service as there are no employees who will serve you drinks or food. You will have to step back into the supermarket to get your own stuff, and cook your own food in the pot.

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toutiao

Wodi does all it can to make their customers as comfortable as possible to make them stay longer at the rented table. Tables have outlets to recharge mobile phones, there is free wifi, hair bands to keep the hair out of your face, and aprons to protect clothes from hotpot stains. In the meantime, the time for the table is counted by every 15 minutes you use it.

When food is finished and the bellies are full, it is time to pay. In a digital-focused store like Wodi, WeChat pay is the way to go, although there are other payment options available. As long as you have WeChat credit, “you just need to bring your mobile phone”, as my fellow hotpotters say, and you’re done. You give employees the Wodi card which you used for the supermarket and the table-time costs are added to it. For three persons spending multiple hours at Wodi eating and drinking, we spent a total of 240¥ (36US$)

wodi whatsonweibo finished

For the true hotpot connoisseurs, Wodi might not be your hotpot heaven for its tastes are classic but not as refined as renowned hot pot restaurants in China. But for its price, quality, cleanliness, comfort, and above all, its no-nonsense, self-service, digital approach, Wodi is the place to go.

According to its founder, this is still the “1.0 phase” of Wodi, with the future “2.0 Wodi” offering customers more digital options and services. Keep an eye on this one – it might just be the hot pot paradise China’s digital-loving hot pot foodies have been waiting for.

– By Manya Koetse

Wodi Hotpot Address:

Beijing, Chaoyang,
East Gongti Road 工体东路20号春平广场
1st Floor Chunping Plaza

Branch in Beijing, Wangjing
悠乐汇C座3楼359室
Youlehui C/Building 3, 359

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

Uh Oh, IP: Chinese Social Media Platforms Now Display Users’ Geolocation

From Weibo to Zhihu, Chinese social media platforms now display netizens’ geolocation to ensure a ‘healthy online environment.’

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Over the past few days, Chinese social media platforms have started to introduce a new function that displays the IP location of online commenters.

Weibo was the first platform to introduce the function on Thursday – the topic also became top trending on April 28 – and social media platforms Douyin, Toutiao, Xiaohongshu and others followed later. Zhihu announced the measure on April 30 (#知乎宣布全面上线显示用户IP属地#).

Weibo has experimented with the function since March 22 of this year before completely rolling it out on April 28. Whenever users post a reply or comment to a thread, their Internet Protocol (IP) address location will be displayed underneath their comment, right next to the post date and time information. The location will also be displayed on the personal account page of Weibo users.

According to Sina Weibo, the function was introduced to ensure a “healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere” on the platform and to reduce the spread of fake news and invidious rumors by people pretending to be part of an issue or city that they are actually not part of. To keep online discussions “authentic and transparent,” social media users’ specific region, city, province, or country will show up below their names. The function can not be turned off by users.

‘Refuting rumors’ is a priority for Weibo management and has only become more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in China and the recent Shanghai outbreak.

On Saturday, the hashtag “What Does It Mean That Platforms Are Unrolling the IP Function?” (#平台开放IP属地功能意味着什么#) was trending on Weibo, attracting over 170 million views.

The new measure has attracted mixed reactions on Chinese social media, where some users think it is useful that you can now discern users located abroad from those who are based in China, making it easier to draw conclusions on what is really going on in society (you can now spot trends that are particularly taking place within one region) and what is merely taking place in cyberspace.

But there are many users who think the new function is just another layer of control and does not really help to combat fake news or malicious rumors, since the IP location could actually still be changed.

Although the entire idea of displaying the IP location is to minimize the gap between cyberspace and reality based on one’s location, the location is merely the geographic location of the internet from the connected device and does not always correspond with the actual location of the social media user.

Once a person is connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), for example, internet traffic is sent through a server in another location, and the IP address will be replaced by the IP address of the VPN server in a different location from people’s actual address.

Some Weibo account are also not run by the persons themselves but by a social media or marketing company.

In this way, Bill Gates unexpectedly turned out to be located in Henan province, and Lionel Messi’s location showed up as Shanghai.

Others think that the new rule will only lead to more online polarization and self-censorship: “Who made this unsettling decision?! From now on, Chinese nationals who are studying or living abroad will be extra extra careful in what they write, otherwise, they’ll be labeled as ‘foreign forces.'”

Some people joked about the new function revealing their location, writing: “It made me so embarrassed. I’m pretending to be studying in the UK, while I’m actually in the mountains feeding the pigs.” Others were also surprised that their IP location was completely different from the place where they are actually living: “Weibo, what are you doing? I’ve never even been to Jilin,” one commenter wrote.

According to an online poll held by Fengmian News, 56% of the participants (nearly 300,000 at time of writing) said they supported the new function. 21% did not like the function, 17% said they did not care, and 6% were just curious to see their own IP location and if it matches their actual location.

“I’m gonna go and delete my more extreme comments,” one person wrote: “I don’t wanna give my hometown a bad reputation.”

Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also gave his views on the new measure, saying that people’s viewpoints and values will always be more important than where they come from, and that all friends of China matter, no matter where they are based. However, he argued, it is also good to know where those who openly express anti-Chinese sentiments come from, exposing those ‘evil foreign force’ who are trying to disrupt social cohesion within the country.

Noteworthy enough, Hu Xijin’s own IP location was not displayed on his Weibo account, as some celebrities seem to have been excluded from this measure or can decide themselves whether or not they would like to display their IP location or not.

One Weibo user wrote: “Twitter can follow its own regulations in banning Trump, while Weibo can transcend its own regulations and not show Hu Xijin’s IP location.”

For recent articles Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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