I’m back in Hong Kong for two weeks because of the Summer school break in Auckland which means that I have come back to cooler Winter weather because of the reverse in seasons. For my tummy, cool weather simply translates into hotpot time – an excuse to get together and catch up with good friends for one of my favourite shared meals.
A close friend recommended this amazing hot pot find. A place called Hai Di Lao hotpot restaurant which started in China’s Sichuan province in 2004 and evolved from a humble spicy (ma-la) hotpot chain to a 300 outlet chain all over China, Hong Kong, recently opening in Singapore and the US. We visited the outlet in Kowloon’s bustling Yaumatei district. For those who want to try it – head out of Yaumatei’s MTR station, exit A1 and its just around the corner, up the stairs in the next door mall.
There is literally something for everyone from food to entertainment here based on the sheer marketing genius that is behind it’s brilliant customer service. In fact, keeping the customer waiting has become an art form at this restaurant.
Make a reservation and arrive in time for it but don’t expect to be promptly seated. In fact, you should expect a queue … and a VERY LONG one at that. However there are no angry complaints, hungry crying children or irritable guests (all common sights at crowded Hong Kong eateries). Instead, this restaurant has turned waiting time into a fun pre-dining experience for all who come.
Seats and free snacks
There are seats for everyone in the queue, albeit rather unsophisticated stools and small tables but no one is left standing.
Whilst you wait, you can help yourself to a free-flow complimentary range of snacks or fruits, water, pop corn, crisps and even ice cream (if you want it before your meal). Before long, you will find yourself happily chatting, itchy mouth occupied and hunger soothed whilst you whet that appetite. If you are still bored, pick up one of their readily available board games or leave the kids to watch TV or get them busily occupied in the Kid’s playroom.
Free Gel Nails
Ladies, forget future investments in your expensive gel nail package. The outlet here has a team of manicurist that offer a free gel nail service.
They remove your old set, reapply the new and you have an ample choice of trendy colours and embellishments. Definitely gets you coming back for your next fix every month when your nails grow out. An act of sheer marketing genius in my books!
Birthday Parties and Performances
Birthday celebrations are also a performance art here. The service crew come out to sing a song, stereo music accompaniment blaring in the background. By the time that they are done, everyone in the restaurant knows its your special day. Bring your own cake or order one from the outlet. Whatever makes your visit and the occasion work!
The restaurant has occasional impromptu performances here like the Chinese face mask changing artist. They go from table to table to entertain guests during dinner.
Customer retention and loyalty is a big thing here. VIPs (we are not sure how one qualifies for this) have a little sign that says you are ‘Diamond member’ delivered to the table.
My host who was a diamond member got the full works – a service staff who knew his name, a visit from the outlet manager to our table to chat and find out how we were doing – at the same time delivering a free box of beautifully packaged red packets from the restaurant for Chinese New Year. My host shares that they even give away mooncakes when the annual mid-autumn season season arrives.
Whilst we happily chatted away. we had our hot pot items cooked for us at the table by the hostess, drinks refreshed almost every five minutes, all despite a crazy turnover of customers coming in and out of the restaurant. Someone also came by to take a commemorative photo of our table when the food arrived and at the end of the meal, each guest at our table got a print out of the photo in a sealed zip lock for safe keeping. This was nothing short of the whole works in terms of customer service.
The hotpot menu had good and wide variety and was high tech. No paper menus with everything available only on a tablet which is left on your table. In terms of the food – hot pot is hot pot – there is not a lot that you don’t love about the experience since you literally pick your own favourites and the pleasure lies in the camaraderie of cooking it.
What I truly thought was innovative and unexpected was the soup tray. Usually you get a ying yang tray with a maximum of two compartments. This restaurant offered a tray with 4 cooking slots which meant that you could have 3 or 4 soup bases with different flavours to cook your food in. We chose the sichuan hot soup base (known as ma-la), a pork bone soup broth and a tomato soup base (my favourite) leaving the last compartment for hot water to cook the veggies, noodles or just to rinse out our cooking utensils.
And just when we thought that the experience was ended, our order of noodles arrived with dancing waiter in tow. Dinner theatre was his noodle dance hand-pulling the noodles according to the preferred consistency – thick or thin.
If you don’t like noodles, don’t fret, there is also a wagyu beef fried rice at the buffet bar which comes complimentary with the meal, alongside a variety of starters. Everything is free except the sauces (HK$22 per person) and the drinks ($15 per person and refillable) which honestly was a nominal fee considering how everything else was already thrown in.
Dessert arrived – a finale of fresh fruits and a clear Osmanthus Pear drink. Go back to the buffet bar if you want seconds and help yourself with more. All complimentary, of course.
Open 24 Hours!
No one politely chases you out after an hour – which is the case at most of Hong Kong’s popular hot pot buffet restaurants, just to accomodate a turn over of customers. Instead, here you roll yourself out voluntarily – just to walk off all you have eaten pre and post main course. Whoever said hot pot was healthy as it was all soup – clearly has not been to Haidilao!
And did I mention it is open 24 hours a day here with queues at midnight being the norm! It definitely needs to go to Australia and New Zealand where there are Chinese communities with appetites for novelty and exactly this type of concept.
Find their Hong Kong outlets here.