Haidilao is a chain of hot pot restaurants founded in Sichuan Province, China in 1994. Its restaurants typically operate under the name Hai Di Lao Hot Pot. The name of the company originates from a mahjong term in Sichuan, Haidilao, literally meaning “fortune” (Yu Tianyu, 2011, Spice of success). At an early phase, it was a small shop selling malatang. Later it developed and expanded its menu range (Gabriel Li, 2018, China’s Hottest Hot Pot Chain is Going Public). In addition to many locations in China, now it has restaurants in Singapore, America, Korea, Japan, and Europe (Luo Weiteng, 2017, Hotpot giant Haidilao set to enter Hong Kong soon). Besides its fresh ingredients, delicious flavor, fast serving speed, and twenty-four opening hours, Haidilao is known for their focus on customer service and for offering a variety of free services and entertainment for customers that include: board games, snacks, and manicures for waiting customers. These days Haidilao is so popular in China that you may even have to wait for one or two hundred tables during meal time.
The experience I am going to describe is my first-time dining at Haidilao. I remember my mother and I always want to try Haidilao because of all the positive reviews on the Internet that people are writing. We finally made it on a workday specifically to avoid waiting so long but we still waited for twenty tables to get in. Generally speaking, the food was tasty, the waiting wasn’t boring, the service was meticulous and flawless, and it was an incredible experience. In the following paragraphs, I will critically describe this experience in four aspects:
This first-time Haidilao experience is significant to me. The main reason is that I have been longing for so long to actually sit in this restaurant and it has exceeded my expectation. The meaning behind this is that I have finished one thing from my wishlist and have a feeling of accomplishment, which is one of the fifteen core meanings (Steven Diler, Nathan Shedroff, and Darrel Rhea, Making meaning).
Secondly, I came with my mother so there was an emotional connection between us and our chatting at the table definitely strengthened our relationship.
Then, influenced by conformity, this experience gives me an identity as people who have eaten at Haidilao and can share reviews on the Internet, which transfers me from the minorities (who hasn’t been to Haidilao) to the majorities (who has been to Haidilao).
Also, Haidilao has a high-performance cost ratio reflected in every dish can be ordered in half of its quantity. The company has a rule saying that two half-quantity dishes can’t be less than a full dish, which is really helpful for a small number of people be able to taste various dishes without any waste.
In addition, the restaurant has a few equipments, which is super functional, such as air renewal system, which leaves you with no smell on your clothes after the meal, filter spoon, which makes it easy to pick up food from the hot pot and leave the extra oil and soup on it, a table full of sauce and seasoning, which allows you to make your favorite dipping, a apron, which prevents soup dropping in your clothes, a small plastic bag, which you put your phone in and protects it from any liquid food, a hot towel, which waiters will replace with new ones from time to time and helps you wipe anything, a rubber band if you have long hair, in case your hair gets in your way of eating (some of the services can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bzDd1FhAhA). Research has indicated that these thoughtful services that Haidilao provided positively influence customer satisfaction significantly, moreover, perceived service quality plays a more important role than perceived product quality (Jing Wang and Lijuan Cheng, 2012, The relationships among perceived quality, customer satisfaction and customer retention: An empirical research on Haidilao restaurant). This explains why I am more satisfied at Haidilao, which has superior services, than other hot pot restaurants with the same product quality.
Haidilao is one of the most successful hot pot chain restaurants brand in its industry. There are many side products selling in the supermarkets and its online stores, such as different flavors of instant hot pot and hot pot condiment. The price of these products is cheaper than the ready-made ones in the restaurants which is really a huge attraction to those who prefer to cook by themselves at home and save some money. You can even order take-out and just wait for the delivery at home (Haidilao online order, https://haidilao.oddle.me/ ). Based on the hot pot restaurants and all the side products and services, Haidilao has a highly recognizable logo. What’s more, it regularly posts a lot of easy hot-pot-related recipes on its social media. This encourages many people to cook by themselves and inspires them to explore different ingredients with the various cooking methods which could lead them towards a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, Haidilao is related to a positive lifestyle including hand-made, nutritious diet and deeply a spirit to enjoy doing things by oneself. Also, this is a great promotion since the materials you need for the recipes are usually available on the restaurant menu and the waiters will teach you in person if you are willing or they will do the work for you if you want to skip the process and just enjoy the food.
According to service, it is the biggest selling point in Haidilao. For instance, when you are waiting for a table you can seat on the small tables outside the restaurant and have a cup of tea or some snacks. You can even make an appointment at the front desk and have your nails done for free while waiting. If you have a child there will be free toys giving to distract them from the boring waiting. After you finally seat at your table, a tablet will be brought to you and then you can order through the tablet which has a clear picture for every course. Then there will be an apron and the waiter will take care of you during the meal. Such high-quality service like this is becoming a significant goal for many companies to satisfy their customers these days. “We deliver happiness to those around us.” (Cecilia Yu, Michael Chen, and Lisa Liang, 2014, 2014 The Era of Modern Chinese Brands, p10) Haidilao’s goal is beyond serving the best product but “happiness”, which is both for employees and customs by the affinity between employees and customers and has become their “brand culture”.
- Interaction and Intensity
From my point of view, interaction is the most important part of this experience including interaction with people and food where intensity is also involved. There are two kinds of people that interaction takes place and one is the people provide service and the other is the people I come with. My interaction with the waiter was pretty intense because he did everything enthusiastically and dutiful and made me don’t know what to do. For example, he came from time to time telling you how long each ingredient should be boiling, replacing your hot towel and dirty dishes, and taking away the empty dishes. I feel this part is passive since the waiter is just doing his job and not under my commend. At this point, I always feel nervous when the waiter came by and serve me. However, at the same time, I feel purely happy as well, which mainly comes from the waiter’s attitude (smiling face and polite tone). It has been indicated that there are more Chinese companies developing relationships with consumers, which consumers are starting to agree (Cecilia Yu, Michael Chen, and Lisa Liang, 2014, 2014 The Era of Modern Chinese Brands, p4). As for me, I think I was establishing a relationship with the waiter and the restaurant, which brought me much happiness, Such emotional connection makes Haidilao more unique to me than other hot pot restaurants and makes me more likely to stick with the brand. On the other hand, the interaction with my mother, whom I was dining with, is active because I take the initiative to talk to her and the feeling is relaxing. I feel like the amazing services made everything easy for us that we talked about things we don’t usually talk about and had a deeper emotional connection. As for the food, interaction is kind of the soul of eating hot pot. Unlike other food, hot pot requires you to put the meat and vegetables in the pot and get them out once they are done all by yourself. This progress includes choosing the ingredients you like, putting them in the pot and knowing when to pick them up, where timing is the key element. People may use the different time to boil the same thing due to their habits. In this part, I was cool, chill and felt full of power because you get hold of all the things, which is basically what, when and how to eat.
Speaking of triggers, the first one I noticed was the waiter’s warm smiling face and good manner which engage me into this wonderful meal experience. These sight and sound triggers gave me a sense of family and made me feel especially welcome. Then there are a few food-related triggers, such as the look and smell in different cooking stages, the sound of the boiling soup, the unique taste of each sauce and ingredient, the touch of the food that you feel from the chopsticks. In addition, when we ordered ramen the cook came in front of our desk and made the raw ramen like he was dancing (Hai Di Lao Noodle Dance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=3BQKfJstGYQ ). In all, we watched an amazing ramen show and it engaged us to pay more attention to our last course – the ramen and have more interest in the production process. These are taste, touch and sight triggers that make me fully enjoy the food and make them more delicious in all aspects. Moreover, this self-cooking experience made it more like a family meal and effectively pulled in people’s distance. According to “Design for all 5 senses” (Jinsop Lee, 2013), I give this experience a 5-3-5-2-5 (sight-touch-smell-sound-taste), Overall, it’s a positive and memorable experience for me.
Cecilia Yu, Michael Chen, and Lisa Liang, 2014, 2014 The Era of Modern Chinese Brands. Available online: https://siegelgale.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/SG-CN-White-Paper-11Feb2014.pdf
Gabriel Li, 2018, China’s Hottest Hot Pot Chain is Going Public. Available online: https://pandaily.com/chinas-hottest-hot-pot-chain-is-going-public/
Haidilao Noodle Dance. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=3BQKfJstGYQ
Haidilao, Official Website. Available online: http://www.haidilao.com/brand/story
Haidilao Online Order. Available online: https://haidilao.oddle.me/
Haidilao Special Services (in Chinese). Available online: http://www.haidilao.com/how/feature
Haidilao: Taking Chinese Hotpot to the Next Level. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bzDd1FhAhA
Jing Wang and Lijuan Cheng, 2012, The relationships among perceived quality, customer satisfaction and customer retention: An empirical research on Haidilao restaurant.
Jinsop Lee, 2013, Ted talk, Design for all 5 senses. Available online: https://www.ted.com/talks/jinsop_lee_design_for_all_5_senses
Luo Weiteng, 2017, Hotpot giant Haidilao set to enter Hong Kong soon, China Daily. Available online: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2017-02/17/content_28233907.htm
Elsie Chen and Sui-Lee Wee, 2018, Offering Manicures With Your Hot Pot, China’s Haidilao Plans a Global Push. Available online: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/25/business/haidilao-china-hotpot-ipo.html
Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, and Darrel Rhea, 2005, Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences. Available online: http://nathan.com/making-meaning/
Yu Tianyu (2011) Spice of success, China Daily European Weekly. Available online: http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2011-03/04/content_12115763.htm