Why Do We Wait Three Hours for Hot Pot at Haidilao?

Haidilao’s HK$7.56 billion ($963 million) fundraising will make it the fifth largest in Hong Kong this year, after China Tower, Xiaomi, Meituan Dianping and Ping An Good Doctor, according to South China Morning Post.

Within the past a few years, Haidilao has become the Starbucks of coffee chains and the Pizza Hut of pizza chains in China. Haidilao now owns over 300 restaurants, with overseas stores in Singapore, Los Angeles, Seoul and Tokyo.

The name Haidilao, came from Sichuan Mahjong, a traditional tile-based Chinese gambling game popular in Sichuan province where hot pots are also ubiquitous.

Sichuan Mahjong

Seeing his wife winning the game with the last tile called “Haidilao”, Zhang Yong decided to name the brand after that. The literal translation of “Haidilao” is “fishing treasures from the bottom of the ocean”; just the sound of that could make your mouth water.

Wait marketing

It may sound unbelievable that customers have to wait three hours for a hot pot. But that is exactly the case in China, as forging long waiting lines has become a marketing strategy.

Hotpot is always the go/to choice for family reunions. During the Mid-Autumn Festival last month, I had intended to dine with my friends at a nearby Haidilao restaurant, only to find that we needed to wait for three hours for a table.

The same goes for the tea brand HeyTea, the Alley (the Hong Kong tea brand famous for its Brown Sugar Deerioca Milk) and a New York based patisserie called Lady M, which opened a branch in Beijing in August. When HeyTea first opened in Beijing last August, young people were so excited for a cup of afternoon tea that they didn’t care about waiting for hours upon hours.

Psychologically speaking, the phenomenon can be referred to as the waiting effect. In Professor David Maister research on Psychology of Waiting Lines, he discusses the eight factors that make waiting feel shorter. The most prominent one is “the more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait”. Also, solo waits feel longer than group waits.

However, reports say that waiting hours for HeyTea has declined. And some say owners even hire people to wait in front of stores so as to make the tea more tempting.

Personalized service— never ceases to amaze you

As we all know, what differentiates Haidilao from other hot pot chains is its impeccable customer care.

Haidilao provides female customers with quality services such as manicure and hand care to keep them busy while waiting, as stated in Professor David’s study that “unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.”

manicure service at Haidilao

When you are at the table, Haidilao has a flying noodle performance, entertaining and impressive. The freshly pulled noodles dance in the hands of a skillful performer, and then go straight into the boiling pot installed in your table.

flying noodles performance at Haidilao

Traditional Sichuan face changing performances can also be found in particular stores.

If you are the “unfortunate one” dining alone, the Haidilao staff will put a huge teddy bear on the opposite side of the table to keep you company. How considerate and loving of them, right?

A teddy bear to keep you company

An article entitled What is it like being a waiter at Haidilao on Zhihu mentions that working at Haidilao, or rather in the service industry, is all about taking care of people, especially in cases of pregnant women, seniors and screaming kids. Each case should be dealt with different strategies.

“What I learned from Haidilao is that do not impose on customers what you think is good,” said a previous Haidilao server on Zhihu.

The company granted a high level of autonomy to their employees. “We seek to give employees greater autonomy to provide better service than our peers. We encourage our restaurant staff to execute their own ideas on how to discover and satisfy the needs of our guests, which originates from our belief that people can be creative when given relatively high degrees of freedom,” Haidilao’s filing documents state.

They provide special treats for special occasions. A waiter was able to get us a free dish and some soup base ingredients when he realized one of us was celebrating his birthday.

Another time, the waitress serving our table overheard that we were recording a video for a colleague who was getting married. She then decided to give us a pair of Haidilao’s couple chopsticks and mugs. Mind you, she overheard us, we didn’t even tell her.

Long haired customers are offered hair ties and spectacle-wearers receive glass cleaning cloths. It is always the details that matter.

Technology also highlights its service. Apart from tablets used for ordering, Haidilao has an automated ordering system that record member ordering preferences and other data. It serves as a platform for additional personalized customer services based on guests’ preferences.

A specific section was added to the ordering iPad to bring surveillance footage of the kitchen. Diners can now “spy” on the real-time proceedings of the meal preparation and switch between different areas including dish washing and serving area.

However, less is more. Sometimes being too attentive could also be troublesome. I remember once I went to Haidilao with a close friend, when the waitress kept patrolling back and forth, asking whether we need a towel, some more water or assistance boiling vegetables. I eventually started getting a bit annoyed after being interrupted numerous times as we were talking about private issues.

Later I heard they found a new method. If you prefer to be left alone, they would simply put up a sign on your table saying “Please do not disturb.”

See, that’s the weaknesses of human nature. Too much attention gives birth to spoiled kids.