There is something I’m looking forward to this hot summer: hotpot.
You may be raising your eyebrows, wondering why I would like a hot and spicy stew in the middle of a sweltering season.
Well, that’s because I’m thinking about Hai Di Lao Hotpot (海底撈), the famous hot pot chain which will soon open a 24-hour branch here in Hong Kong.
When I casually mentioned this to my mainland friend yesterday, he replied: “Guess what, my friends go there almost every time their boss scolds them. There they feel like kings, after working like dogs in the office.”
The high-end eatery, which started as a humble shop selling soup in Sichuan in 1994, has been on an expansion binge, establishing its presence in various parts of the globe such as Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States.
In Hong Kong, it has secured a lease on a three-storey outlet on 555 Nathan Road in Mong Kok.
The monthly rent is HK$550,000, or HK$32 per square foot, which is a 30 percent discount to the asking price, according to local newspaper reports.
The next question, of course, is, will it click? Judging by the many hotpot establishments in the city that closed their doors after a few months or years of operation, the answer is, all the best!
The Chinese are known for creative price-cutting strategies, but not for service. Hai Di Lao wants to be different.
At the restaurant, dubbed The Four Seasons of Hot Pot, lady customers get free manicure, gents get a complimentary shoeshine, while their kids romp around the play zone.
Diners are an impatient lot because they are hungry. Which is why management sees to it that they have fun things to do while waiting for the arrival of the dishes.
They are offered free biscuits and fruits. Customers can also play chess or poker with strangers while waiting in the queue.
Management thinks of everything, like offering you a bib with a pocket for your mobile phone and a hair ring in case you sport long hair like chief executive aspirant Leung Kwok-hung.
Some people don’t like hot pot because they wear eyeglasses. That shouldn’t be a problem at Hai Di Lao. The waiter offers a piece of cloth for them to wipe the steam off their eyewear.
Isn’t that so considerate of them?
There’s more. In the washroom, you’d think you’ve been booked at Mandarin Oriental. You may ask for an Oral B tootbrush and toothpaste.
The hot pot is plentiful in supply of meat, vegetables and other ingredients, not to mention the fact that everything is fresh and hygienic.
And the bill may surprise you, because it’s quite affordable at HK$250 to HK$300 per head.
In Hong Kong, hot pot is not considered a very hot business proposition. Famous outlets like Tanyoto, which became famous for its spicy fish head, or Little Sheep, which is now under the YUM! brand, have seen a lot of shop closures and retrenchments here as sky-high rents ate away their margins.
But not to worry. Despite the short winter, hotpot is a four-season favorite in this city.
If the weather gets a bit too warm, that shouldn’t present a problem. Just set the air-conditioners at a lower temperature.
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