22 March 2019
What more could you ask for? Hai Di Lao staff are always ready to give a massage or peel shrimp for customers. Photos: Baidu, Youku
What more could you ask for? Hai Di Lao staff are always ready to give a massage or peel shrimp for customers. Photos: Baidu, Youku

Hong Kong’s got talent! But not for a hotpot chain

Just because you have a brilliant business idea does not guarantee you a successful launch in Hong Kong.

Spare a thought for Hai Di Lao Hotpot (海底撈), the restaurant operator from Sichuan which is set to open an outlet in Mong Kok this summer.

According to a local press report, the hotpot chain, which is looking to hire at least 100 personnel, met lukewarm response when it started a week-long recruitment program on Thursday.

Only one applicant showed up in the morning.

That shouldn’t be surprising, if you consider the employment terms. 

The staff will get an entry-level basic pay of HK$12,800 a month plus commission that could reach up to HK$20,000 and subsidies for housing and transport worth over HK$1,000.

That’s the enticing part.

The tricky part is that waiters must also be good at singing and dancing, while the chefs are expected to perform before an audience – meaning, the diners – with their noodles, ingredients and utensils.

Some of the would-be applicants must have thought they only wanted to serve food on customers’ tables, not give Eason Chan or Joey Yung a run for their money. Otherwise, they should have signed up with Emperor Entertainment Group.

“With a different mode of operation than other restaurants, Hai Di Lao requires higher standards of service – and that might drive away applicants,” the chain’s assistant director, Mr. Chiu, tells news website

“Peeling shrimp for customers is only a basic service. Singing may be more challenging.”

We suppose Hai Di Lao may have better luck finding good singing cum serving talents in the Philippines than in Hong Kong, where the most one can expect is fast, honest-to-goodness service, as exemplified by Australia Dairy Company, which is actually a cha chaan teng in Jordan famous for its steamed milk pudding and scrambled egg sandwich.

But Hai Di Lao is different from the norm in the catering business. 

It provides free manicure, massage and shoeshine services, or lets you play chess or poker while waiting for a table.  There are complimentary fruits and biscuits, too.

The staff are trained to be super-sensitive to your needs. They will offer you a water melon if they know you like the fruit, or prepare a birthday cake if you and your companions are overheard talking about your special day.

While partaking of the hotpot, you are given a piece of cloth to wipe the steam off your eyeglasses or a hair ring for your long hair. [See related article]

And – this is a bit hard to believe – you can enjoy all these services and the food for only around HK$300 per head, or half the going rate for restaurant buffets.

The hotpot chain has expanded into Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States, and now wants to open its first outlet in Hong Kong.

It will pay HK$550,000 per month for a three-storey establishment at 555 Nathan Road in Mong Kok.

It will be interesting to see how Hai Di Lao will maintain its business in Hong Kong, where the matter of high rent is second only to clamorous customers.

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EJ Insight writer

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