16 October 2019
Hai Di Lao Hotpot is renowned for its unique brand of service, which could be excessive at times. Photo: Facebook/Hai Di Lao
Hai Di Lao Hotpot is renowned for its unique brand of service, which could be excessive at times. Photo: Facebook/Hai Di Lao

Why too much is not too good at Hai Di Lao Hotpot

It’s not often that yours truly writes three pieces on a certain restaurant before actually visiting it, but hotpot operator Hai Di Lao Hotpot is an exception.

Billed as having the best service among all eateries in the whole of China, which is not famous for good service, Hai Di Lao created much buzz after word got out about its plan to open an outlet in Hong Kong. In fact, a finance editor told me Hai Di Lao became a buzz word on local social media this year.

That’s probably due more to Hongkongers’ love for hotpot across four seasons than its vaunted Four Seasons type of service.

After a visit to the Mong Kok joint this week, I changed my mind about the Four Seasons rating, and instead fondly refer to it as “every two minutes” service.

Every two minutes, our waitress would approach us and ask if we need anything more – drinks, food – or simply chat with us. That’s quite exceptional because many people in this city are not used to that kind of attentiveness from restaurant staff.

How many times do we need to be asked if we needed another dish? At Hai Di Lao, it’s not a problem. The hotpot items were cold anyway.

But such service presented a bit of a problem because we, a group of three, wanted a bit of privacy as we talked and ate. So the restaurant’s renowned quality of service involved frequent interruptions that became a bit annoying.

A business traveler may not want the stewardess to come and exchange pleasantries every half hour, but still he wants the service when it is needed.

It is an art to achieve that balance of being always available yet out of sight. As the old Chinese saying goes, excess is also a deficiency.

That also applies to the pre-dinner snacks (of which I ate a lot because I arrived 30 minutes ahead of my companions), hand-pulled noodles and staff performing Sichuan opera. Fortunately, patriotic songs were not played as background music when we were there.

In fact, the staff is now trying to cut down on their super-attentiveness to customers. I’m glad they didn’t offer hair rings or clothes to wipe our eyeglasses while we were eating, but they did offer a mobile charger.

However, the staff did impress us with their attentiveness and swift response to our requests. We called their attention to what seemed a stray insect floating in our mushroom dish, and they quickly offered to replace it with a new dish.

While we were happy with the alternative, the office manager came to us to explain that it was not an insect. Two minutes later, we were given a bottle of red wine with a pink ribbon (what an odd decoration) as if we were celebrating an anniversary.

The wine was bland, and the service was a bit excessive, but guess what, we will visit again – and probably subscribe to its shares if it gets listed one day in Hong Kong – because we appreciate the restaurant’s effort to be different.

P.S.: A non-seafood dinner for three persons for three hours costs around HK$600. Weekday booking before 7 p.m. is available at the 24-hour restaurant.

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EJ Insight writer