Haidilao hotpot offers great service and brings people together

Sarah Markmann
A Western girl in China enjoys the food and service at Haidilao, a popular chain of hotpot restaurants.
Sarah Markmann

Haidilao, a wildly popular global hotpot restaurant chain built on a principle of outstanding service, has become one of my go-to restaurants. Haidilao has great service before you even pass through the doors: from the complimentary nail salon to the chips, drinks and toys they have for kids, Haidilao makes sure to take good care of you. I can always count on the servers to brighten my mood with their smiles, vibrant energy and great service. I do, however, wonder if my experience eating at Haidilao is different as a foreigner.

Hotpot involves a big pot of simmering soup that is placed in the middle of the table. Each diner can choose the soup's base as well as its ingredients. The amount of time needed for the food to cook depends on the food item. For example, quail eggs only need to be heated up in the soup because it is served already cooked. On the other hand, corn takes a longer time to cook. It initially took me a while to learn how long each food needs to cook, but I can now confidently say that I have mastered the cooking times after eating at Haidilao over a dozen times!

Haidilao hotpot offers great service and brings people together

Illustration by Rachel Yu

A signature feature of hotpot dining is the sauce station. These stations come with a wide variety of sauces where everyone can create their own unique dipping sauce. My absolute favorite sauce concoction consists of peanut butter sauce, chili flakes, sesame oil, crushed sesame seeds and chopped peanuts.

One day, my boyfriend, James, and I were in the mood for some hotpot, so we made our way to the nearest Haidilao. As we were ushered to our table, we were given a warm welcome in English. When we sat down, I could tell that the waiter was torn between speaking English or speaking Chinese, since I look like a foreigner and James looks Chinese. The waiter asked James in Chinese what language he should speak to us, and James said that Chinese was fine. The waiter asked James if I could speak Chinese, and he responded by saying that I could speak a little bit. I found this experience humorous because, more often than not, waiters are not sure what language to speak to James and me.

My most memorable experience eating at Haidilao was with my mom when she made the bold decision to wear a white long-sleeved shirt to eat hotpot! I told my mom, "What are you doing? You can't wear white, that is the first rule of hotpot in my book!" When we got to the restaurant, everything went smoothly ... until things went awry. When my mom added a quail egg to the soup, her fingers slipped, and her white long-sleeved top ended up covered in splotches of red from the tomato-based soup. The waiter noticed what had happened and immediately rushed to our table. He apologized profusely for not offering sleeve covers and an apron. Even the manager came over and apologized, offering my mom stain-removal wipes. I was just sitting there wondering why they were apologizing for something that was not their fault.

Ever since the first time I tried hotpot, I've loved how it brings people together. It is hard to find a place that has such great food, service and a congenial atmosphere. I am curious to see if any other hotpot restaurants can top how I feel about Haidilao. I wonder if I will always get the "foreigner treatment" when I go to Haidilao, or if someday they will see me as a local!

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