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During our trip to Beijing, my son’s friend, Karen, wanted to take us to dine at a hot pot restaurant, “Hai Di Lao.” A “hot pot” is like a Chinese fondue where everything is cooked in a large pot for the entire table. I was surprised by her suggestion because “hot pot” is normally eaten during the winter time, and at the time of our trip the weather was still very warm. As we entered the restaurant, I noticed the restaurant was full of people and there were many people waiting to be seated. The waiters were extremely hospitable, bringing us free drinks and snacks to keep our hunger under control while we waited for almost half an hour.
Hai Di Lao is famous for its customer service. In the last 14 years, this “service” allowed the owner to open more than 30 stores in six provinces and employ more than 6000 workers. In 2006, more than 200 people from KFC, Pizza Hut and other brands of well known restaurant groups held their China regional meeting at Hai Di Lao in Beijing. They were there to visit, study and learn from Hai Di Lao to improve their management. In the following year, two professors at Beijing University’s Business School of Management did in-depth research and even sent two people “undercover” to serve as waiters to sum up the management of the Hai Di Lao experience. Professors were surprised to find out the waiters of Hai Di Lao had a greater sense of responsibility than the students in their MBA classes.
We could tell the waiters cheerfully served customers not just with their hands but with their hearts. The reason I bring this up is that many of the restaurants we visited in China did not have the same focus on customer service that we have in the states. I was amazed that the owner of this chain could train the employees to have such a great attitude, since the servers from other eating establishments were nowhere close to that level (except in four- and five-star restaurants).
I was curious to find out the reason and it led me see how Hai Di Lao achieves the zero limit (no limit) in business and how the owner Zhang Yong, who used to be a welder, created this business miracle.
In 1994, in his hometown of Sichuan, Zhang Yong set up four tables and sold “hot pot” meals in his spare time. Since “hot pot” consists of basically a bunch of different ingredients that the customer chooses, a great chef is not necessary. Zhang understands that customer service is vital. Not only are the supplies clean and the food fresh, he also offers extraordinary service, including free shoe polishing, manicure services, free fruit platter and drinks, free online service, poker, chess and board games for waiting customers. The superb customer service and reasonable prices bring repeat business. Customers not only become very loyal clients, but also give tremendous referrals for Hai Di Lao.
For his employees, Zhang treats them like family. The living quarters he provides for them have air conditioning, free online hook up, sheets and room cleaning. At one location of Sichuan, a school was built for the children of the workers. For outstanding workers, the restaurant also mails bonuses to their parents who live far away in the country side.
As for the company’s promotional system, both college degrees and seniority are not required. So for those workers who never went to college, they realize that if they work hard, they can definitely make their lives better.
The love and passion the owner has for his customers and workers are the key to Zhang’s success in the Hai Di Lao restaurants. It’s fascinating and exciting to see someone who creates a miracle with love. Indeed, love can break the traditional business rule of profits over people. Here Zhang shows us to “love” first and everything will follow.
**The following shows the most spectacular noodle-pulling performance at the Hai Di Lao Restaurant in Beijing.