How would you define good customer service in a restaurant? Flexibility, speed, attention, smiling faces and personalization of experiences?
A Chinese fondue store takes them to the extreme. Until you walk into one of their restaurant chains and become a customer, you can never imagine how they are redefining service in the restaurant industry. The stories of the surprising services offered at the restaurant are told online by many customers.
Just a few examples.
Women who line up for a free table can enjoy a free manicure while they wait.
- If you are eating alone, a large, fluffy teddy bear will be sitting in front of the table to keep you company.
- If it’s too hot inside and your long hair is bothering you, the waiters will bring you rubber bands.
- If you want a piece of fruit that isn’t on the menu today, they can get it for you at a nearby store and give it to you for free.
- If you are a pregnant woman, they provide you with a cushion for extra back support.
- If you are not feeling well, they can get you some medicine.
A customer once even said that she prepared a special gift on her behalf for her future in-laws as they first met at a restaurant. Although the customer did not mention the nature of her date to anyone in the restaurant, one very observant waitress understood the embarrassment in their interactions and took the initiative to help her make a better impression.
Then there are the free drinks and snacks, card and board games, hot face towels, bib covers, cell phone protective bags offered before dinner; the “noodle masters” who prepare handmade noodles by spinning them in front of you in an elaborate display accompanied by music; simple toy gifts for children; and sanitary products for the ladies in the toilets.
All of this makes Haidilao a sensation in China. Founded in 1994, the company now has 20,000 employees in 1,597 restaurant chains in China, Singapore, United States, South Korea, Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, Malaysia, in Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia. In 2020, its net profit was 309.3 million RMB (about 49 million US dollars)
Its founder Zhang Yong is himself a legend.
As a young man, he received only a basic education and showed no interest or talent in business. At the age of 18, he became a welder in a tractor factory. Soon he got bored of work and opened his first fondue store in central Sichuan province of China. He only had three co-founders, his wife and a couple he had known from school. His restaurant was a small stand with four tables.
Zhang Yong also didn’t know how to cook fondue. Holding a cookbook in one hand and trying to follow the instructions with the other, he began a life-changing journey.
Fondue is a very popular dish all over China. This involves friends and family sitting around a large pot of tasty boiling broth and cooking food by soaking it in the broth. The fondue market is a very saturated and competitive market. Almost in all the big or small streets of China, you can find at least one fondue restaurant.
It is not easy to stand out among your competition. All customers ask for are fresh meat and vegetables, good broth, and enough choice of sauces. No sophisticated cooking technique is required.
While running his first store, Zhang Yong discovered that service could be the key to popularity. “If you can help customers babysit, carry their bags or shine their shoes, they’re more likely to come back,” Zhang said in an interview.
Following this line of thinking, Zhang’s restaurant quickly rose to fame in his hometown. Then came the second restaurant, the third and the national chain. On the homepage of its website, the company promises to “champion the idea of ’putting customers first and providing them with the best services”, and to transform traditional, standardized and unique services into personalized services through to innovation ”.
Zhang Yong treats his employees with the same care he treats his customers. He recruits his waiters and waitresses by word of mouth. One brings another from his social network of friends, classmates, hometown acquaintances, relatives and family members.
Zhang says the restaurant industry is all about making your customers happy; and only happy employees can make customers happy. Working with people you know and love is a great place to start.
The company also offers very attractive salary incentives and social packages. Exceptional employees may even receive free apartments, parental grants, children’s education allowances, and other perks.
Upward mobility is more attractive. Zhang never forgets his humble beginnings. He is determined to help as many people as possible succeed. He says, “Everyone has a dream. Most of my employees come from small towns. They have a limited education But they too want a bright future. They want to live a decent and comfortable life like the townspeople. I want them to know that Haidilao is here to help them. As long as they are ready to work, anything is possible.
Zhang created a layered structure for performance evaluation and a good promotion system. Anyone who does well in their job can aspire to take it to the next level. Haidilao only promotes its staff from within and there are no outsiders in its top management. Many of its store managers and regional managers come from the lower ranks.
The company is committed to “changing fate through hard work and creating a fair and equal working environment for staff” and “implementing a humanized and people-centered management model”. As a result, Haidilao enjoys a high level of employee loyalty. Its frontline staff turnover rate (10%) is much lower than that of its competitors. Many say that working in the company is like being in a family.
Zhang’s employee-centered approach enables his team to do the best they can for clients, for themselves and for their families left behind in poor villages. They are motivated and united by the belief that Zhang continues to state, “The basic philosophy of Haidilao is that you can change your life with your own hands.