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China's restaurant chain, Haidilao, is as much about its manicures as its meals

In the space of hot-pot restaurants, Zhang Yong's Haidilao succeeds through a tightly structured corporate culture—and unconventional customer service

Published: Feb 25, 2019 01:58:32 PM IST
Updated: Feb 25, 2019 03:25:07 PM IST

China's restaurant chain, Haidilao, is as much about its manicures as its mealsZhang Yong, co-founder and chairman of Haidilao
Image: Graham Uden for Forbes

“It’s better to scale fast and be everywhere instead of having a single towering presence,” says Zhang Yong, co-founder and chairman of Haidilao, one of China’s most popular restaurant chains. It serves hot pots, basins of boiling broth in which diners cook their own meat and vegetables tableside. The experience is communal, like roasting marshmallows around a campfire, and it is ubiquitous in China, where hot-pot restaurants crowd the streets. What has made Haidilao a hit—with annual revenue passing $1 billion—has more to do with its ambiance than its selections of sole, abalone or crispy, Sichuan-style fried pork.

Zhang, 48, a high school dropout, is worth $6.5 billion after Haidilao’s IPO. He has made it famous for its amenities, like tableside manicures and a service that will print diners’ selfies. There’s also Haidilao’s structure, which funnels employees through its empire—a complex web of shifus (managers) and apprentices who must pass rigid training. Haidilao promotes only from within, and shifus can earn a cut of their location’s profits. 

(This story appears in the 15 March, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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