In East Asia, one of the most popular and surprising places to get a mani-pedi is at a hot pot chain. At HaiDiLao, a prolific hot pot specialist, you can get a variety of complimentary services while you brave the two-hour-plus wait for a table, including shoe shining to car washes to, yes, professionally applied French tips. The services are an interesting prelude to the kind of meal where the lowbrow, freewheeling atmosphere is a given. But it’s this unmoderated embrace of over-the-top service—and the glut of freebies that comes along with it—that separates the upscale HaiDiLao from its peers in the hot pot business.
HaiDiLao began in 1994 in a humble 4-table booth in a small town in China’s Sichuan Province, opened by a former tractor factory worker named Zhang Yong. He offered a local style of hot pot called ma la tang, a spicy and tongue-numbing concoction that features fresh ingredients like lettuces, meatballs, and mushrooms cooked in a communal pot. Over time, he began to introduce complimentary service elements to distinguish himself from the other hot pot joints: a staff nail stylist for waiting customers, shoe shines, and fresh sliced watermelon for a complimentary dessert. Those features were such a hit that they became an integral part of his expanding business.