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I just tried out Haidilao, premium hotpot restaurant that was recently listed at the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Unfortunately, my family is not into hotpot, so I tried it out for lunch today. My bill for one person, 1/2 plate of sliced beef and 1/2 plate of tofu, one bowl of rice with a drink but no condiments came up to S$48.25. At that price, I will be able to have a 3 portion set lunch in an Italian Michelin 1 star restaurant.

Since when did Chinese hot pot become so expensive? Haidilao prides itself with premium service – which is true. The service staff was very prompt and attentive. A waiter weaves noodle threads from a flour dough in a dramatic flourish. The manicure service to reduce waiting time, I did not get to experience as I did not have to wait for my table. Plus the queue for free manicure was just too long.

What service really matters in the service industry?

Will a robot replace the waiter? Does it matter that someone knows my name? Celebrates my birthday? Pours my drink? Smiles at me?

Does the quality of food matter? Do I need to introduce new items in the menu?

A movie goer may not return to the theatre twice for the same movie, yes. (I too know someone who watched “Titanic” three times in the theatre.)

In an experience economy, what would make a customer return?

We need to ask these questions in the service economy.

Is your service valuable, rare, hard to imitate, and dependent on a unique organisation of relationship (VRIO)?

If not, what must you do to gain competitive advantage? Continuous learning.

After the IPO, Haidilao is now playing a different game by releasing new stories into the media. Expansion into global markets, using technology to centralise kitchens and logistics, robots as waiters.