Chinese restaurant chain hopes to popularize hot pot in US

A popular chain of hot pot restaurants from China is set to be exported to the US this fall in the hopes of popularizing the community style of eating among Western diners.

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the first US outpost of Chinese restaurant chain Hai Di Lao will open in Los Angeles this fall, where diners will partake in what could be described as the Chinese version of savory fondue: dipping raw meats and seafoods into a communal vat of steaming, spicy flavorful broths.

And while many major cities already boast hot pot restaurants, Hai Di Lao hopes to differentiate itself from the pack in the North American market just as it’s done in China: with entertainment lounges that act as waiting areas, offering amenities like internet terminals, board games, kids’ toys, free unlimited snacks, a shoeshine, manicure or a hand massage, reports the WSJ.

Moreover, the dining experience at Hai Di Lao in China could also be described as a cross between a circus show and spectacle, as diners -- who’ve donned full-size aprons much like lobster bibs -- are entertained by dancing servers and magicians.

At their restaurants in China, noodle masters, for instance, take over the dining room floor and turn balls of dough into hand-spun ribbons of noodles while dancing.

And the concept of customer service is taken a step further in Asia, with hair elastics doled out to customers with long hair and wipes provided to bespectacled diners so they can clean their glasses when they fog up from the steam, adds the WSJ.

When Hai Di Lao arrives in the US meanwhile, it will compete directly with Little Sheep, a hot pot chain that started in Inner Mongolia, China and in 2011 was acquired by US fast food company Yum! whose portfolio includes KFC and Pizza Hut.

Little Sheep now has 300 locations across China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Canada and the US.