Two hotpot Haidilao’s Beijing outlets ran rat-infested kitchens; but winning praises for admitting it

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Consumers dining at Haidilao(PHOTO:Quartz)

Scandals over sanitation standards of two Haidilao branches in Beijing had raised outrage among consumers, according to news agency Xinhua on Sunday (Aug 27). But the restaurants are now getting some credit for their reaction.

Videos taken by hidden cameras captured a rat-infested kitchen, a dishwasher caked with oily food residue and a worker attempting to fix a sewage clog with a food ladle (Source:Youtube).

Offering spicy Sichuan-style broth and meticulous first-class service, which includes providing manicure services to customers waiting in line, Haidilao has been China’s most popular and trustable hotpot chain in recent years.

It has expanded its franchise all over mainland China, with more than 190 outlets in 57 cities, as well as branches in Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo, and Los Angeles.

The restaurant claimed that they had conducted extermination efforts in May and June, but “the rats were back within a few days,” according to the newspaper.

The reporters had found other disturbing signs, including the uncovered bottom of a dishwasher that was clogged with oily and rotting food, and a janitor using a kitchen washbasin to clean a broom and dustpan.

But instead of denying the reports or declining to respond, within seven hours of the news coming to light, Haidilao acknowledged the problems in a statement on its official Weibo account, which has 180k followers.

In the post Haidilao listed a seven-point action plan, with details including the names of the staffers in charge of following through with each part. The company said that it was closing two outlets on Friday afternoon for full cleanup, and was initiating a widespread upgrade of its monitoring system. The post was ‘liked’ over 19,000 times.

This reminds us of milk powder incidence in 2008. The difference lies in the swiftness of the reaction. The local authorities in Hebei, where the powder-maker Sanlu was based, had learnt about the tainted milk for a month before Sanlu finally announced a product recall.

Haidilao’s swift and honest actions were appreciated by many. Words of encouragement and support had been spread online.

“Haidilao’s growth is a result of its consumer awareness,” read a commentary in the state mouthpiece People’s Daily, contrasting Haidilao’s response to companies that use tricks to bluff their way.

“We can feel your honesty, but we are also expecting you to change—if [the sanitation] gets improved, we will still be your loyal customers. I’ve always believed that Haidilao is a miracle in China’s service industry, and I hope you can survive this and better yourself,” said one of the netizens on Weibo. This comment had been ‘liked’ over 24,000 times.

It turns out the hotpot chain was caught flouting hygiene regulations at one of its Singapore outlets before the above-mentioned case had been reported in China, when National Environment Agency (NEA) officers found a food handler using bare hands to contact food while cutting a watermelon on Aug 8, during routine inspections earlier in August.

Haidilao had been issued a summons.

Be that as it may, these incidences had not appeared to deter their loyal customers. Long waiting lines are easily observed at the hotpot branches in both China and Singapore until now.

Renowned for its delicate taste and quality services, the Haidilao chain had opened five operational outlets so far, with the sixth coming to Plaza Singapura.

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