Cyber supper: Multi-city virtual dining comes to China
Hai Di Lao (海底捞火锅), a Chinese hot pot restaurant chain famous for its kung fu noodles and iPad ordering system, has just launched a virtual dining concept.
The new hi-tech cyber supper service allows diners in Shanghai and Beijing to boil hot pot face-to-face even though they are 1,200 kilometers apart.
Multi-city groups dining
Two dining rooms, both named Zhi Zhen Jian (智真间), are equipped to deliver the service in Hai Di Lao’s Beijing Wangfujing chain and Shanghai Changshou Lu chain.
Both rooms accommodate a half-moon table and can seat a maximum of six diners.
A massive video wall, made up of three 60-inch LED screens, occupies one end of the table, allowing diners to see, talk with and propose a toast to their faraway companions.
According to the Sichuan-based restaurant, the goal of this system is to “solve some diners’ need of multi-city group dining” and its main target will be “business meals, friends’ gatherings and family reunions” between Shanghai and Beijing.
Tech-savvy Hai Di Lao is one of the first dining brands to provide virtual dining. South Beauty, a chain restaurant serving contemporary Sichuan cuisine, is reported to have water-tested a similar system, but their service did not catch on.
Huawei tele-dining system
Huawei (华为), China’s major telecommunications provider, developed the virtual dining technology for Hai Di Lao, a system similar to teleconferencing.
“Diners’ view will be the same as that of a teleconference,” Guo, a Huaiwei employee in charge of the project, told Beijing Evening News (in simplified Chinese only).
“When the diners in Beijing look up, their view will be the ingredients boiling in Shanghai’s hot pot,” added Guo.
Camera-phobic customers can relax as Hai Di Lao assured us that no video camera is installed in the room. Both audio and visual transmission is realized through the tailor-made teleconference-like system.
Hai Di Lao would not reveal the cost to build the two dining rooms, but Chinese industry experts estimated each to run as much as RMB 2-3 million.
Warm market feedback
The 24-hour hot pot restaurant’s innovative dining concept caused a stir among Chinese netizens and foodies.
Its inaugural announcement had received 24,336 re-tweets and 4,754 comments on Sina Weibo (in simplified Chinese only), as of writing this. Most commentators hoped the hot pot chain will begin similar service in their cities.
The restaurant received its first duel-city virtual dining customers the same day of its announcement last Friday for dinner.
A group of 17 friends ate the first cyber supper to celebrate the birthday of a member based in Beijing and the wedding anniversary of a couple living in Shanghai.
“Everything went well,” one anonymous member of the group told the press. “The only pity was that we couldn’t shake hands.”
Zhi Zhen Jian is already booked up for February, a waitress from Hai Di Lao’s Changshou Lu chain told us by phone.
The brand has yet to announce a plan to spread the service to more cities.
Cyber supper diners pay an hourly room fee of RMB 100 in both Beijng and Shanghai, on top of the bill for their meal. The fee will increase to RMB 200 in March.
Hai Di Lao Shanghai Changshou Lu chain
4/F, 468 Changshou Lu, near Changde Lu
+86 21 6277 0701
Open 24 hours
Hai Di Lao Beijing Wangfujing Chain
8/F, Wangfujing Da Jie, near Wangfujing Cathedral
+86 10 5762 0153
Open 24 hours