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The king of cuisine

The king of cuisine

The king of cuisine

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Photo: CFP
China is home to diverse regional cuisines and a growing foreign food scene, but nothing tops the hotpot ritual of placing fresh ingredients into a boiling broth, according to a new survey. The survey, published by consulting firm OC&C this week, found that hotpot is China’s favorite meal. A total of 2,600 people the firm surveyed in 21 Chinese cities in February also placed domestic hotpot chain Haidilao at the top of the list of the country’s 10 favorite restaurants. Others that made the top 10 included foreign fast food chains KFC and McDonald’s as well as casual dining spots Pizza Hut and TGI Friday’s. Hotpot was originally eaten to stave off the winter cold, but has become a favorite year-round food in China. Famous hotpot chains often have long lines of people waiting hours to get a table, even on scorching summer days. Data from Euromonitor International showed that seven of China’s top 15 full-service restaurant chains specialize in hotpot. Stephen Dutton, an analyst with Euromonitor International, wrote in a recent research note that hotpot restaurants have become omnipresent nationwide, serving as go-to spots for social events and adapted for regional preferences. Much of hotpot’s popularity, Dutton said, comes from the participatory nature of the cooking process and time available for socializing. Friends and family sit around a pot of boiling broth, dropping meat, vegetables and other ingredients in to cook and absorb the flavors. While the food cooks, diners chat and socialize. OC&C added that hotpot’s success also lies in the customer service at leading chains. Restaurant chains such as Haidilao provide attentive service to customers, including entertainment, such as a dance performance in which waiters fling dough to make noodles. To illustrate how leading restaurants go the extra mile, the OC&C report recounted how staff at a famous hotpot chain offered to leave the restaurant to buy ice cream that wasn’t on the menu for diners. According to Euromonitor, full service restaurants accounted for 75 percent of China’s food service sector by value. While many high-end restaurants have seen business shrink amid the government’s austerity campaign, hotpot has largely remained unscathed. China’s food service sector recovered from a slowdown after the government kicked off an austerity drive in late 2012. The compound annual growth rate over the past five years hit 7.5 percent, compared with 1.4 for the US, according to statistics compiled by Euromonitor. “Hotpot’s hands-on and, potentially, messy cooking methodology meant that the format was not particularly suitable for business meetings or government functions, so hotpot eateries were largely unaffected by the government’s anti-extravagance measures,” said Dutton. The implication for foreign brands trying to make a mark in China’s food service sector, OC&C said, is to localize their offerings to suit Chinese taste, a practice that has brought rewards to Yum! Brands chains Pizza Hut and KFC in China. “While Chinese consumers may be excited to try out new experiences, they are accustomed to and proud of local foods and customs,” the report said.

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