Chinese hotpot restaurant’s all-you-can-eat deal goes very wrong

An all-you-can-eat deal in a restaurant serving super spicy food sounds like a genius marketing campaign.

But for one venue in southwestern China, it turned out to be a disaster. Ravenous customers devoured so much the venue was forced to close its doors with thousands of dollars of debts.

The Jiamener Hotpot Restaurant in Chengdu, a city famous for its tongue-numbing chili hotpot, introduced an unlimited menu after struggling since opening in December 2017.

From June 1, the owners decided to gamble on an all-you-can-eat offer. In exchange for a membership of 120 yuan (about $18), diners could enjoy a month of limitless hotpot meals.

Su Jie, one of the owners, told Chengdu Economic Daily that the campaign was a huge success, bringing in more than 500 customers every day.

'Emergency notice'

Some diners were lining up as early as 8 a.m., three hours before opening time, and the restaurant had soon raked in more than $15,000 by June 11.

Unfortunately, it also clocked up debts of more than $76,000 and a day later was forced to temporarily close its doors and post an "emergency notice" halting the deal.

"We knew we would end up losing money, but we hoped to build a group of loyal customers through the campaign," said Su, describing the situation as "small-scale chaos."

Problems apparently arose when customers ignored the non-transferable membership rules and shared their cards with other diners.

"Some people would eat and drink and pack away some too," one waiter told local media. "They brought a huge bag to pack food away."

Good reviews

Customers were, unsurprisingly, delighted by the deal.

"To be honest, the food tasted not bad," said one disappointed customer who only found out the shop was closed seeing the notice on the door. "Even for just 120 yuan per month there was a wide range of fresh ingredients to choose from."

Online commenters expressed disbelief.

"All-you-can-eat for 30 days for just 120 yuan. That's 4 yuan per hotpot meal. It'd be a mystery if it didn't shut down," said one netizen.

"Are you testing society's moral standards or showcasing your low IQ?" said another.

According to the closure notice, membership cards will entitle diners to a discount when the restaurant reopens -- if ever (it was still listed as closed at time of writing).

Cardholders disagreeing to the change can opt to get a small refund.

Either way, no one's going hungry.