Taiwan's wacky themed restaurants take off

By Cindy Sui
BBC News, Taipei

  • Published
Media caption,
Diners have been flocking to Taiwan's themed restaurants, including one featuring Hello Kitty, as Cindy Sui reports

From toilets to polar bear caves, some pretty bizarre restaurants have opened in Taiwan in recent years.

Restauranteurs have been constantly coming up with new ways to attract customers in Taiwan's highly competitive dining-out market. Now, even hotels are getting in on the action.

For some of these places, it's proving to be not only great fun, but great business.

Sliding fun

Steven Wu's Red Dot Hotel in Taichung city has a slide - a $150,000 (£97,000) stainless steel one that's 27m long and twirls from the second floor to the lobby.

An interior designer who graduated from the East London School of Architecture, Mr Wu wanted his guests to have fun.

"I was thinking of how to combine art and architecture. But I didn't think I could afford to buy an art piece, so I designed one," said Mr Wu.

He said he got the idea after coming across pictures of children's slides while doing research.

The hotel has been making money since it opened last July, mainly because of the slide. He said up to 40% of the guests are families.

To avoid disturbing guests on the second floor, the slide is only open from 11am to noon and from 3pm to 6pm. And yes, you can use it instead of the lifts to reach the checkout desk.

Kitty treats

Someone who would spend $1m to open a restaurant devoted to Asia's most famous cat - Hello Kitty - surely must be a fan of the mouthless feline.

Image source, AFP

But Henry Chiu, owner of the Hello Kitty Kitchen and Dining restaurant in Taipei, wasn't at first.

"It was because my wife likes Hello Kitty and as an interior designer, I wanted to create an atmosphere to reflect the feeling Hello Kitty gives people," said Mr Chiu.

His restaurant is covered with Hello Kitty images, from the giant bow-shaped booths to Kitty-shaped ceiling lights, as well as cakes, hamburgers and tarts.

The restaurant is popular with both little girls and grown women - and Mr Chiu has since become a fan.

Paper trail

At Carton King, customers sit on cardboard chairs, eat food served on cardboard plates and drink from cardboard cups.

There's even a paper hotpot that can be put over a stove.

The corrugated cardboard is amazingly strong - each chair can sit two adults weighing up to 150kg- and a lot of the material in the restaurant is anti-flammable or coated with flame-resistant paint.

Owner Huang Fang-liang used to design and manufacture paper for wrapping and packaging. He set up an area in his factory to show people the creative things that he could make.

"People came to see it and wanted to eat, so we opened a restaurant," said Mr Huang.

In just eight years, he's opened 12 Carton King restaurants, including several in mainland China, and they're making money.

The operating costs are lower because the cardboard furnishings can be cheaply replaced and recycled. Even the cardboard plates and bowls can be washed and reused.

Eating 'poo'

At Modern Toilet in Taipei's Ximending district, customers sit on toilets and eat over bathtubs or sinks converted into tables.

They eat out of small sitting or squat toilet bowls, and drink from urinal-shaped containers.

Ice cream is made to look like poo, and shaved ice looks like someone had diarrhoea.

"The thing I get the most is it's just a restaurant for taking pictures, which is why I'm working a lot on food. I want the food to match the theme and taste good at the same time," said manager Joe Liu.

Most customers are tourists, especially from Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

To appeal to their taste buds, Mr Liu is developing food that suits both them and the toilet theme, like Singaporean laksa - a spicy coconut soup noodle dish. One can only imagine what that will look like.