This article originally appeared in HongKongEcho 87 - F&B: Ripe with experience
Forget the wild launch parties. A good restaurant is about getting the basics right. Geoffrey Wu, Hong Kong local and Founder of PR agency specialised in F&B, Forks & Spoons, gives us his bite-sized take on what sounds simple but rarely is.
HongKongEcho: It seems like coming up with a good concept is simple, and yet it’s not. What are the essentials?
Geoffrey Wu: In my mind, there are four things to get right. Food, service, ambience and price. Unfortunately not a lot of places get that right in Hong Kong. In general we advise clients to not go over-the-top with gimmicks and to stop thinking about crazy ideas to hype up the launch and so on. Ultimately it never works. We’ve done so much brainstorming with clients who want to have that ‘wow factor’ on opening night. But in the end, trust me, nothing is ever ready; the licence, the staff, whatever it might be.
What’s working very well right now is restaurants in that average to low-average price range – maybe HK$200 average spend per person. These are small places seating maximum 30-40 people. It’s also brought up this debate about whether fine dining will eventually fade away. Personally I don’t really agree with that – it still has its place.
I’d also say that Hong Kong consumers in general – although they’re getting better – are not that welcoming to more exotic or mysterious cuisines. Let’s be honest, the three key cuisines in Hong Kong are Italian, Chinese and Japanese. I think concepts focusing on more exotic cuisines like African or Middle Eastern have plenty of room to grow.
HKE: Do you think there are enough places doing interesting local cuisine?
GW: Well there are, but the problem is they don’t get much recognition. There are amazing restaurants in the New Territories or elsewhere in Kowloon, but often the problem is they don’t have people like us to package and brand their concept. Hence a lot of the Hong Kong food scene is focused on places in Central, Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and Soho. We’re often encouraging journalists to go out there and write about those other places outside that circle. Why don’t they write about some great restaurant in Yuen Long or Sha Tin? We need to do a better job of promoting some of those hidden gems.
HKE: Restaurant operators in Hong Kong always begrudge how consumers seem to jump from concept to concept – is that something you see a lot?
GW: Certainly, but I think at the same time there’s probably too much choice. The market is oversaturated. The other part is that a lot of restaurants aren’t actually ready when they open. The food might not be up to scratch yet or the staff maybe aren’t trained but you have to open because of the rent. That means the consumer is going to a restaurant that’s not ready, so they’re unlikely to return – and word of mouth spreads quickly here.
On a similar note, another trend I would like to see is less consumers booking and doing a no-show. It’s a big problem in Hong Kong that no one has been able to resolve. Restaurants are losing business every day because they hold tables for people who don’t show up. We’ve tried having a restaurant that has a ‘no reservation’ policy, but that’s also an issue. For a lot of local consumers they don’t want to come to a place where they can’t book because they fear they’ll have to wait. Overall I think there needs to be a bit more consumer etiquette.
See below for more content from the French Chamber.