Incentivizing dining out is always a smart idea. In a city like Hong Kong where rents are through the roof, restaurants routinely follow a make or break modus operandi. Offering small discounts, set menus, and sometimes, creative menus, are great ways to get extra publicity, and attract diners who may not otherwise make the effort to frequent your establishment (due to money, lack of time, lack of motivation). Even upscale restaurants need to keep themselves at the forefront of the dining scene, and what better way to make a push this summer than to be part of Restaurant Week?
I’ve been a fan of New York’s restaurant week for several years. So, when I heard that Hong Kong will have its own Restaurant Week this month, I wanted to know more. On behalf of Sassy, I asked Onno Schreurs, the man behind Diningcity.com (online dining guide and reservations platform), and now, Restaurant Week Hong Kong, a few questions. The interview was facilitated by Grebstad Hicks, the PR agency helping Onno with his endeavour.
Why did you decide to bring Restaurant Week to Hong Kong this year in particular?
Hong Kong is the perfect city for Restaurant Week. Many restaurants. Lots of variety in style. There’s Michelin stars. There’s great chefs. The perfect mix for Restaurant Week. After the enormous success in Singapore and Shanghai we were convinced that Hong Kong should work even better, and it does. Hong Kong citizens love restaurants and dining.I see a lot of similarities between Hong Kong and New York and in New York this concept works very well for almost 20 years. Restaurant Week is a great way for Restaurants to attract new guests. It’s like a show case week. Restaurants can show their guests what they can do and how creative they are. It has nothing to do with discount, it’s all about the experience and the creativity. And because restaurants al charge the same price for lunch or dinner. This is the time to see which restaurant really is the most creative. We focus on people who love dining, and there’s many of them in Hong Kong. There’s a great dining community.
How do you choose which restaurants to approach to participate?
We have tried to built a list with a lot of variety in styles. A little bit of everything you could say. And in every area of the city. We are looking for restaurants who do something special and where you can have a great dining experience. We visit every restaurant and look after the total quality and service. We look at 7 pillars (food, ambiance, service, décor, music, light, smell). Not every restaurant can participate. We’re very selective. We started with a small selection of 33 restaurants in this first editon of HK RW. Next edition we will have many more.
How do you persuade restaurants to be a part of it?
We don’t really need to persuade actually. Most restaurants approach us. We don’t have a sales team in HK. It’s me visiting the restaurants and explain the concept. Most restaurants will see the enormous benefits. Restaurants that participate get great PR. That’s one reason why they join. Entrepreneurs immediately see the benefits of restaurant week and what it can do for their business. Restaurant owners love it once they join, they join every edition in the future. They love it!
Some managers don’t see it because they think like a manager. Managers think very different. Sometimes it’s hard to explain but once they see how it works they love it as well. It’s just a matter of time. It has nothing to do with discount. Some restaurants are afraid for their image and that it will hurt their image. But this event has nothing to do with discount at all. It will hurt the image of the restaurant more if they don’t join. Guests can find restaurants that don’t join restaurant week arrogant. This happens in New York.
During Restaurant week, restaurants will have to show their creativity and show what they can do. The people (guests) can be the judge now. Not Michelin, not some food critics.
I used to live in NY and LA and have enjoyed Restaurant Week in both cities – especially NYC. Are you hoping for similar success and what are you doing to work toward it in terms of outreach to diners in Hong Kong?Yes, I expect the same kind of success in Hong Kong. My company is still small but I have big partners, like American Express, Nestle, Moet Hennessy Diageo, CNNGO and Time Out. They can help me to make the event grow. I will make this first edition a success in HK, and I’m sure that restaurants that join this edition, they will join again. That’s how I’m going to built it. I believe in quality and consistency and believe in the long term. I believe in this event and I will make it happen.
Thoughts on Hong Kong’s dining culture – do you think it’s changing/diversifying?
Rents are going up every year and this is not good for the quality and the offerings of the restaurants. It’s almost impossible for creative entrepreneurs to open 1 restaurant for themselves. In Hong Kong it’s restaurant groups that rule the market. It’s more like real estate business I have the feeling. Michelin star restaurants are in 5 star hotels most of the time. I don’t believe they are profitable at all. Hotels use it more as a PR tool for their hotel.
That’s a shame for the industry, and not fair for stand alone restaurants who can’t cover the overhead costs that hotels easily can cover. The industry is changing a lot and the prices are going up. Restaurants will become more and more expensive. It will be harder to stay alive for restaurants. There will be less chance to experiment because the rent must be paid every month. There’s no chance to take a risk during normal operations. During Restaurant Week it’s the time to showcase.
What’s next on HK’s dining scene in your mind?
Restaurant Groups will grow bigger. More international Chefs will come to HK. Salaries are good. Fine dining will be less. More casual and faster. Fine dining is one shift while casual can do 2 shifts. Restaurants need 2 shifts.
Do you think there is anything missing from HK’s dining scene?
I don’t know the dining market in HK that well because I have just lived in Shanghai for 5 years. But one thing I can see is missing is creativity and chefs experimenting. I hardly see hardworking entrepreneurs in their stand alone restaurant.
If you were to capture the HK dining scene in one statement what would it be?
There’s so much variety in dining offerings. From 30 HK$ to 3000 HK$ per person. HK has eveything within a km.
So there you have it: a frank assessment of the trials and tribulations of the restaurant scene in Hong Kong. See if you can get a booking during Restaurant Week (July 11-17)and tell us if you think it was worthwhile! As Onno says, guests can be the judge now.
Check out the list of participating restaurants here…