Hong Kong restaurants set for lukewarm start to Year of the Dragon, as business takes hit from residents leaving city for break

Hong Kong restaurants set for lukewarm start to Year of the Dragon, as business takes hit from residents leaving city for break

Hong Kong restaurants enjoying strong bookings over the Lunar New Year are not cheering yet, worrying instead about the city’s weakened economy and the ongoing trend of residents going across the border to eat out and spend.

Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, estimated there would be about 15 per cent fewer bookings of banquet tables during the festive season compared to last year, when people rushed to dine out after almost three years of stringent coronavirus curbs.

“Bookings for family reunion dinners and company banquets have slackened compared with last year as Hongkongers are either going to the mainland for dining and shopping sprees or travelling overseas,” he said.

“Besides, the local economy has been lacklustre, with the stock market falling continuously. During such times, people tend to cut down on dining expenses.”

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Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades. 12NOV20 SCMP/ Jonathan Wong

Wong said the catering industry made about HK$350 million (US$44.8 million) a day during previous festive seasons, but this year it might not do better than HK$300 million a day.

Over the whole of last year, Hong Kong restaurants’ takings rose 26.1 per cent from the year before to hit HK$109.5 billion, but growth in the fourth quarter slowed to HK$27.4 billion.

The Immigration Department said it expected 7.5 million trips by Hongkongers and visitors from Lunar New Year’s Eve on Friday to February 17, with six million trips made through the city’s land checkpoints with mainland China.

“Some Hongkongers who are travelling will only come back after Valentine’s Day,” Wong said.

Some restaurants told the Post they were seeing brisk festive reservations.

Hong Kong to get more than 1 million mainland China tourists over Lunar New Year

David Leung Chi-wai, chairman of Seafood Delight Group, which has 13 Chinese restaurants, said bookings for the week from Lunar New Year’s Eve on Friday were mostly full, but not as robust as last year when people went on “revenge” sprees to eat out after three years of being cooped up at home.

“Lunar New Year is a peak season for Chinese restaurants, so our bookings are strong,” he said.

But he added that his restaurants had not yet returned fully to pre-pandemic levels of business, and this was mainly because of Hongkongers going across the border to eat and shop.

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David Leung, chairman of Seafood Delight Group, which has 13 Chinese restaurants, has said bookings for the week from Lunar New Year’s Eve on Friday are mostly full, but not as robust as last year. Photo: Edmond So

Martin Chan Keung, owner of Fresh Seafood Restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, said despite strong bookings over the two weeks leading to the Lunar New Year, he was worried about the future.

He had to close six restaurants, including four Japanese outlets which were hit by the state of the economy and the country’s decision to discharge treated nuclear waste water into the ocean.

“I am worried about the low season such as in April and May, when customer spending tends to shrink. We have to assess ways out to ride out the difficulties,” he said.

Vendors at Hong Kong’s largest Lunar New Year fair optimistic over festive sales

Australian chef and restaurateur Shane Osborn, who runs three restaurants, said business had been picking up.

He said it was a boon for the industry this year that Valentine’s Day next Wednesday fell within the festive season.

“We’ve got really strong bookings on Tuesday and Wednesday, which is great,” he said.

Two of his restaurants – the one Michelin-starred Arcane and Cornerstone – are closed from Saturday to Monday, while the third, Moxie, is closed on Sunday only.

Osborn said tourists were not back yet, but he was “cautiously optimistic” going into March and April with the city expected to host Art Basel, Art Central and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.

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One restaurant owner who has braced herself for a downbeat start to the Year of the Dragon is banker turned chef Tiffany Lo Man-wah.

Her French bistro in Wan Chai called jean may had only three reservations for lunch on Friday.

Lo said she would close for the first four days of Lunar New Year and reopen for Valentine’s Day on Wednesday.

Compared with the same period last year, business was down by more than 70 per cent, which she found “unbelievable”.

“We hope to have last-minute bookings or walk-ins. It’s completely unpredictable. We are crossing our fingers and hoping for the best,” she said.

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