Causeway Bay’s John Anthony and Tsim Sha Tsui’s Theo Mistral have closed temporarily, empty hotels work on new dining concepts – and Hunter & the Chase, Bibo and Root Central have closed permanently
The past eight months have been devastating for Hong Kong's food and beverage industry as a result of anti-government protests and now, the coronavirus outbreak.
A slew of fine dining restaurants have temporarily closed " the most recent being John Anthony, Theo Mistral by Theo Randall, Gaddi's, Chesa and LH Group's hotpot outlets, as well as many in Macau. Meanwhile, Hunter & the Chase, Bibo and Root Central are among the restaurants in Hong Kong to have closed permanently.
Although some Macau hotel groups claim online that facilities will reopen soon, others in Hong Kong predict that it will be early to late March before they reopen.
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"The coronavirus has seen a bigger drop in diners than during the protests, especially in the fine dining sector," says Tang Wu, the owner of a public relations company that focuses on the food and beverage sector, speaking under a pseudonym. "You will also see that some of the Michelin star restaurants in the hotels are temporarily closed due to the virus and due to the impact of no guests or tourists in Hong Kong. The hotel restaurants will be hit even harder than the stand-alone restaurants."
While things are quiet on the tourism front, one hotel is taking the opportunity to make changes.
The InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong says Cafe on M has suspended its popular buffet, and is working on a new dining concept.
"All buffets have been suspended until further notice," says the hotel's general manager, John Drummond. "All-day dining restaurant Cafe on M is working on a new dining concept which will be launched in March. Theo Mistral by Theo Randall is currently closed and will resume operations on March 2. We will be unveiling a refreshed menu next month. Hoi King Heen is operating as usual.
"As local people are still coming out to eat," Drummond adds, so "we have added measures to ensure the health and safety of all individuals."
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The Royal Garden Hotel across the road says its restaurants, which include Sabatini and Dong Lai Shun, are open but they remain vigilant about hygiene.
"The well-being of our guests is of the utmost importance. Our restaurants have taken extra precautions " all guests and staff are requested to measure their body temperature upon arriving at the hotel," says a hotel spokeswoman. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are available in public areas and surgical masks will be handed out. "We have also created extra space between diners."
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Other restaurants in Central are feeling the pinch of fewer diners and landlords who are unwilling to reduce rent.
"After Lunar New Year with the outbreak of the virus, we have noticed a one-third drop in business," says a public relations spokesperson at a popular fine dining outlet in Central who did not want to be named. "Many people who booked their birthday celebration or special occasion at the restaurant cancelled their bookings. There is no sign that the landlord is willing to reduce the rent despite repeated requests. It is a very challenging time for the restaurant."
"The coronavirus did affect the restaurant business, but not to the extent predicted," he says of a restaurant client in Tsim Sha Tsui. "As there aren't that many seats in the restaurant, the business has not been severely affected."
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"Some landlords have been kind enough to reduce February's rent by half while others are unwilling to make any change. Given everyone is vigilant and has stepped up on personal hygiene, it is hopeful that the HKSAR Government can put an end to working at home among civil servants and the private sector, who will surely follow suit, which will help bring back more demand to the F&B industry."
Restaurants are not the only ones to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak, businesses that work alongside them such as public relations companies are also suffering.
"All existing campaigns, promotions and guest chef events are all on hold or rescheduled till later this year, and the same applies to recruitment as all jobs are frozen and nobody would dare to resign or switch jobs right now given the current market situation," says Wu. "As for new openings, we would certainly advise our clients to delay this as much as possible as this is obviously not the best time to open a new restaurant. But this all depends on the type of concept. The same applies for Macau and other parts of Asia."
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Wu predicts things may deteriorate before they get better.
"For March, we believe it will be the worst as this is when the virus may be at its peak," continues Wu. "This could well be the worst March ever as traditionally March is a peak season for restaurants given the number of tourists in town for art and sports related events, but this year we see that all these events have been cancelled."
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