By Tom Tanner

With social distancing rules extended to 4th June, it’s incredibly helpful to hear first-hand from our Members and what they are doing in terms of adapting to the distancing rules and health and safety regulations, as well as the demands of an anxious dining public. We’ve spoken to three operators about their experiences, advice and insights. In the first of two pieces, read how they’re changing their model to make it work.

BACKGROUND:

Hong Kong experienced two Covid-19 waves – in February and then March but restaurants, unlike bars and cinemas etc were not ordered to close. Some operators chose to close.

CURRENTLY THE RESTRICTIONS MANDATE:

  • Tables are 1.5m apart or need to install dividers
    • Maximum of eight people per table (up from four, two weeks ago)
    • Only four people can congregate at the bar
    • Must provide sanitizer,
    • Must take temperature of customers and staff before entering premises
    • Customers must sign a health declaration waiver
    • Guests must wear a mask when not eating or drinking
    • Staff must wear a mask and those prepping food and drink must wear gloves too

HOW DID OPERATORS RESPOND TO THE COVID OUTBREAK?

Laura Offe, co-founder of Meraki Hospitality Group, “When Hong Kong suffered its second wave of Covid-19 and positive cases were found in restaurants and bars, we decided to close all three restaurants. Ultimately, our team and guests’ health and safety outweighed the financial impact of closure.
“Temporarily closing gave us the opportunity to pivot our operations strategy, survey the current needs of our customers and launch a delivery and takeaway offer that gave them what they needed. We created a brand-new menu of both food and beverage, set combinations at affordable prices and signature cocktails at home to make them feel a sense of normalcy.”

The decision to close paid dividends as none of the team at Meraki has contracted the virus.

HOW DO YOU MAKE CUSTOMERS FEEL SAFE?

Shane Osborn, President of Food Made Good Hong Kong, and proprietor of Arcane and Cornerstone, says reassuring anxious diners is hugely important. Shane adds: “The most important thing we can do as restaurant operators is to make our guests feel safe and confident when dining out. We make a special effort to thank all our guests for visiting and supporting us. People are visibly nervous so actively cleaning hands / sterilising door handles frequently in view of the guests helps to reassure them that we are doing all we can to provide a safe environment.”
In addition to the actions mandated by government, Shane has introduced some additional steps, designed to create a safer environment and to give staff and customers a feeling of safety too.

THESE STEPS INCLUDE:

  • Waiters washing or sterilising hands every time they remove a plate or glass from a table
    • Sterilising all chairs, menus and hard surfaces between each service
    • Sterilising door handles throughout service
    • Providing envelopes for guests to store face masks
    • Installing Perspex dividers between the tables – at his Cornerstone restaurant.

Laura Offe, whose Meraki Hospitality Group runs Uma Nota, Bedu and Jalan: “We have seen a real shift. To start with no one wanted to come out. The locals have been through pandemics before and were very cautious. It was like a ghost town. Slowly, people have started come back out and the streets are busier.

“Communicating with our customers has been crucial and we started doing this very early, sending a statement to all our mailing list letting them know about the measures we had in place. And our social media for six weeks has been dominated by hygiene – including pictures of our staff having their temperature checks.”

CHANGING BUSINESS MODEL

Just like their counterparts at Meraki’s three restaurants and Shane Osborn’s two, Classified Group has had to make a string of adaptations at its nine sites, as marketing executive Natalie Stern explains: “These are challenging and unprecedented times for Hong Kong and globally, especially for the F&B industry. It has certainly made an impact on the way people dine out and consume.

“We had to change the way our restaurants operate, and think outside the box for unique and interesting ways to serve our customers. With people working from home and staying in, we had to adapt quickly to expand our delivery and takeaway/pick up services, allowing customers to enjoy our food in the comfort of their homes.”

To find out more about how Meraki’s three restaurants are faring, with and without dividers, what they’ve done with their buffet offering and how the restrictions are affecting diner numbers, look out for the second part of this blog coming soon.