F&B is Hong Kong is booming, new restaurant groups are coming up, new names, new concepts, but there are players in the industry that have been delighting the palate of HK inhabitants and visitors for decades.
Retail in Asia has met Mr. Sandeep Sekhri, CEO at Dining Concepts, to understand what’s the secret behind the success of his company and what are the key elements new players need to consider while embarking in the F&B adventure in HK.
RiA : Dining Concepts is one of the major players in the F&B industry in HK, with many outlets and very different concepts. What do HK food lovers look for and why are they choosing a specific restaurant?
Sandeep : Most people are well traveled in HK. They are exposed to different cultures and cuisines; that’s why they are very demanding. They are aware of food trends, the latest designs, and they want at home, what they experience during holidays.
HK has probably the highest disposable income in Asia, so people spend most in food and going out, also because of the lack of space at home. There are people who go out 4/5 times a week. People are very conscious about value for money, very conscious about quality, so you will not possibly succeed in a long-term, unless you have a very solid concept and great product.
RiA : Dining Concept is very well known for its restaurants, but very recently, we have seen Dining Concepts has now 5 lounge bars, within its portfolio. What is changing in terms of customers’ demand?
Sandeep : Reality drives the shift from one concept to the other. Sometimes, I have the venue available, but not the concept, sometimes the other way around. For the bars, it was much more having locations that would be perfect for bars rather than restaurants.
Also, I had seen a gap in the market, people do not mind spending more on alcohol than they do on food. Any occasion is good to celebrate and when people celebrate, they drink. We have partnered with a top designer who is an absolute creative genius.
We realized that we could create something really special, starting from Ophelia to Iron Fairies to all the other such as Lylia, and then Dear Lily, and the next opening Dragon Fly inside the Herzog & Herzog & de Meuron’s masterpiece, the renovation of the Central Police Station. The whole idea is to bring variety to the dining scene in HK, when we have a location, we start dreaming about the concept.
RiA : If you have to define the contemporary scenario, are we still looking for food and taste or is it more about the lifestyle component driving F&B industry?
Sandeep : At the end of the day, people keep going back for the food. You can have a great environment, great service but if the food is not up to the standard customers will not go back. Food experience is at the core, the rest it contributes to it.
I would say that consistency and value for money are the two most important things in our business, without those, there is no business.
RiA : As you mentioned Ashley Sutton, how important is design in the F&B experience in Hong Kong?
Sandeep : In Sutton’s designs and menus, design overtakes the products, people are amazed about the design, and they come again and again because of its uniqueness. We have an in-house design team, so Ashley gives us a vision, and we translate his vision into reality. He gives us an overall concept, what he thinks. Most of the time he doesn’t know how to materialize it, he keeps changing his mind, so our team will draw upon it and convert that into reality.
RiA : Since we are in Dear Lily, could tell us the story of Dear Lily?
Sandeep : Ashley was going to do an installation in a shopping mall in Thailand, a mid-heart. So he said he would going to turn it into a small bar.
He always works with a French florist and flowers were part of his project. When I invited Ashley to this location, his intent was to do something ‘’wow”, very unique so that people could come in and have the same reaction. I wish we had a bigger space.
The whole concept rotates about love, from the heart, the love letters in contrast with the digital age we live in which waiting for a handwritten love letters is lost and we exchange messages.
RiA : You mentioned service, it is the common denominator among all different sectors, how are you finding and retaining talents?
Sandeep : I think the demand exceeds the supply. There are now a lot of people who wish to embark a F&B career.
It is a very demanding job, you need to stand on your feet for ten hours, and your compensation is not exactly what it has to be, so we are in a position where every new store we open, we promote 60% of the people from within the company, and only 40% of people is hired from outside.
Managerial positions are offered to people within the company and it represents a first step towards higher corporate positions as well.
We give a lot of opportunities for people to grow within the organization. We know them all and we know exactly their goals, and why they are with us.
RiA : Do you have a favorite restaurant among the one in Dining Concepts?
Sandeep : It is hard to have a favorite, but I guess it is the first restaurant: Bombay dreams. I opened it 15 years ago.
RiA : The last question is about the future of F&B in HK, where do you see it is going and what is the direction for Dining Concepts?
Sandeep : There are more and more people who are willing to take a risk, more groups are willing to invest in the right concept, design and the right look and feel.
Only the fit will survive. So, lot of people might have the idea of doing this business but when it comes out to real execution, it is a lot of hard work. You need to know your numbers, you cannot just run a restaurant, this is serious business, and numbers are key.
Retail in Asia is looking forward to the next opening!
Interview with Ashley Sutton coming soon!