Hong Kong restaurants are poised to take a major hit from strict new social-distancing curbs on dine-in services, but food delivery platforms and shopping centres have sensed an opportunity, dangling discounts and perks to entice customers to opt for takeaway and retail therapy instead.
Following a local outbreak of the more transmissive Omicron coronavirus variant, Hong Kong swiftly moved to reimpose tough anti-pandemic measures, including banning dine-in services after 6pm in restaurants and shutting bars altogether. The measures took effect on Friday and will last until at least January 20.
The changes caught restaurant operators off guard, with the industry predicting billions in losses and criticising the new rules for gutting their business during the crucial Lunar New Year peak season.
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The Post observed that most eateries in the Causeway Bay and Wan Chai areas had very few to no patrons waiting for takeaway food on Friday evening.
Wilson Lam, 28, the manager of dessert shop Auntie Sweet in Causeway Bay, said the 14-day dine-in ban was hugely detrimental to business as close to 80 per cent of the store’s daily revenue was generated after 6pm.
“The peak hour for our dessert is at 10pm. We’re famous for our shaved ice desserts and they need to be eaten immediately. We can’t deliver them,” he said. “Even if we move to online delivery platforms, we can only sell our other products such as bagels or beverages.”
22 Ships, a tapas restaurant that usually only opens for dinner service on weekdays, began taking lunch orders on Friday to cope with the ban. But restaurant manager Elliott Fairbairn said serving takeaway food for dinner was just not the same.
“We’re not a fast-food restaurant. Our customers can sit here and interact with the chefs. Social interaction is the most important part of our dining experience,” said Fairbairn, 39.
At Hau Fook Street, a popular dining spot in Tsim Sha Tsui, about 50 people were outside different restaurants at 7:45pm waiting for their takeaway orders.
Several patrons the Post spoke to agreed that the latest measures inconvenienced them and did not make sense.
“It’s pointless and inconsistent. If you can allow dine in during breakfast and lunch, why do you have to ban dinner?” said a college student, who gave his surname as Chan.
The 21-year-old was in the area with his friends and had bought dinner from a Hong Kong-style restaurant, with plans to eat at a nearby park.
Clerk Connie Ng, who was waiting for her takeaway order outside a hamburger shop, said she planned to take a taxi home to preserve the quality of her food.
“They make it sound like transmission only happens during dinner, but what about lunch?” the 22 year-old said.
But Deliveroo Hong Kong was bracing itself for a rush, according to a spokesman, who noted the company would be offering a 20 per cent discount for self-pickup orders.
“Regarding the latest anti-pandemic measures announced, Deliveroo’s operations team will work closely with restaurant partners to assist them to prepare switching to takeaway orders so as to minimise any impact,” the company said. “At the same time, we are ramping up our rider fleet to keep up with the increase in orders.”
Deliveroo has more than 11,000 riders and some 10,000 restaurants on its platform in Hong Kong.
Foodpanda Hong Kong, the city’s other major food delivery platform, said it was offering up to 40 per cent off pickup orders and unlimited free delivery for its Pandapro subscribers.
“We hope that these offers will help to drive further customer demand, with hopes to bring more orders for our couriers as well as our restaurant and shops partners,” the company said.
Foodpanda works with more than 12,000 restaurants and has some 10,000 active couriers in the city.
Meanwhile, local malls, whose retail offerings are largely unaffected by the tightened social-distancing measures, are pushing shopping and takeaways from their restaurant tenants as alternatives to sit-down meals.
Sun Hung Kai Properties, Hong Kong’s largest developer by value, has launched “After 6” promotions at four of its malls to entice people to go out and spend despite not being able to gather over dinner or drinks.
Members of The Point by SHKP, the group’s loyalty club, can redeem a total of HK$300 (US$38) at designated merchants and restaurants at the Harbour North mall in North Point. At the Tsuen Kam Centre and Grand City Plaza in Tsuen Wan, club members can earn “double rewards points” after 6pm, and accumulate HK$500 in electronic coupons.
Three malls managed by Chinese Estates Holdings are also offering promotions to attract evening shoppers.
Customers who spend at least HK$200 on takeaway food after 6pm at Windsor House in Causeway Bay, or The One or Silvercord shopping malls in Tsim Sha Tsui, are entitled to up to HK$150 in coupons.
In a statement, the company said the “malls fully support the government’s measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, and we encourage customers to order takeout to enjoy at home, we hope that the pandemic will end as soon as possible”.
Six Sino Group malls, namely tmtplaza, Olympian City, Citywalk, China Hong Kong City, Gold Coast Piazza, and Tsim Sha Tsui Centre and Empire Centre, are rolling out dining rewards starting Friday.
Under the promotion, S⁺ REWARDS members who spend at least HK$200 on takeaway food from any of the restaurants at the participating malls will receive a HK$20 shopping coupon.
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