How Hong Kong’s F&B Community Is Supporting Each Other In The Time Of Coronavirus
All around the world, we are seeing examples of people banding together to get through the challenges that have struck the hospitality industry in the wake of coronavirus. More than ever, we realise just how important restaurants—and those who dedicate their lives to feeding their communities—are in society, but also how vulnerable they are in the face of the rapidly changing situation. Earlier this year, The Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department released figures that left no doubt that the restaurant industry is in dire straits with business receipts down by 14.4% comparing the end of 2018 with 2019. Meanwhile, just this month, unemployment figures rose to 3.7% with the majority of job losses in the food services sector, retail, accommodation and construction. Hong Kong’s Secretary for Labor and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-Kwong, noted that “the situation in food and beverage service activities was particularly severe, with the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate soaring to 7.5% and 3.5% respectively.”
Never has it been more important to support the businesses you love in Hong Kong, in any way that you know how—see our list of things you can do to contribute—while staying safe and respecting calls for physical distancing. In the meantime, below are also some inspiring ways that the community itself has been doing their part to support each other during these difficult times.
Chefs Supporting Chefs
The food community has always been supportive of each other, and even in a time where social distancing and limiting dining out has become the norm, F&B workers are still finding ways to prop up their peers. With many restaurants amping up their delivery game, we’re seeing chefs supporting their fellow chefs by ordering in food for their staff meals or in their own personal time—a win for everyone involved. Chef Vicky Cheng of VEA recently ordered in from Soho's Ho Lee Fook and Causeway Bay's Little Bao Diner.
Kill The Virus, Not The Business
Chief executive Carrie Lam sent the bar industry into a panic earlier this March by suggesting that an alcohol ban would be needed to curb the spread of coronavirus—a questionable strategy that was eventually shelved days later. Before the government backtracked, we saw the bar industry spring into action in protest, with mixologists and drinks professionals rallying the government to “kill the virus, not the business”. Many bars pivoted quickly to offering bottled cocktail deliveries in the case of an actual shutdown, which allowed imbibers to support their favourites remotely. Throughout, Drink magazine has been keeping the industry informed and giving them a platform for their voices to be heard.
Bar owners are also buoyed by the level of support coming from their patrons, too. “There has been a good level of regulars reaching out message us to say ‘stand strong’, and that they will come back soon and visit us,” says Tell Camellia’s Sandeep Hathiramani. “Some pop-in for a quick drink even. It's given us hope that at the end of this all, we can go back to do what we do best and repay with our hospitality back.”
See also: These Alcohol Delivery Services In Hong Kong Will Bring The Bar To You
Keti Mazzi, founder of Certa, is one of the most vocal champions for the Hong Kong dining scene. Wanting to do something to promote positivity among the industry, her team put together the Hong Kong F&B To Go list that was shared and promoted on Instagram. “At Certa, we put together this template to support the F&B scene, encouraging people to share it, to plan a visit soon (and to order online meanwhile)” reads the explanation. Users are invited to tag their favourite spots under categories such as “hearty breakfast”, “satisfying lunch” and “cheerful aperitivo” and pay it forward by tagging more food-loving friends. Of all the Instagram chain stories out there right now, we’ve found this one of the most useful. “It’s quite endearing to be reminded of all the good restaurants that were there for us in the good times,” says chef Stephanie Wong of Roots.
See also: United We Dine Is A New Campaign Supporting Hong Kong's Restaurants, One Meal At A Time
Looking Out For Their Teams
Chef Daniel Calvert of Belon (recently ranked #4 in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list) is curating “A Feast For Our Family” on April 4, where proceeds will go towards benefiting Black Sheep Restaurants’ most vulnerable staff members, such as dishwashers and back of house workers. A sharing menu of the restaurant’s signature roast chicken with petits pois, homemade naturally leavened bread, mille feuille and a bottle of Olivier Merlin Macon La Roche Vineuse 2016 will be available (HK$2500 to serve two) and is available for both lunch and dinner. Act quick as orders can be placed now until 2 April by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking The Pressure Off
As the demand for delivery increases due to people staying at home, leading operators Deliveroo and Foodpanda (who together account for 90% of Hong Kong’s delivery industry) implemented new measures to assist F&B operators. The former announced in mid-February that they would shave 15-20% off their commission fees and offer four-week payment delay scheme for qualifying restaurant partners to ease cash flow. Meanwhile, Foodpanda introduced free delivery for one month between February 15 and March 15, and also implemented a three-month payment delay scheme. Deliveroo also added contactless delivery options to protect both their delivery staff and customers.
Sharing Daily Bread
During this time, some of the most vulnerable members of society still need help. Organisations such as Breadline have continued to operate (albeit on a smaller scale to minimise risk), with a cohort of volunteers working together with bakeries to collect excess food that can be ferried direct to charities that can allocate them to the needy. “Many beneficiaries of food rescue NGOs have been affected [by COVID-19],” says Dr Daisy Tam, the founder of Breadline. “They are usually the precarious workers, those with temp jobs and/or low income, and many have lost their jobs during this period. Community organisations try to do what they can but food donation has gone down. Some charities have had to shift to home office work—which means that they can't collect, while others have had to suspend their services for two weeks. All of these measures are completely understandable and responsible, but it goes to show how disruptions such as times like COVID-19 always hit the vulnerable the most.” Breadline is still looking for volunteers, so you can sign up at breadline.hkfoodworks.com.
Feeding The Needy
Local NGOs such as Feeding Hong Kong and Food Angel are still operating, doing what they can to redistribute food to those most in need of it—and they are also accepting donations of face masks that can also be given to vulnerable members of society. Currently, Feeding Hong Kong donation boxes are present in AEON stores around Hong Kong—so if you’re feeling guilty after hoarding too many bags of rice, you can drop them off at collection points around the city. Food Angel has pared down its operations but are still providing cook-chill meals and food packs to be delivered to their charity partners.
Sharing Best Practices
Black Sheep Restaurants have created a playbook detailing every measure they have taken to combat COVID-19 and are offering it free-of-charge online to help fellow restaurateurs and business owners. Basic protocols from hygiene practices to how to communicate with guests are covered, and there are also helpful tips including where to source packaging for delivery and ideas for how to re-structure team schedules. “We have a duty to our 1000+ community, many of whom have no financial buffer, to do everything we can to keep the lights on in their homes, keep their kids enrolled in school and a roof over their heads,” explains Syed Asim Hussain, co-founder of the group. You can download the playbook here: blacksheeprestaurants.com/covid
Support Groups For The Hospitality Industry
Robin Smith of local agency Stir Public Relations set up the Hong Kong Hospitality Industry COVID-19 Support Group—a private Facebook group—in mid-March, open to anyone in the Hong Kong hospitality industry. In it, members share the latest information on regulations as well as important links such as petitions and resources.
Helping Each Other Stay Clean
Towngas is offering eateries around Hong Kong a free-of-charge nano photocatalytic long-acting disinfectant procedure to help keep their premises virus-free. Venues that have had the procedure carried out will be identifiable by a sticker detailing the date of the disinfectant application. Restaurants can book an appointment with Towngas to arrange the procedure until the end of April by calling +852 2880 6988.
Local brand Perfume Trees Gin set up a donation system for the Catering and Hotel Industries Employees General Union, with the money going towards supporting bartenders financially affected by the pandemic. To reward donors (who were encouraged to donate a minimum of HK$150), the team prepared 300 limited edition bottles of specially crafted negroni cocktails in three flavours: the classic perfume negroni, the perfume coffee negroni, and the earl grey white negroni. The donation drive was so successful that all bottles were claimed within 40 minutes of registration opening at 1pm today (March 31, 2020). We'll be keeping a close eye on Perfume Trees Gin's social media to see if they'll repeat the initiative.