Launching a new restaurant in Hong Kong: 4 ingredients for success

27 Oct 2015

This October, Sinclair has seen the opening of three new eateries: The Optimist, Fish School and myHouse. Backed by passionate and experienced teams, these exciting new projects have come in the form of an asador-inspired grill house, a local fish-centric eatery and an ‘all natural’ wine & dine bar with a vinyl record lounge.

In Hong Kong’s notoriously competitive culinary scene (the city has over 20,000 eateries and counting), ticking the obvious boxes of great food, service and ambience is just not enough – so what does it take to really stand out and survive in an overcrowded market?

Here are four key things to think about when launching a new restaurant in Hong Kong:

Creative concept: Are you bringing anything different?
A great restaurant idea doesn’t have to break boundaries; flashy concepts can quickly lose appeal and become yesterday’s fad. A good understanding of the market and your target audience is crucial in recognising a niche and pinpointing demand. Co-founder of Pirata and The Optimist, Manuel Palacio, maintains that the premise behind both his restaurants has always simply been authentic, top quality food at reasonable prices. “For Pirata and The Optimist we wanted to bring the authentic flavours of Italy and Spain to Hong Kong and serve honest, uncomplicated food at prices that don’t break the bank,” says Manuel. And with both restaurants showing no signs of slowing down, he is certainly a man who knows what he is talking about.

Precise and consistent messaging: Can your restaurant be described in a handful of words?
Know yourself. A restaurant needs a clear brand identity that can be packaged into a concise message and easily grasped and digested by audiences. It’s important that key messaging is consistent in both content and style across all marketing communication channels to maintain strength of brand. When developing a restaurant’s conceptual angle, always keep your market positioning and target audience in mind – this is vital to creating a strong brand that can withstand an increasingly competitive market.

Create a buzz: Does your restaurant have a story worth telling?
The Hong Kong restaurant and bar scene relies heavily on word of mouth, and a restaurant’s launch is the most important time to generate excitement. So how do you get people talking? Media will be your best friend. Media exposure is a powerful tool to harness any company’s launch as it is viewed as unbiased, trustworthy and therefore more valuable than any form of advertising or marketing. To command attention and engage media and key online influencers, a buzz-worthy story needs to be crafted behind the brand. This could be crafted around a personality behind the restaurant (founders, chef, managers, etc.), or focus on a unique way of cooking that’s new to the market.

Maintaining the story: How do you keep people talking?
The launch is over but now you face the challenge of sustaining the excitement and a steady flow of customers. This is where a long-term strategy of campaigns, tactics and promotions will need to be put in place to ensure the longevity of the restaurant brand. Maintaining a constant series of engaging stories and creative talking points will attract the interest of media and KOLs, generating the on-going coverage you need to stay in the conversation. Continuing to work closely with key influential media and online influencers can generate features, reviews, listings and ultimately the valuable coverage needed to drive footfall to the restaurant.

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