‘Happy Hong Kong’: catering industry chiefs warn government invitation to take part in food fairs may be affected by staff shortage

Caterers welcome food fairs and gourmet markets designed to boost public morale and encourage spending, but worry over staff

Industry leaders say catering sector short of about 60,000 workers, with some forced to cut hours, trim menus or even close

The catering sector has been invited to join a series of food fairs and gourmet marketplaces as part of the government’s new “Happy Hong Kong” campaign to bolster public morale and boost consumption – but industry players have warned a lack of manpower may be a problem.

Ray Chui Man-wai, president of the Institute of Dining Art, told the Post the government had invited the city’s restaurants to join in at food fairs and markets as vendors and offered rent-free booths for them to sell their products under the campaign banner.

“This concept is good and the industry has been enthusiastic to participate in different food fairs. We think this campaign can really energise the spending sentiment in Hong Kong as it offers a rent-free platform for the industry to boost their business,” he said.

“The only problem is the lack of manpower. The participating outlets have to allocate extra staff to attend the food fairs amid the acute shortage which is really plaguing the industry now.”

Industry leaders estimated the sector had 200,000 workers in about 17,000 establishments at present and was short of about 60,000 staff.

Chui said some outlets had been forced to cut opening hours, adjust menus or even temporarily close because of the lack of workers.

The “Happy Hong Kong” campaign was announced as part of this year’s budget, with HK$20 million (US$2.5 million) earmarked to lift the mood of city residents, stimulate consumption and boost the economy.

It will focus on activities related to gourmet experiences with the aim of bringing “more joy to the community”, as well as benefits for business.

Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak Mei-kuen, who is in charge of the campaign, is expected to kick off a launch ceremony as early as this month for major food fairs in several locations around the city in the next few months.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po earlier said he hoped the next round of consumption vouchers, to be released on Sunday, would speed up economic recovery by stimulating the retail and catering sectors, along with spending vouchers offered under the campaign.

Chui, also the chairman of Kam Kee Holdings which operates 44 restaurants, said food fairs in the pipeline included themed events called the “Happy Hong Kong Gourmet Marketplace” to be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai at the end of this month, Sha Tin Town Hall and Sha Tin Park on May 6 to 7 and in Vessel in Kwun Tong on June 3 and 4.

The fairs will showcase Hong Kong and mainland Chinese delicacies.

“The government doesn’t require the vendors to provide discounts or spending vouchers, but some may offer a variety of sweeteners to boost their business,” Chui said.

“We don’t know how the authorities will cash in on the city’s border reopening with the mainland to promote the food fairs and gourmet marketplaces. But, in the past, food fair organisers arranged free coaches to attract visitors.”

Simon Wong Kit-lung, who runs 46 restaurants under the LH Group, which will take part in the Wan Chai food fair, said manpower would not pose a problem for his organisation as each booth would need only two staff for a few days.

“It takes a bit of work to prepare for the food fair, such as some paperwork and a licensing application. I hope the public will appreciate our efforts to cheer up everybody,” he added.

Wong said he hoped the public’s spending would be increased by the campaign.

“For us, getting a lot of business or making a profit is not the most important thing. But we hope to energise the atmosphere so more people will feel happy to go out and spend. That’s why a lot of industry players have thrown their support behind it,” he said.

Chan said in February the government would work with theme parks Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority and other partners to organise themed fairs and carnivals.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board will organise a large-scale sea and land carnival at Victoria Harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui in the summer.

The event will feature dance, music and street performances by groups from around the world, as well as a new light show along the harbourfront.