Restaurateur sits back and takes it all in
Ong Chin Huat
Apart from other things, being a restaurateur has made Alan Hoo aware of the seating habits of customers.
'I notice single men like to sit in the bar area of Va Bene,' he says, referring to the area which looks out on to the street. 'I guess they want a view of the action.' He says some people insist on sitting at certain tables.
'Of course some people want to be seen so that determines where they want to sit.' And if being seen or people-watching is your thing, then his other restaurant, just down from the fashionable Va Bene in Lan Kwai Fong, is the place to be.
'What we have noticed about Benissimo is that we get a lot more women diners,' Alan says. 'While Va Bene has its regulars, Benissimo has a younger crowd, with many women executives paying for themselves.' Whether it is the seafood specialities or the cosy, wood-burnished decor, Benissimo appears to be the in place for women.
'When you open a restaurant, you can't prescribe the clientele,' says Alan. 'You just watch what happens and see it fall into a natural niche.' He says when it was decided to make Sichuanese Benissimo an Italian restaurant, it was made clear it should not be a replica of Va Bene. 'We wanted a different feel for Benissimo and I think it has a fresher, more delicate touch . . . maybe that's why more women come here to dine.' And as for the food, Alan says the chef in Benissimo likes to be challenged. 'I encourage people who come here to request things which are not on the menu.' And what about his favourite table? 'I like sitting upstairs in Benissimo right at the back because then I can see what's happening.'