Revamp to improve service and food at museum cafes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 April, 2011, 12:00am


The tourist visiting the cafe at the Museum of History ordered a pineapple punch. She was handed a bottle of Sprite and a glass of ice with two slices of lemon. 'This is Hong Kong style,' the waitress told her.

Nearby, a customer who had just finished a meal asked for some water and was brought hot water. When she asked for cold water, she was told it would be HK$2 even though she had paid for a meal. 'Two dollars is for the ice,' the waitress said.

Experiences like these have contributed to a long string of complaints about food quality and service at the city's museum cafes and shops and have prompted officials to plan a facelift for the cafes and gift shops.

Leisure and Cultural Services Department officials said there had been complaints about poor service and food quality at museum cafes.

'We intend to invite operators to provide restaurant services not only of good quality but also in a style and setting that could bring out the identity of museums as well as create a unique experience for visitors,' a spokeswoman said.

The changes will affect five cafes at the museums of art, tea ware, history, coastal defence and heritage.

Eight gift shops at these venues, and those at the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum, Science Museum and Space Museum - which customers say lack character and sell unrelated products - will have a similar revamp.

The department still has to assess potential operators and their bids. It will consult the sector this year.

The budget of the operator will no longer be the sole vetting criteria. A committee will be formed to consider bidders' creative ideas as well as the financial viability of their proposals.

For the eight gift shops, the department is working on a proposal for those museums to produce their own brands of souvenirs in partnership with businesses and designers.

Officials are seeking funding from the government for the initiative.

Some museums, such as the museums of history and art, sell their own publications and at times a few branded souvenirs. But many shops, without official funding, often end up selling things unrelated to the content of the museums.

For example, at the gift shop of the Museum of Art in Tsim Sha Tsui, customers find unlikely items such as Little Prince accessories, stationery with the MTR trademark and souvenirs of the Imperial Palace in Beijing.

The shop does showcase reproductions of paintings by famous artists such as Wu Guanzhong, which had been exhibited in the museum. But Susan Kam, a tourist from England who recently visited the store, said she could not figure out which work was which, as there were no clear signs.

'I saw some large paintings over there and I wondered if it was a storeroom,' she said. 'I would expect reproductions of works from the gallery, of different sizes for different pockets. In England you have lots of nicely printed postcards and posters of the museum paintings.'

Dr Ho Pui-yin, a member of the Museum of History advisory panel, said revamping the shops and cafes was proposed by the panel earlier this year. The panel is one of three formed in October to improve management and operation of the department's museums, after the government decided not to set up a statutory body to run the venues but to keep them in civil servants' hands.

'People often spend hours in a museum. A good museum cafe can not only be a resting corner but also one of style, promoting culture,' Ho said, adding that a mix of restaurants of different pricing would help attract more visitors to the exhibitions.

Ada Wong Ying-kay, a member of the Museum of Art advisory panel, said revamping the cafes and shops should only be part of a broader reform. She was more concerned about the future positioning of the art museum and heritage museum in Sha Tin because it would face competition from the M+ at the West Kowloon arts hub, which is clearly positioned as one of contemporary art.

'An independent statutory board to manage museums was supposed to provide more flexibility and creativity in curating and marketing. Now without it, officials should put more effort into thinking about the positioning for the museums,' she said.