Shorter lunches a bonanza for fast food outlets

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2012, 12:00am


While stock brokers are furiously opposed to moves by the stock exchange to further extend trading hours by again reducing their lunch break, food outlets in Central welcome the opportunity to sell more takeaway lunches to brokers who will now have to hurry back to their trading desks.

Maxim's, the largest budget restaurant operator in Central, along with other fast food outlets and restaurants in the area, has introduced menus tailored to suit brokers who will have only a one-hour lunch break starting from March 5, down from 90 minutes presently.

'Early-bird' lunch offers, they say, will give them two selling sessions during the shortened break.

Brokers and stock exchange staff are bitterly opposed to the move and have taken to the streets to demonstrate their opposition.

In March, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) opened trading on the local exchange 30 minutes earlier, and cut the two-hour lunch break by 30 minutes to bring trading hours closer in line with those on the mainland. From March 5, it will extend trading hours further by cutting the lunch break to just one hour, from 12pm to 1pm.

That will mean the exchange will be open for trading for a total of 51/2 hours a day. Before the changes, the market traded for just four hours a day, which was among the shortest trading periods in the world. Stock markets in the US, Europe and the UK are open for six to eight hours a day and have no lunch break.

The shorter lunch break will mean Hong Kong brokers will have no time to order their favourites - dim sum, or shark's fin soup with rice - but will have to make do with quicker meals.

'The first two weeks after the change of trading hours in March last year had only a mild impact on our sales as we had more takeaway orders,'' a Maxim's representative said. 'Now customers tend to come in earlier and finish earlier and this means our Chinese restaurants can serve more people during the lunch hour.'

With the lunch hour due to be cut even shorter from March 5, Maxim's foresees that customers will want their meals served up even quicker. 'We expect customers will have higher expectations on service efficiency and we expect a higher demand for takeaways,'' she said.

The shorter lunch break will also benefit fast-food outlet Cafe de Coral, said a spokeswoman.

'The challenge to restaurant operators will be the ability to handle customer throughput within the hour - probably implying an increase in take-out sales,' she said.

Sato Naoyuki, executive chef and co-owner of the Naozen Japanese Restaurant in Wellington Street, said his restaurant will offer a 15 per cent lunch discount from 11.30am to 12.45am. This early-bird incentive will allow the shop to serve a second round of lunch diners after brokers finish their meals before 1pm.

Some mainland-backed brokerages have responded to the changes by hiring delivery services to bring boxed lunches to their brokers.

Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, chairman of Christfund Securities, said his firm, like other brokers, would offer some cash lunch benefits to traders as compensation for their shorter lunch break.