Maxim’s Raymond Tong says catering industry offers a good career option, praises ‘we’ ethos in making Hong Kong a better city
The South China Morning Post posed five key questions to all interviewees in the Moving Forward series, seeking their views on the city’s future. Here are the views of Raymond Tong Kwok-kong, chief operation officer of Maxim’s Caterers
Do you think Hong Kong is still an ideal place to do business?
Yes, definitely. Hong Kong is a miracle. When we travel overseas and discuss with our peers, many of them wonder how Hong Kong restaurant operators can survive with rental levels which are the most expensive in the world. But then, we have done so for 60 years and we can still cope with ever-rising rents.
This may be related to the Hong Kong spirit of working hard and playing hard. After a hard day at work, many opt for having a good meal. When they have something to celebrate, they go out for a meal. When a family want to hold a gathering, they go out for a meal. Many businessmen discuss deals during a meal too. As long as you can provide the right cuisine and services, people come again.
How is your company coping with the economic downturn in Hong Kong and the mainland?
We have seen some change in customers’ habits. Those who used to go to high-end restaurants now go to mass market ones, while some who used to eat in restaurants may now opt for fast food.
In good times or bad, people still need to eat. People still go out for meals but they may just opt for the restaurant that is more value for money. Luckily we have many different brands serving food for different prices, which has made it easier for us to meet different needs. We have not been that hard hit by the decline in the number of mainland tourists because 90 per cent of our customers are local.
What do you think the government should do to help your business to do better?
It would be good if the government could provide more training and certification for those who work in the catering industry. Many employees in the catering industry may not have high levels of formal education but they learn from experience. It would encourage more people to join the industry if there were certification programmes to help them to gain a diploma or even a degree. This will provide a career path for younger people, while those with experience could receive the certification they deserve.
In addition, it would be good if the government would do more promotion overseas of Hong Kong as a place for good food. We are a city which not only has good local cuisine but also international cuisine, which is why Hong Kong is an international food centre.
What is your advice to young people to achieve a successful career?
It is true that nowadays young people are facing tougher competition. The world has become more globalised and the competition is very keen. But then, young people have better knowledge of new technologies and the internet and they can ride on these advantages to develop their careers by joining a firm or setting up their own businesses.
Many youngsters stick to work as white collar professionals like bankers and lawyers, but in fact they could consider the catering industry which has a lot of career choices. We have training programmes for different categories of cuisine and also offer better working hours for young people. Those who are willing to learn and to work hard can achieve successful careers in the catering industry.
If you had one sentence to say how Hong Kong could move forward, what would it be?
Teamwork is very important. Hong Kong has freedom of speech so it is natural that people have different opinions. But Hong Kong people need to understand the importance of uniting together and to compromise to make decisions that would allow Hong Kong to move forward. “We” is more than “I” when we want to achieve a better Hong Kong.