Michelin guides underscore sad reality of soaring rents

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 2:03am


Hong Kong's reputation as a gastronomic paradise means there is no shortage of restaurants for different taste buds and budgets. But the presence of some 10,000 outlets also means the industry is highly competitive. If being able to survive is already a success, to be able to stand out and win praise from gourmet experts is even more so. That is why the 61 eateries that made it into the new Michelin food guide have good reason to rejoice. Whether they are deserving or not is often open to debate, but there is no better promotion than earning a place in an internationally recognised food directory. The accolades usually bring fame and, hopefully, a long queue of customers.

Oddly enough, not all eateries are happy to be honoured. "Keep me out of this" - that was the immediate response from the restaurant owner when told that his modest outlet in Happy Valley got one star in the 2013 edition of the French guide book. His restaurant is packed throughout the week and therefore cannot benefit much from the additional fame anyway. But it may give the landlord an excuse to raise the rent, which may then put him out of business. Indeed, two restaurants in the guide already folded before it hit the shelves early this month. It will be a pity if the recognition of their success in the culinary world becomes a kiss of death.

It is a sad reality that soaring rents have continued to push old shops and restaurants out of tourist districts like Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui in recent years. Many, favourites of the local community for decades, have been replaced by international clothing chains or luxury brands. A few managed to survive by moving upstairs or to some remote corners. But most just vanished without a trace.

Admittedly, landlords have the right to maximise profits from their properties. Whoever pays the highest can take over the space to make more profit. That is how businesses come and go in a free economy. But the loss is as much to the neighbourhood as to those put out of business.