It's time landlords stopped eating away at the industry

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 9:48am

Restaurants and their rents linger on as an issue. Just two days ago Lei Yuen Congee Noodles, the institution behind Sogo in Causeway Bay, closed as its rent was doubled to HK$600,000 a month. In 1971 the owners were reportedly paying HK$2,000 a month.

According to the food and beverage industry rumour mill, a bar that has been a Wan Chai institution for more than 10 years is closing as its rent rises to HK$400,000 a month.

That is a lot of noodles and warm house wine to sell just to stay in business. So how can this column maintain that restaurateurs should stop whingeing about their rents? After all, Hongkongers seem to have a lot of sympathy for restaurants' plight - several hundred queued up for a last chance to sample Lei Yuen's dishes.

When I complained to a friend that the rate at which dishes had been brought to me at one newly opened tapas venue was far too fast and distinctly un-Spanish, she replied that this was to be expected "as the rents are so high".

That [HK$400,000 a month] is a lot of noodles and warm house wine to sell just to stay in business

Yet high rents apply to all manner of premises, from homes to shops. My point is this. If I walked into a shoe shop in Central and asked why a pair cost HK$4,000, I would no doubt be told that the shoes were made of the finest quality leather, hand-stitched by artisans and could be expected to last for years.

If I wonder why a posh piece of cheese on toast, aka pizza, (ingredients: flour, water, salt, oil, yeast, cheese) is HK$118 - it's the rent, isn't it? Why am I bored of hearing this? The very same people used to blame taxes for the high price of wine. The government reduced taxes to zero. The very same people still charge a fortune for it.