Sai Kung protest over Hong Kong government’s ‘heavy-handed’ outdoor dining laws

FEHD criticised for ‘robotic’ enforcement as restaurateurs battle to survive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 11:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 12:04am

Nearly 100 residents from around Hong Kong gathered in Sai Kung Friday night to protest what they considered heavy-handed tactics by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) in prohibiting local restaurants from providing alfresco dining.

The dinner event was organised on Facebook under the title “FEHD appreciation dinner”, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the department’s crackdown on outdoor dining in Sai Kung.

The event gathered steam after department officers and police allegedly came out in force and handed out warnings and citations for violations of outdoor dining regulations on October 28.

Local business owner Nathan Fleck said FEHD had been strict in its enforcement after the Ombudsman more than three years ago instructed the department not to grant outdoor eating accommodation (OSA) licences so frequently.

Hongkongers shall not dine outside: Sai Kung residents and restaurant owners frustrated with alfresco dining regulations

“And in a knee jerk reaction, the FEHD blanketly does not approve a licence,” he said.

Bar and restaurant owners said a lack of outdoor dining affected their businesses severely. Due to high rents, business owners could only afford small indoor spaces. They hoped outdoor seating facilities would help them stay in business.

“You can survive on the initial hype of a restaurant, you can survive off the quality of what you’ve got going, but when somebody opens up next door... one of you has to go. So it takes fair competition to a gladiatorial extreme,” Fleck said.

“Those who have an outside area will always win, even if they have an inferior product.”

Participants of the dinner, Daniel and Marzia, came from Clearwater Bay to support the cause.

“In Sai Kung [alfresco dining is huge]. A number of businesses are suffering, so in Sai Kung, it makes sense [to have alfresco dining],” Daniel said.

“I’m Italian. For us, having a coffee outside is really normal. I’ve always suffered having a coffee in Hong Kong [island]. But here... you can enjoy the outdoors,” Marzia said.

Another participant, who declined to be named due to the legal uncertainty of the event, said FEHD’s frequent crackdowns on outdoor dining was “very frustrating” and the department was “robotic” in their enforcement.

In response to the appreciation dinner, a spokesman for the FEHD said the department had been “striking a balance between the interests of all relevant stakeholders and restaurateurs on the alfresco dining business”.

Those who have an outside area will always win, even if they have an inferior product
Nathan Fleck

The spokesman said the department and the Sai Kung District Management Committee held a public meeting in September to exchange views on “how to improve the overall situation”.

The maximum penalty for operating an outdoor seating area business without approval is HK$10,000 and three months imprisonment, on top of a daily fine of HK$300. Demerit points may also be levied, which can lead to suspension or cancellation of the restaurant licence.

Restaurants or bars that want to use open areas for alfresco dining must first apply for an OSA licence.

Applicants must meet several requirements in order to secure the licence, including hygiene, right of land use, planning, building safety, fire safety, traffic and environment.

Approvals must be obtained from seven different government departments – the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Lands Department, Buildings Department, Fire Services Department, Planning Department, Transport Department and Home Affairs Department – as well as the local community.

Some Sai Kung area bars and restaurants have been waiting years for licence approval.