Every time Richard Feldman hears someone bragging about opening their own restaurant, he tells them he's about to start a dental school. 'Then they tell me I'm not a dentist. And I say 'now I've explained to you my position on this'.' Restaurateur, consultant and founder of food delivery service Food By Fone, Mr Feldman said owning an eatery - or at least having a share in one - has become as fashionable as a sojourn in the newest Aman resort, dining off Calvin Klein plates or wearing John Galliano. In the 1990s' chic stakes, there are few catch-phrases that rate as highly as: 'Come down to my restaurant sometime.' Now that many can afford a mobile phone and health club membership - once upon a time the ultimate lifestyle-accessory aspirations - having a share in a restaurant means a further step up in the Hong Kong game of social oneupmanship. 'Ego plays a big part in people wanting to open their own restaurants,' Mr Feldman explained. 'It's a cool thing to do, and it has a lot of face. Because we live in the land of the big face, that's all the more reason,' he said. Opening a restaurant is also one of the riskiest ventures an investor can undertake; costs can run into millions of dollars - and that's even before the first meal is served. 'It costs a fortune to own a restaurant in Hong Kong. You can spend half a million dollars for a three-month deposit, without even seeing a screw, paintbrush or toaster oven,' Mr Feldman said. Even so, plenty of lawyers, architects, stockbrokers and other professionals are succumbing to the lure of being a restaurant co-owner. 'It's a cool way to entertain your friends,' said Jason Ho, associate director of Chesterton Petty, who owns Lan Kwai Fong jazz bar Swing. Mr Ho said he decided to plough his money into the venture because he and his musician friends 'needed a place to play'. 'I've always been attracted to the entertainment and catering business so investing in it came quite naturally,' he said. He appointed two managers to run the six-month-old club, which has since proved profitable enough for Swing to move to bigger premises. Mr Ho reckons that if business continues at this rate, he will recoup his investment within two years. But savvy investors should know the difference between buying into a restaurant and trying to run it. Mr Feldman believes that for a non-industry insider, 'putting money into a restaurant is great as long as they go in acknowledging that they don't know a lot about it'. 'It's a unique business. You can't run a restaurant the way you run a law firm and investors need to be open-minded about bringing in consultants,' he said. Jean Paul Gauci, who with two partners owns a few restaurants in the Staunton Street area, including Casa Lisboa and Cafe Au Lac, said his arrangement works well because his partners leave most of the operational decisions to him. 'It's an unusual scenario,' acknowledged Mr Gauci, who has food and beverage training. One of his partners has knowledge of the club business while the other stays in the background. 'If I'm not sure about something I'll consult them,' he said. 'And because we're all pretty young and have similar ideas about things, it's something that works well.' But not all restaurateur marriages have fairytale endings. Patrick Herbet, whose background is in finance and insurance, was one of a dozen partners behind the Papillon restaurant in Wo On Lane until he decided the venture was no longer worth the time and trouble. 'I don't think there should ever be more than three partners. If you have more than that, there can be all sorts of problems and disagreements,' he said. 'It's fashionable to be part of a restaurant, but I think people should be extremely careful before giving in to the excitement.' Mr Feldman said the key to a happy restaurant partnership was to keep the number of investors to a minimum and have a tightly-worded shareholder's agreement. 'It's the same concept as having too many chefs in the kitchen. You might have one partner who wants funky music, another who wants classical and ultimately the customer doesn't know what to expect and can be disappointed. If there are too many people involved, the restaurant will be compromised and you could end up with something bland that no one has any objection to.' Nicole Garnaut of the Ninety-Seven Group said 'portions of certain restaurant projects' were sometimes offered to individual investors; these bids usually receive a lot of interest. 'We have partners on some ventures who see their shares as a fun investment and give us constructive feedback,' said Ms Garnaut, maintaining that smaller partners were not encouraged to be too closely involved with the operational side. 'They have a genuine interest in restaurants, and invest because it's fun and more exciting than buying stocks and shares.' Indeed, there is a growing trend towards 'piece-meal' shares in restaurant ventures, where more than a dozen investors chip in to open an eatery; this arrangement, say experts, can offer as much risk as failure. 'Most investors look at having a share in a restaurant as another fashion accessory,' said one operator. 'It's unbelievable how many people fall for the romantic notion of swanning around their own restaurant,' he said, adding that of the 30 per cent of newly-opened eateries still around after two years, only half make any profit. 'Restaurateurs have to be good businessmen, but good businessmen are not always restaurateurs,' Mr Feldman said. 'Crossing the line from being an investor to an operator can be a critical mistake. We're seeing a number of cases where a large group of venture capital investors get together and open a restaurant. 'But they don't realise the extent of the administration and how much there is to co-ordinate.' Still, existing and aspiring restaurateurs are undeterred. 'It's nice to take people to a place you like,' Mr Gauci said. 'And if you own it, you're bound to like it.'