The quick growth of fast food

HONG KONG people like to eat out. Over the past decade, the popularity of eating out has increased, as is reflected by the figures for household expenditure on food.

Some 10 years ago, expenditure on meals bought away from home accounted for less than half, 41 per cent, of an average household's total expenditure on foodstuffs. Now, the figure is around 56 per cent.

This suggests an expansion of the restaurant sector in Hong Kong. Let us look at more statistical data.

In 1981, there were 4,594 establishments in the whole restaurant sector in Hong Kong. The number had doubled to 9,184 in June 1992.

Over the same period, total employment in the restaurant sector increased by 59 per cent to 190,100 persons.

The sector benefitting most from this rapid growth, was the fast food industry, which has increased significantly in popularity.

Back in 1981, there were only 419 fast food shops in Hong Kong, accounting for 9 per cent of the total number of establishments then operating in the restaurant sector.

By June 1992, the number of shops had increased more than threefold, to 1,321, employing some 25,000 people.

By comparison, the number of Chinese restaurants in 1981 was 2,221, 5.3 times that of fast food shops. In 1992, it had also increased but was only 3.4 times the number of fast food shops.

Nevertheless, the Chinese restaurant share of the whole restaurant sector has remained stable, at 48 per cent in 1981 and 49 per cent in 1992.

Besides the number of establishments and employees, the rapid growth of the fast food industry can be measured by turnover.

Turnover refers to the dollar value of business receipts. After adjusting for price changes over time, it provides a measure of the volume of business.

After discounting the effect of price changes, total turnover for fast food shops still registered an increase of a factor of 3.5 from 1981 to 1992.

The turnover for the Chinese restaurants, on the other hand, rose by only 30 per cent after adjustment for price movements.

Comparing growth in the restaurant business with population growth - a mere 12 per cent in the corresponding period - shows that fast food and Chinese restaurant businesses are growing faster than population.

The reasons for the rapid growth in the fast food shop business are many.

Less people today bring packed lunch to schools and offices. People have tighter daily schedules and do not find time to cook at home.

or go to big restaurants for their meals. Finally, eating at fast food shops is becoming fashionable.