Restaurant owners are rushing to get approval for alfresco services to boost business The face of Hong Kong dining is changing with new regulations that make it easier for restaurants to set up tables and chairs outdoors. Six months after the government eased the red tape for alfresco dining, it has been flooded with applications. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has approved 64 applications since March - 20 in Sai Kung alone. About 94 are pending at the new one-stop approval shop, with word spreading among restaurant owners that providing service outdoors typically lifts business by 20 per cent. A spokesman for the department said the Outside Seating Accommodation Scheme was proving successful, reducing the application process significantly. 'Before, the applicant had to go through many departments, like the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Fire Services Department, the Buildings Department, the Lands Department and the District Offices,' he said. 'Although the system is much quicker, there's no set duration for each application as it depends on the physical environment and the location of the food premises.' Asif Rahman, owner of Portofino in Sai Kung, says his restaurant would not survive if he did not have outdoor dining. 'We got our licence in March and, since then, our business has improved by at least 40 per cent. People like to sit outside when the weather is good.' Unfortunately, Mr Rahman applied for his alfresco dining licence before the one-stop shop system was launched. To get his licence, he had to go through five departments, which took about four months. 'The paperwork took a lot of time and although the licence was free, complying with the regulations was very expensive,' he said. Brian Parfitt, manager of Pepperoni's in Sai Kung, describes the complications he encountered while applying for an outdoor dining licence before the one-stop shop system was implemented. 'We've always had outdoor seating and we applied for the licence a long time ago. It took a long time and we had a lot of complications. For example, we had an area out front which [required the signed approval] of the people living above us, which we couldn't get - either because they were deceased or because they didn't actually live there.' However, he does not blame the government for the previous, time-consuming system. 'It was frustrating but that's just the way things work. Of course it takes time when you have to go through so many different departments and I believe the government is trying to do the best for everyone. It'll be much easier to get a licence now with only one department to go through. 'Business has definitely improved since we got our licence. It's been great for us to have outside seating and a lot more visitors have come to the area.'