Flexibility may be needed over rules for food trucks

With some operators worrying that regulations may affect the long-term viability of their businesses, the government should be prepared to make adjustments

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 1:45am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 2017, 1:45am

Food doesn’t take years to cook, but it’s taken two years for Hong Kong to get its first food trucks. As the much-touted idea finally hit the streets on Friday, there are already fears that too much red tape may kill it off.

Given Hong Kong has a well-deserved reputation as a food paradise, with a vibrant street food culture and restaurants that suit different budgets and taste buds, the introduction of a dozen eateries on wheels is arguably not exciting. The hype owes much to the fact that the government is promoting the scheme as a tourism initiative. Promoted by former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in his budget in 2015, the scheme involves complex rules and procedures. Only some 50 of 190 applications were shortlisted for consideration, and there was a cook-off challenge to pick the winners.

Long queues at Hong Kong food trucks despite minor hiccups on first day of business

The menus chosen – ranging from Chinese dumplings to barbecue pork– may have won the thumbs-up of adjudicators in the competition, but as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Whether they will have the same appeal to tourists and locals remains to be seen. The public is now able to judge for themselves the quality of the food in eight designated tourist locations.

Having invested about HK$1 million each, some operators are already concerned whether their ventures will be financially viable in the long run. Although the trucks are to rotate around the sites regularly, the locations and rigid rules make it difficult for operators to respond to market conditions.

Food trucks have proved popular in the Western world, not least because of a food culture different from ours. Markets and regulations also play a part. Whether Hong Kong can copy the recipe of success remains to be seen. But given the local food scene is heavily influenced by the pursuit of trendy and exotic tastes, what is popular now may quickly fall out of fashion. The government should not rule out relaxing the rules after feedback from operators and customers.