THERE are likely to be some changes to the restaurant hygiene competition this year. Although informal meetings were held to consider what form the changes might take, no conclusions had been reached, said Ng Tak-leung, chairman of the Association of Restaurant Managers. 'They are not because the competition is not good enough. We simply want to get the public more involved and therefore allow more recommendations from the public.' One of Mr Ng's suggestions is that as members of his association are all successful restaurant operators, they could form a team of assessors to oversee standards. He said there were several problems that had not been overcome. 'The locality of the restaurant plays a big part in winning an award. A restaurant in Central, for example, is bound to have good hygiene, because it can afford to charge a reasonable price for its food and, therefore, has money to improve and keep up standards of hygiene,' he said. Even so, location has not prevented two restaurants in Lok Fu, a predominantly public housing area, from taking third place in the large Chinese restaurant, Kowloon region, competition, and Grand Second Runner-up in the fast-food category. Credit was due to them for overcoming poor environments, he said. Another shortfall in the competition as it now stood was that big groups, such as McDonald's and Maxim's, won many prizes. Some restaurants did not have the confidence to compete against such groups or large restaurants, he said. Hotels, though, do not seem to be so concerned about the opposition. The South Pacific won third place in the Hong Kong hotel regional category, outdoing such internationally-renowned names as the Conrad, the Mandarin Oriental and the Island Shangri-la. 'We are looking at any possible way to get more restaurants to take part. We are about to start our fifth competition and we need fresh ideas,' Mr Ng said. Wong Shui-Lai, vice-chairman of the Urban Council's Public Health Select Committee, has ideas that are being discussed. 'My suggestions include holding seminars, symposiums or courses related to food hygiene for cooks and serving staff to let them know about worldwide hygiene standards,' he said. 'To further the idea of a competition, these would need to be followed by exam questions. Whether they will be oral or written has not been decided.' Other ideas proposed by some of this year's winners include rotating judges to ensure better assessment and redefining the categories. If the problem was a lack of confidence in competing against five-star restaurants, the field could be divided, as in sport, into first and second divisions, each still consisting of six categories plus hotels. This would allow the winners of the district level competition in the second division to be promoted to join the first division winners to compete in the regional and grand champion competitions. Even if this was considered inappropriate, some incentive or encouragement should be given for the less successful restaurants to take part, they said. However successful the competition was, Mr Ng said enforcement of hygiene laws in Hong Kong was among the most stringent anywhere, even though the laws were not tough. 'China has very harsh laws, but enforcement is poor,' he said. But the territory's enforcement standards could drop soon, because staff numbers in enforcement agencies had remained the same while more restaurants had opened, he said.