It has not been the best year for the food and beverage industry in Hong Kong – starting with the protests that erupted from June 2019 and discouraged diners from eating out for much of the year, followed by the coronavirus pandemic, which brought the city to a standstill in late January. There have been plenty of restaurant closures with footfall to some previously popular dining districts dwindling fast. “We closed a few restaurants on Elgin Street as they were commercially not viable,” says Sandip Gupta, chief operating officer at Dining Concepts, referring to long-standing eateries Craftsteak, Soho Spice and Olive. Dining Concepts is the group behind Le Pain Quotidien, steakhouses Tango, BLT Steak and Bistecca; restaurants Bizou, BLT Burger, Dear Lilly; and bars The Iron Fairies and J. Boroski. It opened its first restaurant, Bombay Dreams, in 2003 during the Sars outbreak. Can restaurants around the world survive the coronavirus? “We are not too optimistic about the area picking up any time soon as several nearby neighbourhoods are becoming more popular, such as NoHo and High Street. I remember being at 7-Eleven on Elgin about 15 years ago and seeing swarms of people coming towards me. I do not think that will happen again.” He is still upbeat about Hong Kong and the F&B industry, however. “Hong Kong is home, so I am cautiously optimistic as it is resilient. A reset button has been pressed and we have to possibly accept new normals, new benchmarks.” Which Hong Kong Michelin-star restaurants are offering home delivery? Another major dining group that has had to restructure is Maximal Concepts, which has Mott 32, Limewood and Sip Song among others in its fold. Why business dining matters so much to Hong Kong restaurants “Hong Kong operators have all been through such turmoil since last summer, due to the protests compounded with the Covid-19 crisis this year,” says Malcolm Wood, who co-founded Maximal Concepts with Matt Reid. “For us to survive this storm, we forced ourselves to make some heartbreaking decisions. We have to assume that we are only in the first phase of the storm. We also know that political instability in Hong Kong is a likely situation in the short- to medium-term. “This led us to really question every location we have and analyse the ongoing impact. We needed to rebuild a ship that could bear the whole storm, and not just the first wave. Sadly, this means we are closing Brickhouse after eight years of taco-fuelled madness and, due to Causeway Bay facing many protests, our newest star John Anthony is also being retired. Stockton will reopen under different ownership. Our third partner and co-founder, Xuan Mu, has purchased Stockton to operate under a new company. We are so happy for the Stockton team who, in many cases, have worked with us for a long time.” Reid says that despite closures, their business is still on target. “Our core business plan remains, thankfully, on track. We are building the first global luxury Chinese restaurant brand, and we’re happy to say that all of Mott 32’s global sites are still in play and we have more new sites in development. We are laser-focused on further refining our brand and bringing our bold vision into reality.” “We opened Mott 32 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore in January this year,” continues Wood. “The opening was an immense success before the virus hit, but then the location was forced under mandatory closure. Before that, we had been overwhelmed by the positive response, especially as Singaporeans are a notoriously hard-to-please clientele. The venue was fully booked every day. Hopefully the lockdown restrictions will be lifted in Singapore soon, and we will be able to get back up and running. As for John Anthony, Vietnam, it seems to be doing well in terms of recovering from the virus, and our venue there is open and serving customers. Our partners in Hanoi (JW Marriott) will continue to operate that venue with our support.” Why Hong Kong’s restaurants are embracing sustainability Also pushing forward is Black Sheep Restaurants, which has more than 24 eateries in Hong Kong, such as Belon, New Punjab Club and Carbone. They have a Covid-19 booklet on their website that explains the virus and health precautions their restaurants take. They have also marketed their delivery services well, which has kept their restaurants busy. ZS Hospitality, with eateries such as Ying Jee Club, Moi Moi, Lee Ho Sing and the new Hansik Goo under its umbrella, also explored takeaways, but keeping staff on was their first priority. “Our primary goal is to not lay off any restaurant staff as we understand this is a difficult time for all. Therefore suspending operations for a prolonged period of time is not an option for us. All of our restaurants normally open every day, so what we did was to close one to two days per week to reduce operational costs,” says Elizabeth Chu, co-founder of ZS Hospitality. “To continue serving our guests during a pandemic meant we had to explore the possibility of doing takeaways for all of our restaurants, including our fine dining Cantonese restaurant Ying Jee Club. We believe that a good dining experience is not only about food, but also service and ambience so it’s hard to strike the right balance when it comes to takeaway meals. We got around it by only offering dishes that travel well for takeaway, so that there would be no compromise in the standard,” Chu adds. What makes the best restaurant service in Hong Kong? Chu believes as a result of the past 12 months in Hong Kong, it is riskier to invest in restaurants but says that from this, new trends have emerged from restaurants willing to innovate. “There will be increasing trends of chefs doing cooking demonstrations via video and restaurants offering home-cooking packs with ingredients and cooking instructions, which is a way to stay engaged and connected to customers,” says Chu. Meanwhile, one of Hong Kong’s oldest restaurants, Yung Kee, has been under renovation while it expands across the harbour with a modern concept to appeal to a new generation. “Yung Kee has been at its Central site since the building was opened 40 years ago, so it is a good time to renovate,” says Yvonne Kam, whose grandfather started the iconic restaurant in 1942. Before it temporarily closed, it was busy, especially with takeaways. “During Covid-19, we still had some family gatherings at Yung Kee, especially those who live in the neighbourhood. And people who were working from home or reluctant to eat out got takeaways,” continues Kam. In a post-Covid world, are buffets a thing of the past? She has also opened Yung’s Bistro in K11 Musea, which she describes as Yung Kee for the next generation. Offering refreshed classics from her grandfather’s menu to new contemporary dishes based on authentic Cantonese cuisine, diners can enjoy them in a modern setting. “It was an idea in my mind for a number of years. Once I joined the family business and got to know more about Cantonese cuisine, I figured the younger generation do not know much about it as they explore Japanese or Western cuisine more. That inspired me to really do something.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .