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Satisfying restaurants’ appetite for business growth

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 9:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 9:32am

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Hong Kong has long been known as a foodie’s paradise. With over 200,000 reviews posted on more than 8,000 restaurants listed on TripAdvisor those looking for places to eat are spoilt for choice with the sheer volume and variety available.

With so much choice on offer, business owners are constantly scratching their heads trying to find a profitable niche in what is a very crowded market. For the restaurant industry, which often aims to satisfy a varied clientele, locals as well as expats and tourists, the art of getting the recipe for success right can be extremely tricky.

Dim Sum is one of Hong Kong’s most well-known local foods. These delightful goodies prepared as bite-sized portions are served in bamboo steamer baskets and available in every corner of the city. New entrants to the market often use discounts to attract new diners, but there are ways to ‘touch hearts’ (a literal translation of Dim Sum), that are more effective and sustainable.

Launched by Alex Chau and his uncle Chan Si-Fu in 2014, Ding Dim 1968 is a 50-seater eatery that serves traditional dim sum with a contemporary twist in Hong Kong Island’s lively Soho district. A chef since 1968, Chan Si-Fu’s dim sum is simple, stylish and Instagram-worthy. Ding Dim also features a semi-open kitchen so diners can watch the dishes being created. “Making dim sum is an art so we let them see it,” Chau explains.

Given its location, Chau estimates half of his clientele to be local and the remaining a 50:50 split between expats living in Hong Kong and tourists. Over the past three years, Chau has worked very hard to get it right to ensure his establishment isn’t written off as a short-term gimmicky restaurant. “Through TripAdvisor we get travellers from all over the world,” he says. “International visitors may never have tried dim sum and it may be different to what they’re expecting.”

To stay on track, Chau frequently takes note and responds to reviews left by his diners on TripAdvisor. Through the guest reviews, it is clearer to Chau what customers enjoy and he has implemented changes based on the feedback Ding Dim has received. “The food quality has remained the same, the major difference has been in our approach to customer service. For example, the staff now makes a conscious effort to guide foreign travellers who are first timers on what to order and how best to enjoy it.”

“When we first started out, an overseas tourist left a TripAdvisor review to say that ‘except for a few dim sums the rest of the food was ‘kind of weird’, e.g. cow stomach and chicken feet, and that ‘the bill came before the food’. I responded to explain that these are traditional dishes popular amongst locals, and that it is the culture in dim sum restaurants to hand customers the bill as soon as the order is placed, not a request for immediate payment,” Chau recalls.

When it comes to promoting Ding Dim, Chau is very clear about the benefits of various platforms – as well as their limitations. “We set up our own website, but it’s pretty passive. People don’t leave feedback on the website, we’re only publishing information we want them to see. And, while having a social media account is good, it doesn’t really build your brand.”

He points out that netizens tend to leave very brief “one liners” comments on social media - without putting much thought into them. “If they are having a bad day they tend to write something bad, if they’re having a good day, it tends to be good. Whereas on TripAdvisor, people tend to leave more descriptive reviews and come across as more thoughtful and sincere.” It is the weight of these opinions that help business owners understand what their consumers want in the here-and-now, which can then be easily actioned. 

This feedback-improvement loop has paid off handsomely for Ding Dim 1968. Sometimes, it is the small things that resonate with customers, and often these changes show them you are paying attention. Chau recently installed a credit card machine. “We kept getting the feedback through our reviews on TripAdvisor that we only accepted cash and not credit card.”

With an impressive TripAdvisor ranking of 54 out of over 8,000 establishments as of 18 January, Ding Dim sits nicely in the top one per cent of Hong Kong’s listed restaurants. It all started for Chau when his restaurant listed as soon as it opened – getting listed on TripAdvisor is free and restaurants are ranked by the quality, quantity and recency of global traveller reviews.

Chau says he reads his restaurant’s reviews regularly and there are currently more than 700 of them. While he responds to both positive and negative reviews, for those who raise any concerns or issues with their experiences, he will directly address the customer’s comments. “If the fault was ours, I do offer our sincerest apologies and if the customer lives locally, I do invite them back.”