Skyrocketing rents force HK restaurants to move upstairs

Just like other retailers giving up prime customer access at ground floors in favor of cheaper spaces upstairs, restaurants are now moving to higher floors. The main, if not the only, culprit is the soaring commercial rental rates imposed by property owners.

While residential flats attract buyers for their sweeping panoramic views, restaurants a few floors above may not get the same enthusiasm from hungry patrons who have to deal with queues to the elevators or flights of stairs only to find out the waiting list is too long for their gustatory tolerance. However, as always been observed among discriminating patrons, no location may be too far away for popular restaurants to relocate. It is common to see two adjacent restaurants, one taking a queue of hungry yet patient folks, and another barely attracting anyone else.

However, as landlords demand rents of up to HK$600 (US$77) per square foot for ground-level shops, diners who can’t afford to give up great venues might just close shop, a scenario that worries a restaurant group in the city. The popular Tai Woo seafood restaurant in Percival Street, Causeway Bay had been in the same address for the past 26 years, but will be moving to a new location after its landlord doubled the rent. But not all can afford to make that challenging task of moving locations. Wong Chi Kei, a famous noodle shop on Wellington Street, appears to be closed for good.

Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades president Simon Wong Ka-wo warned that as expensive ground-floor premises became increasingly unaffordable for eateries, Hong Kong’s reputation as cuisine haven could be at risk. But perhaps opportunistic property owners aren’t necessarily greedy and let go their long-term tenants. They only try to cater to insatiable appetite of brand-name boutiques and high-end shops who offer double the rates of existing tenants just to ensure their business stays at the most prominent areas as possible.

For tenants, hunting for a new location requires a lot of patience, business sense and financial investment as restaurant owners need to make sure the new venue attracts enough attention from new customers. They might even end up paying more than the premises they left behind just to ensure steady flow of clients. Refurbishing and promotion add to initial costs. Hopefully, dishes won’t be much more expensive than before, but it will be understandable if they raise their menu rates. At that point, loyal customers may be inclined to visit the restaurant less often or look elsewhere.

With the way restaurants change places, dining guides also need to update their listings more frequently.