In Crowded Hong Kong, How Market-ing Works
Note: This blog was first published on 11 June 2019 on www.hotelsmag.com/Industry/Blogs, where Richard has been invited to contribute a monthly blog.
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When a queue forms outside a restaurant door 30 minutes before service begins, you know the concept is winning! It’s been like this for The Market at Icon almost every lunchtime since the doors opened due to its appeal and price-value relationship.
When you think about it, wherever you are in the world a market reflects the people it caters for and you can’t fake it. A market is about supply and demand; daily bread, something extravagant, something simple. There is always something for everyone and wherever the market is, it will generally be the true face of that place.
So it has proved here with our market restaurant concept. If we go back to the drawing board 10 years ago as Icon was built, The Market was designed to work in two ways: primarily to bring the local community into the hotel, making it a neighborhood hotspot, which was so important to our brand, but also to serve our international guests, particularly at breakfast, and reflect their individual cultures, tastes and sentiments through every choice.
At The Market’s essence sits the core values of the hotel; timeless and open design, a relaxed but vibrant atmosphere and value shown through the quality ingredients sourced and the authenticity of the dishes created. One thing we know is that the people of Hong Kong understand quality, and they demand value and sustained success comes from delivering that every day.
Richard Hatter with Student Interns
As mentioned in my previous blogs, Icon was developed for the School of Hotel and Tourism Management by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University for the very specific purpose of sharing hands-on knowledge of a hotel operation with the students of the Elite Management Program. Using real world data from The Market, the restaurant is often used as a case study by our students studying operations, management, F&B management and data analytics. For example, under the guidance of an external consultant, a group of Elite Management Trainee (EMT) students once presented on strategies to better forecast food requirements and minimize spoilage.
The restaurant does one sitting per meal period and as such, food requirements are easier to forecast and there is minimal waste. As well, 70% of the hot food is prepared a la minute from our live “theatre” stations – grill station (for lambchops and steaks), roasting ovens, tandoori ovens, pastry ovens, sashimi and sushi station. Surplus edible food is donated to Food Angel, an organization that provides healthy food for local families in need. Foods that cannot be donated are broken down via our organic technology that turns food waste into liquid.
There is a preconceived notion by many students that F&B is tough. However, we teach them to be supervisors and to look at the business side of running the restaurants. The Market provides some interesting challenges for students to grapple with:
Handling high demand: We were receiving 800 calls a day for table reservations. So we worked with EMT students to develop an online sales/reservations system where, as part of our yield management strategy, students learned how to better allocate tables to maximize reservations for larger groups and to cater for more adults versus children, who pay half price. Now the whole booking process is also online, reducing the number of phone calls.
The Market Is One of Hong Kong's Most Popular Hotel Buffet Restaurants
Anyway, “average” is a crowded market especially in Hong Kong, which is such a competitive landscape.
The Market, whilst simple in concept, delivers consistency. When you go to a market you want buzz, color and abundance, a bit of this, a bit of that and something to take home. That could be a memory or it could be the extra piece of cheese from your plate! The point is it’s a reference for next time and you want to go back.
That’s the secret to The Market here at Hotel Icon.
Customer surveys: Students also helped to conduct surveys with customers to ascertain their preferences, and as a result, we introduced new meal periods. For example, we experimented with a late-night supper concept tagged onto the buffet dinner, which closes at 10:30 p.m. It ran from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. and attracted shop owners whose businesses operated until past 10 p.m. We also pioneered a weekend tea buffet featuring Asian street food that is typically served from around 4 to 6 p.m.
From a purely personal standpoint, The Market expresses my years of experience and personal feelings about what a great restaurant should be. Food should tell a story and ours here is centered around the wet markets so pertinent to Asia, where people come together and have a great time. The food we serve is simple, natural, authentic, not fussed with, nor is it fusion, deconstructed or re-imagined. Guests pay a set price and can eat as much as they want.
Over the years, The Market has been consistent and a valuable revenue source for the hotel: A 6-foot table can net US$2,400 per day, as it’s turned over five to six times a day!
We have won the OpenRice’s Hong Kong Best Buffet restaurant award for nine consecutive years without advertising, proving that word of mouth is a valuable currency for marketing if you get the offer right. We offer a dining loyalty program, Iconic Eats, to customers (this works in all our F&B outlets) so they can earn points and receive perks and rewards and be the first to hear news and offers.
The Market Celebrates Their Eighth Consecutive OpenRice Best Buffet In Hong Kong Award