People in Hong Kong love food, expect quality and are notoriously selective when it comes to the choice of restaurant. Tapping in the city's F&B industry may sound painless for any prospective restaurateurs but staying in the game requires more than simply the right location, staff mix and demand-driven menu engineering.
"When we opened our first store in the IFC seven years ago, the majority of our customers were westerners, particularly British nationals that were more familiar with our brand and style. We anticipated some changes back then and there we are," says Sarah Lee, managing director of Pret A Manger (Hong Kong) Ltd. "The number of local customers has grown manifold."
To meet the city's growing appetite for fresh and convenient food, Pret has recently opened a new flagship store right at the heart of the IFC.
The new Pret store occupies twice the space of its first. "The design of the new store incorporates a much wider entrance area," says James Cannell, Pret's international head of creative. "Customers can feel free to drop by, have a browse and pick any products that catch their fancy."
Lunch is a social event for most Hong Kong workers, Ms Lee notes. "The 'grab and go' culture doesn't seem to fit in here so our new flagship store leaves ample space for customers to move chairs and tables whenever a friend or a colleague wants to join in. There are also individual seats for people who fancy some space and solitude," she says.
Bjorn Welter, the company's international head of design, adds that the new flagship store has the "lightest and softest" touch among all the company's stores in Hong Kong. "We took a holistic approach in designing this store, taking care of every aspect from the colour scheme to lighting, images on the walls as well as furnishing," Mr Welter remarks. "Our company logo faces the entrance, attracting and welcoming customers."
Ms Lee believes quality food and service add values to the entire eating experience. "All our sandwiches are freshly prepared and customers will find only the very best ingredients in their choice of products," she confirms. "Freshness is a promise to our discerning customers. We do not stock our shelves with leftovers. Any unsold products will be donated to charities at the end of every day."
Menu for choice
Pret A Manger plays a major part in shaping Hong Kong's sandwich culture. "When we first came to Hong Kong, there was limited choice of box sandwiches and bottled juice on offer. Today, these are blanketing the market," Ms Lee observes.
The market may look saturated but Ms Lee still sees room for expansion. She says, "Most of our food items are served cold but hot soup remains a smash hit. To better align our product offerings with the local taste buds, we will focus our sights on developing additional hot food items, introduce new ingredients and offer these to our customers in an affordable price."
The company started to offer breakfast priced between HK$10 and $20 a few months ago. "Lunch constitutes about 50 to 60 per cent of our total revenue. We also have plans to roll out an afternoon tea menu in the coming months," Ms Lee reveals. She adds that more sweet treats are on the way, complimenting the array of beverages on offer, particularly Pret's signature coffee.
Achieving service excellence takes more than a big fat pay packet for staff. Sarah Dempsey, operational development manager of Pret A Manger, notes that well structured training and an agreeable work environment give an extra boost to the company's multicultural workforce.
"All newcomers join a specially designed 10-day induction training offered by our Pret Academy. Our five-day work policy gives staff a balanced life, and we spare no efforts in fostering a friendly environment that embraces individuality and respects diversity," Ms Dempsey notes.
The company's unique culture may have helped retain loyal customers. This may also explain why Pret never advertised despite fierce competition. "Our brand speaks for itself and the increasing volume of customers proves that we're heading down the right path," Ms Lee says. However, the implementation of growth strategies will require some marketing support. A series of initiatives is currently in the pipeline and this of course will include free freshly brewed coffees.
Currently, Pret A Manger operates nine stores peppered across business districts on Hong Kong Island. The next move, naturally, is to look for the right locations for further expansion, Ms Lee concedes.