Hong Kong restaurants and event planners are bracing for an influx of bookings as individuals, firms and organisations rush to plan events or book more tables to celebrate the festive season and take advantage of the end to a cap on banquet capacity.
After suffering through almost three years of muted holidays because of stringent coronavirus curbs, the city’s eateries predicted their banquet business would soar by 10 to 30 per cent as authorities announced the relaxation of Covid-19 curbs on Tuesday.
From Thursday, bar patrons, banquet guests, as well as residents joining local tours no longer have to show proof of a negative rapid antigen test (RAT). The 85 per cent capacity cap currently set for entertainment venues such as cinemas, museums, theme parks and performing spaces will also be lifted.
Ray Chui Man-wai, president of the Institute of Dining Art, estimated banquet business would increase by more than 10 per cent during the next two months, especially for big Chinese restaurants.
“The lifting of the 240-headcount cap on banquets will certainly boost the night business for big Chinese restaurants as firms and organisations will start to book reunion and spring dinners to celebrate Lunar New Year,” he said.
But the policy shift has caught some soon-to-be married couples off guard. Kelvin Lai, a 34-year-old public relations professional, said he could not invite everyone he wanted to his celebration on the happy day because of the headcount cap, and was scrambling to ensure no friends or relatives would be left out.
“But I am also worried that they find me insincere because of the short notice,” said Lai, who will marry next month. “It is so annoying that the government is lifting restrictions like squeezing toothpaste tubes.”
Lai also urged the government to review the necessity of its remaining social-distancing measures, such as the vaccine pass which prevents people who had not been inoculated against Covid-19 from entering many premises.
Sandy So, general manager of the Lifestyle Group which operates wedding venues, said her sector would only benefit from the relaxations in the second quarter of next year, as couples usually reserved venues six to 12 months in advance.
She said she hoped for more measures to cater for unvaccinated guests, suggesting they be allowed to attend banquets in designated zones, with toilets reserved for their exclusive use.
Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association honorary chairman Danny Lau Tat-pong, who runs a curtain wall frame firm, said he had no plans to hold a banquet for his 80 staff in Hong Kong as his company had suffered a 30 per cent drop in business.
But he noted the Lions Club of Happy Valley, which planned to hold a celebration for its 55th anniversary in February next year, immediately booked more tables to cater to 360 guests after learning about the relaxation.
“This news can certainly benefit those venues that can hold large events,” he said.
In Lan Kwai Fong, the manager of live music bar Insomnia, who only gave her name as Alex, welcomed the relaxation and said she hoped to see larger crowds during the coming holidays.
“Some people have walked away after learning that a RAT test is required and go to other restaurants that don’t require it,” Alex said.
Johnson Ma, who works in the finance industry and was in Lan Kwai Fong for a Christmas party hosted by his company’s client, said he was happy to learn of the relaxation.
“Some of my colleagues turned down the invitation partly because of the test requirements,” he said. “Without this test, it will be more convenient.”