As the popularity of fine dining and Michelin star restaurants dwindle, a growing number of mid-range dining options are emerging. Welcome to the era of casual fine dining – at an affordable price. Jonathan Glover, the brainchild of the Butchers Club and now Steak King has been strategic in quickly identifying this new market trend.
F&B in Hong Kong has been hit with several unpredictable issues; the protest in 2019 and the ramifications of international tourists not visiting the city, then COVID and post COVID ‘revenge travel’ plus the exodus of expats and more notably white-collar locals.
Hong Kong, once associated with some of the highest number of fine dining restaurants per capita in the world has recently been replaced regionally by the likes of Singapore, Thailand and Japan. The sign of the times, and the sign of money migration, resulting in the notable reduction in fine dining business receipts, and a steady demise of Michelin and other fine dining restaurants across Hong Kong.
The Achillies Heal of the fine dining restaurant is its high skilled labour cost, COGS with notable perishability (if not consumed by diners) coupled with the Head Chefs commitment, which in recent years have all been working solidly against its potential for success and their profitability. The likes of notable chefs within this space, such as Shane Osborne, stating “the increasingly reserved customer base and unwillingness to spend on the fine dining price range has resulted in low numbers, sometimes leaving their own establishments empty”
What is the new mindset?
Hong Kongers’ are looking for value coupled with quality. As some of the highest beef consumers in the World, this has made for a markedly fertile base for value and quality driven restaurant concepts.
Enter [center stage], Flat Iron, the latest of Jonathan Glover’s most recent restaurant concepts. Offering
“An exceptional quality steak experience at a very reasonable price that is affordable for the majority of the Hong Kong public”
Jonathan has truly struck gold with his latest restaurant spin off, stating
“I can do this at an affordable price because we import the product directly from the farms, in volume, this also allows us to guarantee the best quality products at the best possible price end up on our diners plates”
The reverberating success has been unprecedented and its popularity has come from the money spenders; the white-collar locals, a growing Mainland market and a slowly increasing spattering of tourists from the West. Flat Iron Soho has also benefited immensely from the popular landmarks that neighbor it – an often ‘must see and be seen location’ from China’s Little Red Book.
The Soho restaurant opened as a pop-up in October, 2023 and has been a true success story, some stats on the restaurant’s performance include:
- Since opening it has served over 25,000 steaks (that’s 7 tonnes of beef in 90 days)
- At an average spend of HK$180 for lunch and $295 for dinner
- The restaurant is small but has been turning the tables 4 times per day with an average 2000 customers gracing the eatery each week
- Friday is the most popular time of the week for steak and the restaurant is fully booked for the next 3 months for Friday dinner!
How does Flat Iron deliver this?
Turning tables quickly is the key, the menu is compact, starters are replaced with sides meaning the food comes out all at once - shortening the dining time.
The beef cuts on offer; namely Flat Iron and Picanha are not as popular in other parts of the world meaning they can be purchased in bulk at a good price that is then shared with the customer.
“Simplifying the service means we can operate with fewer staff; both front and back of house, thus reducing the most important expense of a restaurant in Hong Kong – the dreaded labour cost!” Says Glover
So what does the future bring?
Flat Iron has made such an impression with both customers and media that it is literally the ‘talk of the Town’ recently. Flat Iron has been approached by a number of landlords across Hong Kong and China and there is a distinct possibility that 2 - 3 more Flat Iron restaurants will be opening shortly here in Hong Kong, and possibly across the border in Shenzhen.
“We prefer existing restaurant sites that are already licensed, something that we can do a quick cosmetic makeover on and start operating as soon as possible, expensive renovations and lengthy fit-outs all mean the price of the food on the plate increases and that goes against what we are trying to achieve”.
What about if those big spenders return?
Flat Iron Deluxe is the answer, same value for money but a menu that allows a customer to spend on things like fresh oysters, Wagyu beef and fine wines, if they wish to do so. We are also working on a Flat Iron Burger concept – old habits die hard as Glover opened and operated 22 burger restaurants across 5 countries in the not-too-distant past.
So, to answer the question posed at the beginning of this article… Is Fine Dining Dead? Well, not quite, but it has certainly taken a hit over the past couple of years. Will it bounce back? In some guise very likely, Hong Kong & Mainland Chinese people like to flaunt their wealth and an expensive restaurant is a good place to do that. Flat Iron is definitely plugging the current market gap and one thing that is for certain, the popularity of a good value steak restaurant in the Hong Kong marketplace will only grow further momentum in the foreseeable years to come.
What do you think?
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Feel free to email Jonathan Glover on firstname.lastname@example.org