The catering business is no longer just about satisfying customers’ tongue and stomach, but it’s about spiritual enjoyment as well. Brands no longer simply rely on advertisement to promote their business, but drive their business through contents. As the cultural and creative industry sprung up in Macao, innovative restaurants also emerge in town. This issue is going to introduce three local restaurants, Café Voyage, Kiss Manner and Poli Café. These three catering brands use exhibition, interactive entertainment and cartoon IP respectively, combining cultural innovations with restaurants to achieve the upgrade from catering business to lifestyle business.
Besides offering customers quality catering service, Café Voyage also organises photography exhibitions, music album launching events, and other art exhibition activities. The café owner Don Lao wishes to exchange and communicate with customers from all walks of life through coffee, travel, music and photography. Café Voyage doesn’t take the traditional café business form but rather combine café with cultural innovation, building a cross-sector business of its kind.
From civil servant to entrepreneur
With a deep interest in photography, Don was working for the government before kick-starting his entrepreneurial journey. In 2013, he decided to quit his job at the government. “At that time, café was a popular trend in the catering market in Macao. But most cafés merely focused on providing food. I thought I could add some cultural innovations into this business form. I am a photography lover, so I decided to do exhibitions at my café,” Don explained.
Café Voyage regularly organises cultural activities, making use of every inch of space in the restaurant. “The market in Macao is quite small, so it’s difficult to organise solo exhibition. So while doing business, I use space like the walls and attics in the café for exhibition, providing service for artists to display their works to the public,” Don said. Meanwhile, Don also produces postcards with his photography works and sells them in the café. The profit gained from the postcards will be donated to the World Vision International. He believes that this is a way to give back to society for both entrepreneurs and the artists.
Promotion and human resource, the two obstacles
Promotion is one of the obstacles Don encountered in the operation process. “In Macao, promotion requires a lot of money. Small and medium-sized enterprises like ours have limited capital. Therefore, promotion on social media saves us a lot of cost. But such strategy only reaches to a limited scope of audience,” he said. In addition, the limited exhibition space and scarce human resource is another obstacle. In order to provide better cultural exhibition service, a bigger exhibition space is required. “At present, the entire operation is done by the founding partners of the café. Besides the promotion activities, I also need to take care of the design and printing issues. When there is a short preparation time for organising an exhibition, I might not be able to do all things well,” Don said.
Two strategies to operate cultural events
Café Voyage has two strategies to operate cultural events. The first one is to reserve space for events while maintaining regular café business. The participants will need to purchase an entrance ticket, which can also be used for buying certain food items in the café. The second strategy is providing space and not charging the clients any rental fee. Participants of the event would enjoy discounts at the café. Don believes that the first strategy can ensure that the café would not have revenue loss even it does exhibition on the side, and at the same time, making the customers feel that they have made the worthy purchase. The second strategy on the other hand can promote the café’s image since a good reputation can spread through customers’ words in a small town like Macao.
“The core part of restaurant is still the catering service, which includes the food you provide, and how they taste. Adding cultural innovations can better attract your customers and sustain the development in Macao market. However, restaurants should bear in mind that the catering service is still the main business,” Don stressed, who emphasises on the food the café presents.
City of gastronomy brings both opportunities and challenges
Macao has been recognised by UNESCO as a city of gastronomy, which Don believes that it has brought both opportunities and challenges as the title would not only attract more tourists, but also brings up the operation cost further. “In the future, Café Voyage would expand its scale and develops towards a catering group. To shatter the constraints of the Macao catering market, we need to garner more market share besides improving ourselves. That’s why we need to grow into a catering group and share the operation cost and the risks among our business units. We also need to improve our enterprise managerial structure and gradually form a professional team so as to bring up the enterprise efficiency,” Don stated.