Foretaste of booming sector
A report by the Department of Health last year showed that our lifestyle is driving us towards the convenience of restaurant-cooked meals, with a significant portion of Hongkongers having their breakfast (50.7 per cent), lunch (82.5 per cent) or dinner (44.7 per cent) in commercial establishments two or more times a week.
"Hong Kong people spend over 63 per cent of their food expenditure outside their homes," says Cindy Heo, assistant professor of the Polytechnic University's school of hotel and tourism management.
The value of total receipts of the restaurant sector last year was HK$84 billion, up 5.1 per cent compared to 2009.
This is a huge and thriving industry with a strong demand for management talent equipped with a range of skills and knowledge.
For instance, restaurants need managers who have a good grasp of specialised knowledge like menu engineering, a process that analyses the entire menu as a measure of profitability. It combines an understanding of food with managerial accounting and marketing strategies.
"The industry is not just about food," Heo says. "Food is the basic thing, but other skills such as management know-how and service concepts are also important."
F&B management covers a variety of disciplines including customer relationships, food technology and environmental issues.
"It is a hybrid of hospitality, supply chain and facilities management," says Walter Ng, a professional consultant of the school of hotel and tourism management at Chinese University. Ng adds that F&B talent face various career options, from being a
"[Working in restaurant] chains and hotels is a good starting point. After they have gained some experience they can move on," Heo says.
Becoming a food manager is not the end of the career ladder, he adds. Young F&B managers can also kick-start their career abroad.
"There's strong demand for food and beverage managers in cities such as Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing," Ng says.
The food and catering industry on the mainland is particularly booming.
Food outlets there need managers who have a good customer service mentality and an understanding of the Chinese culture - requirements that Hong Kong graduates could easily meet.
"Hong Kong students grow up in a service culture and they understand about [good] service," Heo says.
In fact, working abroad can give aspiring F&B managers an edge over their competitors in the long run, says Cherrie, a 22-year-old student studying international hospitality management in Britain. She is now an intern in the food and beverage department of a local five-star hotel.
"Often companies in the food and catering or hotel industry hire people based on applicants' language proficiency and work experience. If you have worked in different countries, that will be an advantage," Cherrie says. She interned at Walt Disney World in Florida last summer.
Despite a promising future, F&B jobs could be difficult in the beginning because of their long working hours. Neither is it easy to change customers' dining habits and lifestyle. "It is an opportunity, albeit a challenge," Ng says.