The FCC’s F&B operation is central to the heart of the club, supporting and supplying our outlets with attractive food and drink options. Or so we hope.
This means the kitchen, with its Chinese, Western and Indian sections, is tasked with coming up with innovative menus and promotions to get members to spend, spend, spend, every month. Apart from monthly subscriptions and joining fees, F&B and banqueting are our main revenue source and therein lies our current challenge.
The downturn in restaurant and bar business in recent years is all around Central and not unique to the FCC.
Unfortunately our kitchen was closed for renovation for several months in mid-2016 and it seems many members found alternative places to go, as revenues have yet to return to pre-kitchen closure levels. So that’s been a double-whammy.
We cannot be in denial of the fact that the FCC continues to operate at a deficit. From my calculations, we are currently running at a deficit up until November 2017 (for this financial year, i.e. since April 2017) of just over HK$1 million.
What this means is while we are going to come in for the full year at below the budgeted deficit, there will be a deficit nonetheless and this now looks like it will be a recurring deficit. We also face a huge bill for building renovations soon and the unpalatable fact is that while the FCC has reserves, these are going to be burned up at a ferocious rate.
The new minimum spend measure will help, but it can not compensate for slackening demand and increased food costs as these trends are well established.
So what are we doing to stem our losses? Good housekeeping and innovation have been our twin goals this year.
Starting with beer. To stop the crazy wastage costing the Club HK$300-$400 per day, caused by having the beer kegs stored outside in the alley, we brought them indoors. That’s why beer kegs and a low white storage cupboard now sit near the back door. With a little reorganisation we made room for all our draught beer kegs under the main bar. Beer quality has improved markedly and we have updated our selection to reflect changing tastes. That means less lager, more draught beer. We’ve introduced beers from local breweries Gweilo and Young Master. Latest arrivals are a lighter beer, the 3.5% Another One from Young Master, and a traditional hand-pumped real ale is being installed as I write. Available in only a few Hong Kong pubs, this adds a new dimension to our beer offering. Draught Kronenbourg 1664 has also joined the stable.
Drinkers can also look forward to our own FCC label beer, coming soon. Fitting all the draught beers indoors took some juggling between Bert’s and the Main Bar, but thanks to the ingenuity and determination of Beverage sub-committee head Joel Leduc and cooperation from staff, everything has been accommodated. None of this could have been done without the years of groundwork by the late Walter Kent and Tony Beaurain on the Beer Committee. We wish you both were here to enjoy the results of your efforts.
On the wine side, we continue to offer the widest choice at best prices to members but this is increasingly hard with no dedicated wine buyer, a situation we hope to remedy soon. Wine socials continue to be a great way for members to choose the wines of the month, please continue to support these. Our current Correspondents’ Choice red, “Seduction,” is a runaway success selling more than 500 bottles a month.
On the spirits side, again in line with popular tastes, we introduced a range of premium Sipsmith gins and Fever Tree tonic. Bar staff were given training in special gin cocktails, with another round soon for the many new staff. High staff turnover is an ongoing challenge.
On the food side we have trimmed costs by binning irrelevant promotions and focusing on popular and profitable items. Our Indian chefs continue to outperform and the Indian tasting menu was a resounding success, both vegetarian and meat versions. There is an ongoing mission to promote non-meat dishes because it’s healthy and the demand is there, but this is not always easy. To this end food items such as foie gras, which involve extreme cruelty, have been delisted, as have products such as Indonesian snake meat where we could not establish the snake species or even if farmed or wild caught. We uphold our commitment to sustainable farming of fish and meat. Once the holiday season is done, we plan a thorough review of all our F&B suppliers to ensure they meet our ethical and quality standards.
Efforts to reduce the still vast main bar menu to cut wastage and storage space continue. We have also made menus for speaker events more diner-friendly with meat, fish and vegetarian choices.
When it comes to Club functions, such as the recent New Year’s Eve party, F&B handled the event and catering organisation this year. After heavy losses over the previous four years, a policy of great food, fun music and keeping it simple was adopted. We cut costs with a DJ instead of a live band and Chef George devised a stunning four-course menu. Result: 160 dinners were served, admission to the main bar remained open to all throughout and we made a profit of $65,000. Well done to the staff for making it such a successful event. It shows what can be done.
Thank you to all members for your continued support. All I can add is please realise that the Club’s finances are fragile and our future in this building far from certain. By supporting F&B you keep your Club healthy. It’s simple: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Anna is the F&B committee convener.