Social silence

Elite Concept's executive director Paul Hsu tells Erica Ng why social media is not his cup of tea.

Paul Hsu rarely updates his restaurants’ Facebook pages and he almost never checks Weibo. It seems strange in this day and age, when some of the most exclusive, luxurious brands are starting to get active on social media.

This is even more the case for the highly competitive and vocal hospitality industry. Social platforms such as Openrice have become a common place for dining suggestions and reviews, and picture-sharing platforms such as Instagram are constantly filled with images of fancy restaurant dishes.

But Hsu says he has yet to see the value of social media because he is not running a “mass brand” that needs a conversation with everyone.

Hsu founded Elite Concepts in 1991 to bring quality free-standing restaurants to Hong Kong. Rather than concentrate on well-travelled locations, Hsu turned quaint back alleys such as Lan Kwai Fong, Knutsford Terrace and most recently Star Street into dining meccas with new
dining concepts. Some of his Michelin star restaurants include Yè Shanghai and Gou Fu Lou.

“Guest feedback used to come to us via the chef or comment cards, and we’d know the date and time and what table they came from,” he says.
“With online media, it’s almost impossible. There’s no validity.”

While there is definite value in managing word-of-mouth, he says the way to do it is to ensure his restaurants are delivering the best customer experiences possible instead of interfering with social media.

“It’s one marketing channel. Nobody can rely on any one singular marketing channel,” he says.

There is, however, the need to define his brands clearly as Hong Kong’s hospitality business is highly competitive and pricedriven. Free-standing restaurants in Hong Kong, he says, must find a way to stand out and connect with customers emotionally, especially when they have to
compete with hotel restaurants and luxury chains.
For Hsu, the key is to create a good restaurant experience – with the right people, venue and food – that leaves its guests a better feeling after a meal.

“There are a lot of restaurants that don’t give you anything. The higher the rent, the less they can give their guests,” he says, adding customers who do not know their food and wine stand to lose the most if a restaurant wants to make up of its extra cost with cheaper ingredients.
“We want to educate the market, to show the difference, to be honest and to be fair,” he says. “But I’m not sure if social media can help customers do that.”