Why high-end, Miche­lin-star res­tau­rants are shut­ting down in Sin­ga­pore

Sin­ga­pore is per­haps not at a junc­ture which can whole­heart­edly ac­cept lux­ury res­tau­rants, an an­a­lyst said.

Singapore Business Review - - CONTENTS - Danielle Mae V. Isaac

When the late celebrity Miche­lin-starred chef Joël Robu­chon an­nounced the clo­sure of Joël Robu­chon Restau­rant and L’ate­lier de Joël Robu­chon in June, an­a­lysts were quick to ask: are Sin­ga­pore­ans los­ing their palate for high-end res­tau­rants? In Fe­bru­ary, two-miche­lin starred Restau­rant An­dré also per­ma­nently hung the closed sign af­ter eight years of op­er­a­tions in Sin­ga­pore. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a shift to­wards open­ing smaller fine-din­ing res­tau­rants that are able to house be­tween 30-35 guests, or even less,” said Se­bastien Lepinoy, ex­ec­u­tive chef of two-miche­lin star restau­rant Les Amis.

When the stars lack lus­tre

This was echoed by In­side Re­tail

Asia direc­tor of con­tent Robert

Stock­dill when he com­mented on the re­cent clo­sure of three-miche­lin star restau­rant Joël Robu­chon, the only one of its kind in Sin­ga­pore.“there seems to be a trend in­ter­na­tion­ally that high-end res­tau­rants are be­com­ing less pop­u­lar as mid-grade res­tau­rants with a more re­laxed din­ing at­mos­phere—but still with a qual­ity food of­fer—take greater mar­ket share,” he said.

Lepinoy de­scribed th­ese new es­tab­lish­ments fur­ther and said, “Th­ese res­tau­rants are of­ten helmed by the chef, who are also the coowner. The food and the over­all fo­cus is usu­ally driven by the per­son­al­ity and cre­ativ­ity of the chef.”

The ex­ec­u­tive chef ob­served that, at times, it seems as though more fo­cus is paid to the artis­tic style of the chef com­pared to the art of ser­vice, which is com­prised of ser­vice stan­dards, cus­tomer jour­ney, ef­fi­ciency, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and knowl­edge, amongst oth­ers.

“The cui­sine is ei­ther western or lo­cally-in­spired when helmed by a lo­cal chef. I be­lieve they are still surf­ing on the wave of the north­ern Europe cui­sine, which is deemed ‘fash­ion­able.’ Usu­ally, th­ese res­tau­rants will have 1 or 2 menus and the dishes will be well-pre­sented,” he added.

Sav­ills Sin­ga­pore re­search & con­sul­tancy se­nior direc­tor Alan

Cheong said the shift to­wards th­ese

we’ve seen a shift to­wards open­ing smaller fine-din­ing res­tau­rants that are able to house be­tween 30-35 guests, or even less.

new types of F&B es­tab­lish­ments is beyond what is con­sid­ered fash­ion­able. “Per­son­ally, I be­lieve that we are still too early in the game to have Miche­lin star res­tau­rants here,” he said.

“For them to thrive, you will also need a lo­cal pop­u­lace that can ac­cept such haute cou­ture cui­sine. Un­for­tu­nately at this stage, I am not con­vinced that there are enough Sin­ga­pore­ans who would pay for this,” he added. “Sin­ga­pore­ans love food. How­ever, does the love for, say Char Kway Teow, Laksa, mean that their taste buds are ready for fine Western cui­sine?”for Cheong, Sin­ga­pore is per­haps not at a junc­ture which can whole­heart­edly ac­cept lux­ury res­tau­rants.

Chef An­dre Chi­ang, who gave up the two Miche­lin stars of Restau­rant An­dré and re­turned to Tai­wan last year, said that lack of sup­port put some F&B es­tab­lish­ments at a dis­ad­van­tage .“restau­rant AN­DRE was run­ning suc­cess­fully the past 10 years in Sin­ga­pore,” he said. “The only ‘dis­rup­tors’ I might say is that, for those who fought for the coun­try, bring­ing tourists in, putting Sin­ga­pore on the global map, should have some sup­port from govern­ment or the Min­istry of Man­power (MOM).”

Not only that, Cheong said food de­liv­ery com­pa­nies are mak­ing it harder for some of th­ese res­tau­rants to sur­vive. “With the many food de­liv­ery com­pa­nies dot­ting the busi­ness land­scape, they are both sym­bi­otic and cat­alytic to pro­pel F&B turnover even higher as it ex­tends their mar­ket reach. Un­for­tu­nately, for lux­ury res­tau­rants, where the din­ing in­forms the core ex­pe­ri­ence, th­ese food de­liv­ery com­pa­nies are of no help at all,” he added.

A recipe for dis­as­ter

For Sin­ga­pore, many high-end F&B es­tab­lish­ments, from res­tau­rants and cock­tail bars to night­clubs, are un­der grow­ing pres­sure from land­lords de­mand­ing high rents, In­side

Re­tail Asia’s Stock­dill said. Lepinoy con­curred that rents for F&BS are high and could go beyond 10% of the res­tau­rants’ rev­enue. How­ever, with the e-com­merce sec­tor “grow­ing stronger” and mak­ing it hard for land­lords to lure ten­ants, he does not fore­see that there will be a huge spike in rents.

“Many malls are empty, and shop spa­ces are va­cant, as cus­tomers are shop­ping on­line. Given this trend, it would make sense for land­lords to at least sta­bilise or de­crease the rent to de­ter ten­ants from tak­ing their busi­ness on­line or shift­ing their busi­ness else­where. In Hong Kong, prices didn’t de­crease, in­stead, it sta­bilised,” he added.

In the event that rev­enues de­cline due to the lack of pa­tron­age de­mand, fixed rents as a per­cent­age of turnover rise to a level that makes op­er­a­tions un­vi­able, Cheong said.

Lepinoy also noted that those who wish to open a high-end restau­rant in Sin­ga­pore (with a cheque of $100 on­wards per guest) will need a longer check­list more than ever to make sure they can en­dure head­winds in the sec­tor. “The restau­rant has to in­vest a lot in the dé­cor, man­power, and lo­ca­tion. The man­age­ment’s ap­proach has to be dif­fer­ent too, as open­ing a high-end restau­rant in­volves a lot of in­vest­ment,” he said.

More­over, de­pre­ci­a­tion should be cal­cu­lated based on 5-6 years rather than 2-3 years. “Next, it doesn’t mat­ter what cui­sine you are serv­ing, a very clear di­rec­tion has to be set, as cus­tomers need to know your unique sell­ing propo­si­tions (USP) and un­der­stand why they keep com­ing back to you,” Lepinoy added.

Cheong con­curred with the chef and said one must be “in sync with the mil­len­ni­als” to un­der­stand what miss­ing con­cept they are yearn­ing for here. “If we look at some of the suc­cess­ful F&B con­cepts here, it has a link back to Asian pop cul­ture, all things Korean and Thai and so we see F&B out­lets that sing to th­ese themes hav­ing a greater chance of suc­ceed­ing,” he said.

Lepinoy em­pha­sised that bud­ding high-end restau­ra­teurs must be able to clearly de­fine what cui­sine they are serv­ing. “Like­wise cus­tomers should be able to eas­ily un­der­stand the type of cui­sine you are serv­ing—be in clas­sic, in­no­va­tive, Chi­nese, Ja­panese, French, Ital­ian, and so on. In short, there is a lot more con­sid­er­a­tion re­quired due to the high in­vest­ment re­quired to open a fine-din­ing/high­end restau­rant,” he said.

In short, there is no mir­a­cle so­lu­tion that can be used to solve all prob­lems. Ev­ery restau­rant has to as­sess and see what is best for them and their con­cept, Lepinoy said. Chi­ang agreed and said, “I think ev­ery busi­ness has its cost, chal­lenge, and risk to take, be­ing a restau­ra­teur, un­der­stand the busi­ness, man­age cost, and prob­lem solv­ing is a skill that ev­ery owner need to have.”

Are high-end res­tau­rants los­ing their flavour?

Les Amis, Sin­ga­pore

Is it too early to have Micheln star res­tau­rants in Sin­ga­pore?

Les Amis’ caviar

Se­bastien Lepinoy

Robert Stock­dill

Alan Cheong

An­dre Chi­ang

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