How Fine Dining Restaurants In M’sia Handled The COVID-19 Pandemic
During the AGC, many catering companies were forced to switch from catering to exclusive delivery.
However, this could have been a challenge for fine dining restaurants, as they typically use the adage “eat with your eyes first” in their dishes and base their reputation on providing a high quality dining experience.
With that in mind, we asked 3 food chefs how they managed to support their businesses during the pandemic.
1. Akâr restoration
Akâr Dining is a modern French gourmet restaurant that opened on March 9 at TTDI just a week before the start of the MCO.
We have already written about them as one of the 10 restaurants in Klang Valley that were launched during the pandemic.
Being a brand new restaurant, building a brand reputation at such a time was one of their biggest challenges.
They had created a limited edition takeout menu of simpler dishes not for the purpose of boosting sales, but more for brand awareness.
“It was done to draw more attention to our style of food and hopefully convert these customers to try eating with us as soon as it becomes available,” said Aiden Low, Head Chef of Akâr Dining.
As the nature of their cuisine had to be consumed within a specific timeframe from leaving the kitchen, temperatures were important.
One of the issues with food deliveries was the inability to control the temperature of the food, which would affect the customer experience.
“Therefore, we decided to launch large French-based meals with a little twist like our main food delivery menu,” he said.
This menu change also forced Aiden to take a closer look at the ingredients he used in the meals.
As the import of ingredients was nearly impossible thanks to the stoppage of flights, Akâr Dining was faced with ingredient supply issues.
Thus, Aiden looked at more locally available products to minimize the use of imported products.
“Malaysia is full of seafood with lots of potential. Cameron Highlands has the perfect climate to host a large number of native and non-native seeds, giving us a wide range of selections to work with, ”he explained.
Finding similar substitutes was also one of the ways they overcame their logistical challenges, like replacing butter with animal fat, for example.
2. Finally by James Won
Finally by James Won is another French restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Their niche focuses on preserving Asian heritage through the use of specific ingredients.
Above the AGC, Finally operated as a charity kitchen serving 1,000 meals per week.
They had to figure out what types of packaging would work for their food while maintaining hygiene, sterilization and how to store their meals for half a day without compromising the taste and overall integrity of the food.
From this experience, they then collaborated with BadBoyCooks and launched FinallyX, a delivery platform to provide luxurious comfort to their customers.
After dinners were cleared again, Team Finally was greeted by unsightly guests at the scene – pests.
Their eradication has become their first priority, in addition to complying with the government’s social distancing SOPs.
“Pest control was a big deal as many companies weren’t able to do their routine maintenance and pests became rampant throughout our building. It took a few weeks to master it, ”said James Won, owner and chef of Enfin.
When Finally reopened to customers, they focused on service and entertainment for corporate customers.
“We listened to our customers to find out what they wanted for the future and what their needs were to entertain their business customers,” he said.
James curated a new menu focused on more local ingredients, offered a free cap for the first 2 months, and reduced the number of dishes in a tasting to be mindful of reducing serving time.
Dictionary time: Tasting involves tasting small portions of all of a chef’s signature dishes in one sitting.
“We didn’t operate for lunch and kept those hours for our delivery service as we have a lot of corporate clients who rely on these for their long Zoom meetings,” James said.
The team has also lowered the minimum spending fee for regular VIPs who dine in their private dining rooms.
“By doing all of this, we were getting more new customers because our barrier of entry was at a comfortable price,” he said.
Despite the challenges, none of their employees suffered any layoffs or pay cuts, and their wages were paid on time.
“Their well-being was our number one priority. We want our team to be able to serve with warm hospitality and not be concerned with issues other than ensuring the level of customer satisfaction, ”said James.
3. Nobu Kuala Lumpur
Nobu Kuala Lumpur does not need to be presented in its prestige for Japanese-Peruvian cuisine.
Originally established in 1994 in New York City, the Kuala Lumpur rooftop restaurant is one of its 29 franchises around the world.
During the CMCO, the Nobu At Home menu was launched to deliver their personalized menu items to their customers’ doors.
To further personalize the experience, deliveries were made by the staff themselves.
“We have personalized the menu taking into account the impact of logistics on certain dishes.”
“This meant that we only included dishes that would retain the same quality, texture and feel even after delivery,” said Executive Chef Philip Leong.
The radius of the delivery locations was also limited so as not to compromise the quality of their food.
Since they wouldn’t have been able to replicate the veneer in store, Nobu used stylish packaging to make up for it.
Once they were able to re-authorize the dinners, they knew their high prices could drive customers away, especially in a volatile time when most lost their jobs or received pay cuts.
“This meant that when we reopened our doors, we had to be sensitive to the current climate and Malaysian enthusiasm to finally dine out after months at home,” he said.
They had to come up with a promotional offer that met customer needs and compensate for the losses suffered by the foreclosure.
Therefore, they launched the “Omakase menu for two” promotion, which was more affordable at around RM400 for 2 people, to allow regular customers to dine more frequently, while also encouraging new customers to try their food.
“The response has been overwhelming and we have continued with several promotions based on the same mechanic,” he said.
Another initiative put in place by the restaurant was to allow customers to watch certain dishes being prepared at their table.
These were made available to those who ordered their promotional dish during the dinner service.
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These chefs and their establishments definitely embodied the idiom “Where there is a will, there is a way”.
We thought it was almost impossible to truly extend the dining experience beyond the four walls of a luxury establishment, but they proved us wrong.
It has been a tough time for all businesses without a doubt, and it was no different for food establishments.
However, we believe they will all emerge from this pandemic stronger and wiser.
- You can read how other industries in Malaysia handled business during the pandemic here.
Featured Image Credit: Aidan Low, Head Chef at Akâr Dining / James Won, Owner and Head Chef at Finally by James Won / Philip Leong, Executive Chef at Nobu Kuala Lumpur
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