Rob Ainge, the man behind upmarket BKK restaurant Deco, talks to us about the hospitality industry in Phnom Penh.
Ainge’s brainchild Deco, an elegant art deco restaurant that specialises in modern European cuisine, enjoys a great deal of popularity in Phnom Penh among expats and the wealthier segments of the local population. Before opening Deco, Ainge started a number of other successful restaurants and bars around town.
B2B: Cambodia’s upscale restaurant/bar industry has steadily grown over the past five years. How has the increase of upmarket hospitality venues affected your own business?
Ainge: There has been significant growth in the hospitality sector as a whole over the last five years and this has led to increased trade. At Deco we have seen steady growth in the number of customers year on year since opening in 2012. I personally believe that a higher number of outlets offering a quality product and service are good for everybody. It increases the profile of Cambodia’s F&B scene as a whole, attracting more attention and in turn more visitors.
B2B: What trends have you noticed in the upscale restaurant market between those that have thrived and those that haven’t succeeded in Cambodia?
Ainge: As the market becomes more sophisticated, demand for consistent quality increases. New venues are under pressure to consider their consumer’s experience as a whole and offer quality across the board.
B2B: What would you identify as being your target market and what tactics have you found to appeal to this particular audience? How have you had to adjust your tactics to increase/pique the interest of this particular niche as more venues continue to appear?
Ainge: When we were opening Deco we saw our target market as being predominantly the expatriate market which is still true today, although we have seen an increase in the number of locals frequenting the restaurant. Again it comes down to consistency and quality. We have a relatively small menu that allows us to prepare fresh food every day. It is this commitment to freshly prepared food that I believe our customers appreciate.
B2B: What, if any, niches do you notice in the food and beverage market in Cambodia that still need to be filled or improved upon?
Ainge: I think the upscale bar scene still has a way to go. Although there has been some welcome recent additions. In general I think the service side of things still needs improvement. Often new venues overlook the importance of a well-trained FOH team.
B2B: How will the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) affect Cambodia’s Hospitality and Tourism industry?
Ainge: This is not my area of expertise but it can only be a good thing! Increased regional economic co-operation will have long term benefits for everybody.
B2B: To what extent do you think social media plays a role in promoting hospitality businesses?
Ainge: Social media is important, especially to the local market. It often represents a very effective way of introducing new customers to your business and reminding previous visitors of what you have going on at any given time. I would also say it is an essential tool in marketing specific events and promotions.
B2B: What’s your view on online review websites such as TripAdvisor?
Ainge: Although I recognise that they may seem like a useful tool for the consumer, as an operator, these sites can be frustrating. They are far too open to abuse and your avenues for recourse are unsatisfactory. Ultimately, it is not in the site’s own interest to properly mediate their own system as the number of reviews they publish is a direct indication of their popularity as a site.
B2B: How does seasonal fluctuation affect the hospitality and tourism industry in Cambodia and what systems can be put in place to ensure ongoing customers in low season?
Ainge: The seasonal nature of the tourism market can be problematic if that is what your business relies on. This is why attracting repeat local and residential customers is paramount.
B2B: How much do you rely upon a loyal customer following compared to tourists/one-off customers?
Ainge: Very much! At Deco we are lucky enough to have a great deal of repeat customers from a loyal base of customers which helps us to remain profitable year round. The increase in trade during the high season then becomes added value.
B2B: What key qualities should restaurant owners be looking for when recruiting employees?
Ainge: Employees need to be honest and hardworking, first and foremost. Everything else can be learnt through comprehensive ongoing training.
B2B: What advice would you give to someone hoping to start a business in the hospitality & tourism industry in Cambodia?
Ainge: Pick your location and concept carefully and be aware of how price sensitive the market is.