COVID-19 Crisis: The Challenges and Opportunities for Macau Restaurants

By Yvonne Chen

IFTM Comments is a partnership between Macau News Agency and Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

Macau is known as “Las Vegas of the East.” There had been a stable increase of total visitor arrivals over the past ten years, and in 2019, the figure of total visitor arrival hit a new high of 39,406,181[1]. Moreover, the city’s vibrant Macanese culinary legacy has paved the way for Macau to be recognized as a “Creative City of Gastronomy” by UNESCO and to emerge as a culinary destination in Asia.

Dr. Yvonne Chen is an assistant professor at Macao Institute for Tourism Studies

Tourists who visit Macau can enjoy exquisite food at different Michelin restaurants in the mega-sized integrated resorts, as well as find authentic local delicacies at small local restaurants. However, the prosperity of business has dramatically changed since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. The devastating crisis has significantly affected the tourism and hospitality industries worldwide. Macau is no exemption. Many restaurants in this city have suffered from a substantial decrease of customers, especially those targeting at tourists.

The first quarter of 2020 is considered the most seriously COVID affected period in Macau. During that time, many hotel restaurants had no choice but to temporarily close their businesses because of few customers. When restaurants were re-opened, managers faced various external and internal challenges, such as shortage of manpower, instable supply of ingredients and changing customer base.

These problems are especially serious for Western restaurants because in many cases, the key persons (i.e., Restaurant Manager and Executive Chef) are expatriates and many of their front-line workers come from South East Asia. When these people could not return to Macau, the service and kitchen teams needed to be reformed based on limited human resources.

In addition, high-end restaurants have experienced difficulty in purchasing diverse ingredients from oversea suppliers, and therefore, had to review and revise the menu so as to assure quality services. Another common challenge that many restaurants have faced is the changing target market. Before COVID-19, Macau received visitors from the mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and other countries. During the pandemic, the vast majority of customers have been mainland Chinese and local people. In response to such change, restaurants are required to adjust their service style and marketing plan.

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As of now, it is still unknown when we can resume the normal life. The market and business environment remain highly uncertain because COVID-19 crisis has not yet come to an end. Nevertheless, crisis creates opportunity! When business was great in previous years, many restaurant managers were often overwhelmed with a lot of work and had meetings back-to-back every day.

This slow business period may be a good time for reviewing and rethinking their business model, strategies and tactics. It may also be a good time to carry out work that they couldn’t do during peak periods, for instance, facility maintenance and renovation. Although there are many difficulties during this unusual times, it is important that restaurant owners and managers stay agile and resilient so as to cope with the fast changing environment. 

[1]Macao Tourism Data plus (2021). Total Visitor Arrival. Retrieved July 26, 2021, from