Hong Kong: Launched in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Monogic is a full-service Food & Beverage marketing agency focused on creating bespoke services for individual client’s needs. Led by a dynamic duo pair, Alexandra Leung and Kieran Gibb, this team has grown from strength to strength. Today, their portfolio continues to build a solid name, with notable clients like Fireside, La Paloma, Quiero Más, Little Bao, Mott 32, La Paloma, Maison Meiji, and Matchali, to name a few. They also launched a sister company ContentFox, a content production studio.
Here, Set the Tables speaks to founders Alexandra and Kieran about their start, industry brands and tools every restaurant must adopt to brand their restaurants.
Table of Contents
- To start, tell us more about your background and love for food and the industry.
- Setting up a creative agency focusing on F&B Marketing is no easy feat. What sets Monogic apart from the competition?
- What was it like starting a business during the pandemic?
- Can you share your most challenging and rewarding project to date? What are your learnings?
- Longevity in building a creative agency (and hospitality industry) is more desired now than ever. What are the guiding principles at Monogic, and how did they come about?
- What are the three secret sauces (tools) every restaurant must adopt to market their restaurants?
- Many business owners right now do not have the privilege of having a dedicated marketing person or engaging an agency. What basics do owners need to know when managing their marketing?
- The restaurant scene in Hong Kong is one of the most competitive in the world. In your opinion, which are the top 3 restaurants (or bars) in Hong Kong that caught your attention?
- Any industry trends that you see taking off within these two years?
- Last but not least, what’s next for Monogic for the rest of the year and 2023?
To start, tell us more about your background and love for food and the industry.
Kieran: Food for me has been a deep interest from an early age. I recall many occasions from ages of only around 7 or 8 at trendy dining spots in London’s Soho or fine seafood restaurants of Europe, diving into the weirder and wilder dishes of menus to excite my culinary curiosity.
I’ve definitely been fortunate being raised in such a world-class dining scene as London’s, and I think it set me on the path to being part of this industry. This passion for dining has blossomed into a deep understanding and love for the businesses that make this industry so exciting.
Alexandra: My love for the Food & Beverage industry stems largely from my cousin who hugely influenced me. She was actually the first Food Designer in Asia to graduate with a Master’s degree in Food Design, and I truly admire her as a trailblazer.
We still work together on projects from time to time and it’s always a pleasure. She also brought me to my first PR event when I was 20, the launch event of Osteria Marzia. While I think this passion had already been brewing by this point, I recognise this as the moment that truly sparked my passion for the industry.
It’s so fast-paced, ever-evolving, and creative; and completely powered by genuinely passionate people. I love that working with restaurants and bars today is curating an experience that people will encounter in their daily lives – whether it’s a quick midday bite on a busy day, or a celebratory banquet with loved ones.
Setting up a creative agency focusing on F&B Marketing is no easy feat. What sets Monogic apart from the competition?
Kieran: I think one of the things that makes Monogic so special in F&B is that we’re not afraid to get stuck in and take on the whole department. We put the focus on who we serve and we want to take care of all of the needs for that persona.
There aren’t any other agencies in Hong Kong that are designed specifically for taking ultimate responsibility for the entire marketing needs for restaurants, bars, and food-related businesses.
I think this really shows when looking at some of the restaurant groups we work with, where we completely comprise the marketing department and oversee multiple restaurants under each, bringing success through the entire scope of marketing services – Social Media, Advertising, PR & Media Engagement, Influencer, Events & Private Hires, SEO, Reviews, Website Development, and Digital Marketing curating the customer experience online.
We provide all the marketing power of leading restaurants group’s in-house teams, as an agency, which is powerful.
Alexandra: There aren’t any agencies in Hong Kong at the moment that specialise in F&B to the extent that we do. We serve only F&B businesses and have a team that includes several former in-house marketers of some of Hong Kong’s leading restaurant and hospitality groups.
We’re special in that we’re offering the ‘restaurant group’ experience for F&B businesses of all sizes, and we really can handle everything.
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What was it like starting a business during the pandemic?
The pandemic has obviously caused incredible damage to the F&B industry over the past 2 and a half years. It’s difficult to say that it’s helped us, but I think it shook the foundations of many businesses in the industry and forced them to find solutions that were more business-oriented over existing solutions on offer, which produce set deliverables for one service area, and in most cases without the same level of specialisation or expertise that is required for restaurants and bars.
The language for these businesses is completely different and the way they operate are unlike ‘lifestyle’ brands. With respect to the industry and the tumultuous times we’re in, I would say that this helped us open dialogue with businesses early in our growth.
Can you share your most challenging and rewarding project to date? What are your learnings?
Kieran: It is truly humbling to be trusted by some of Hong Kong’s most respected and reputable restaurant and bar brands and to be able to work alongside them to create real impact.
So many of our projects have been so incredibly rewarding, it’s certainly challenging to whittle down to one or two. One of our first clients was Maximal Concepts, a world-renowned and Hong Kong-leading restaurant group, responsible for global brand Mott 32, as well as favourite beachside spots Sip Song and Limewood.
This was our first project working with a group and a real milestone for us so early on. Being able to continue working together almost two years later is a dream come true, continuing to create scroll-stopping content and supporting their fantastic team.
Another project that I’ll always hold close to my heart is La Paloma in Sai Ying Pun. We started working with La Paloma very early on in our company, in around March 2021 and is a restaurant we still work with to this day.
Chef Alex Fargas is passionate about his restaurant and the food he cooks stems from his roots, which made working together truly enjoyable.
In our first 6 months working together, the average covers served has effectively doubled and La Paloma regained its reputation for the best Spanish food in Hong Kong, and becoming a true Hong Kong F&B Institution in the process. Chef Alex’s wild and exciting ideas together with the Monogic team’s efforts providing 360-degree marketing propelled La Paloma to success.
Longevity in building a creative agency (and hospitality industry) is more desired now than ever. What are the guiding principles at Monogic, and how did they come about?
Kieran: There are plenty of agencies in Hong Kong that will do a stellar job with creative, with marketing, or with PR, but when these elements are engaged independently, there can be a lot of gaps and it often doesn’t quite produce the impact desired.
To give an example of this that I’ve come across before, we’ve seen videos for Youtube ad placements be filmed, edited, and created with almost no consideration of the placement itself.
A mysterious and suggestive introduction that is pleasing to the eye, but does not deliver any message or branding at all in the initial 5 seconds which will be the only part of the ad that 95% of the audience will see before skipping.
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There is so much more power and value when everything is strategised and executed together by one cohesive and highly-specialised team. Our goal is to be able to provide all the same power and specialisation as leading restaurant and hospitality groups.
We’ve seen so many occasions where restaurants that aren’t under a group are engaging support that focuses on one area – advertising, public relations, or social media – and believe that they are “marketing”. These businesses never see the results they desire and truly need 360-degree marketing support that gives them the marketing power they need.
Alexandra: We see ourselves as partners with the businesses we work with. Coming from a background working in-house at JIA Group, we strive to create an “in-house” experience with our clients. By our “full-service” nature, we see ourselves as an extension of the restaurant team over anything else, giving the same care and attention to our full-service clients that venues under a group would benefit from.
What are the three secret sauces (tools) every restaurant must adopt to market their restaurants?
Kieran & Alexandra: If we were to summarise to just three principles, we would suggest restaurant marketers and owners to consider:
Awareness – Do your target customers know your restaurant? Do they know what you serve, how you identify, and most crucially, how do they imagine the experience at their restaurant? How can we propagate the sights, the smells, the tastes; as much as possible?
With amazing, visually descriptive content, put them across to as many platforms as possible. Restaurants may at times be reluctant to invest in great content, but we consistently see a 500-1000% increase in the number of people seeing the restaurant’s content when we create well-planned, high-quality Reels (video content) on Instagram. All the while, we’re also being much more descriptive with our reflection of the experience at the restaurant.
Reputation – Who is talking about your restaurant and what are they saying? Do the magazines and publications covering your restaurant appeal to the interests of your intended audience and how are they shaping how the restaurant is perceived?
I’ve seen many cases where a bar becomes regarded as a cafe, or a restaurant considered a bar – in any case the conversations seeded are ill-fit for the venues and cause serious problems for the business.
Intent – Once we’re creating noise and people are between the “awareness” and “consideration” stages of their journey, how are we curating the experience for the potential customers? What information do they need in order to comfortably make the decision to book, and how easy is it to get?
For example, I may be seeing a restaurant in a magazine and want to do a search to see if they accept dogs or are suitable for families. I may want to see their menu as well. These details could be the very quick and easy deciders for a customer- for many customers!
Once I have this information and I’m looking at the venue policies/FAQs/menus, how easy is it for me to book? Do I have to go to Whatsapp and describe my needs and situation in text with a little back-and-forth with the reservations team to arrange available booking slots…. or can I see when is available and add my reservation details with a check a box or two to get instant confirmation?
Many business owners right now do not have the privilege of having a dedicated marketing person or engaging an agency. What basics do owners need to know when managing their marketing?
Kieran: Marketing a restaurant is a precision art. You need the right balance of drinks and food, careful selection of which dishes should be signatures, and bias of channels to market to to completely influence how customers will be interacting with your business, how you will be viewed and which areas of the business will succeed or fail.
Alexandra: Marketing on brand-owned channels can be raw, unpolished, and off-the-cuff if it aligns with the accessibility of the brand, but you may want to create a much more polished and careful execution for venues with a higher average spend.
The restaurant scene in Hong Kong is one of the most competitive in the world. In your opinion, which are the top 3 restaurants (or bars) in Hong Kong that caught your attention?
Kieran: Having considered that very fact, it’s truly impressive when a new venue opens in Hong Kong that is a “first” or “only” of anything. Fireside opened in September 2021 with something that Hong Kong had never seen before – a remarkable feat – with an open-fire concept that forgoes electricity or gas and cooks with nothing more than woodfire. Inspired by some of the most interesting restaurants in the world – Asador Etxebarri, Firedoor, Ekstedt, bringing the very best of produce from around the world and serving it in their most intrinsic states with full-frontal ‘flame-forged’ flavour.
Alexandra: La Paloma is definitely one of the places I return to the most. You are always greeted with a big, warm smile and the venue stimulates a casual energy that makes every experience enjoyable. Chef Alex Fargas, chef-owner of the venue cooks straight from the heart and it shows in his homely flavours and passionate attitude towards his dishes.
Any industry trends that you see taking off within these two years?
Kieran: I have long said that Hong Kong’s F&B industry, being the world-class dining scene that it is, is far overdue a transformation. The industry’s over-reliance on traditional marketing forms, while effective, are outdated compared to the restaurant industries in similarly-developed cities such as London, Tokyo, and Berlin.
I certainly see restaurant owners beginning to ask the right questions – “What’s working?” “Where are my customers coming from?” “Where am I wasting marketing budget?”. Restaurant marketers and agencies in Hong Kong that can grapple with the fiddly and unforgiving inner workings of attribution will thrive. (p.s. We already do this!)
Alexandra: Content is about to see a huge shift across the globe in coming months – and nowhere more so than in Hong Kong. As Hong Kong has still yet to adopt a version of Tik Tok/Douyin and Instagram still being one of the most widely-used social media platforms, the recent news that Instagram will be shifting to a video-first platform will be making waves across the types of content that restaurants and bars post.
While the majority of restaurants are still predominantly using Photography for the basis of their content marketing, we’ve been developing large amounts of short video content for our restaurant clients in anticipation of this shift – and our clients are reaping the benefits with a consistent 400% – 500% increase in organic reach on Instagram alone.
Last but not least, what’s next for Monogic for the rest of the year and 2023?
Kieran: This year at Monogic, we’re in the midst of an expansion into Singapore following our first two incredible years, as well as doubling down on content production with the launch of sister company ContentFox. While we’re busy with our existing client projects and internal developments, we’re always very open and eager to start conversations about F&B marketing – my inbox is always open!
Find out more about Monogic here.