Van Porleng, president of the recently formed Cambodia Restaurant Association speaks out about the quality of standards, service and regulation in the Kingdom’s multitude of eateries
Could you tell us about the establishment of the Cambodia Restaurant Association (CRA)?
The CRA was established in February 2010. Following the government’s prakas on standards, the Ministry of Tourism wanted an association which would be an official voice in the industry to be created.
Our vision is that we would like the restaurant industry to become one of the leading industries in Cambodia.
We want every partner and stakeholder in the food and beverage industry to establish a flourishing and serene relationship.
Why has the CRA been set up at this moment in time?
The time is right now because you can see that every day restaurants and coffee shops open in Cambodia. That means that the industry is growing very, very fast.
If you don’t have one association or one entity to structure the sector from the base up, the industry will become messy and will not be able to grow.
The CRA can help improve service standards in the industry to become uniform and to reach the ASEAN standards.
We also would like to play a role in the tourist market by promoting restaurants so visitors can eat local and international food.
Is the CRA independent?
We are absolutely the independent association – the government can not get involve in our management.
But we still need and want to work with the government to establish standards.
Could you discuss the progress the association has made so far?
Our board of directors has carried out a lot of meetings.
We have also seen members one by one to find out what their priorities are. We also create press releases and an e-newsletter to send to members.
There are now two priorities that our members want.
One is an improvement in education for those wanting to enter the industry.
The second priority is that now restaurant owners are facing many fees to pay.
We want to establish a standardised checklist of fees, detailing licences, fire security, hygiene inspections and so on.
How is the CRA going to be transparent in profit-generating and management?
The association is not for profit. We created the association to help the sector.
All the profits and accounts of our activities are approved or checked by the board directly.
Every year we will hold a general assembly with all the members and we will present the budget and the real expenses.
If the CRA found that a member has not complied with rules or breached regulations, how would it address the issue?
To become a member of CRA is very simple. They, of course, need to follow Cambodia’s laws and regulations and not carry out illicit or forbidden activities.
If it happened, the CRA has to right to immediately terminate the membership. If a member carried out an illegal act, we can hold an urgent extraordinary meeting to talk about the case.
What do you think about Cambodia’s present restaurant service compared to other countries in the region such as Vietnam, Thailand or Laos?
I think that we have a very good service which is very friendly and humble. I have also found that mostly we speak English more than other countries in Asia and are very interested in learning fast.
The bad point is that the quality of service is sometimes good and sometimes bad, and there is sometimes a lack of initiative.
Do you see any effort by the government to improve restaurant services to meet international standards?
Yes. The prakas on standards is proof that the government wants to improve the national standard of the restaurant industry.
The government also does quite a lot of marketing promotion on national and international TV channels to promote the country.
How many restaurants are there in Cambodia?
Figures we received from the Ministry of Tourism say there are 800 registered restaurants. But, I think there may be three times more [unregistered] outlets in the country.
We need to work with the government to have official data for the industry. We don’t know how many restaurants there are or how many schools [for tourism] there are.
What are the main challenges for the sector in the next 12 months?
Competitiveness in the sector is a challenge.
Restaurants open every day, and many are giving special offers. This lowers prices in the market.
While this is good for the client, as they have increased choice at cheaper rates, it is difficult for the private sector, as the cost of supplies is up at the moment.
The second challenge is to establish standards in the sector.
How was the restaurant industry affected by the economic crisis? Did many go out of business?
Yes, it affected it in two ways. On one hand, we saw a blossoming of restaurants offering lower prices. But for people who owned outlets offering higher prices, I can say they suffered during the crisis because everybody was trying to reduce their costs.
Are you optimistic with the progress of CRA in the future?
I am very optimistic and very confident. I think industry professionals will understand the purpose of the association and they will embrace that.
The association has a lot to do. It is not easy but we are very motivated, and I am sure we will get more and more members as time goes on. We will be able to form a group and speak with a common voice.