Middle East F&B professionals have their work cut out planning outlets for the region’s numerous hotels – but what are the key points and pitfalls of devising a property’s culinary portfolio? Lucy Taylor finds out
The Middle East’s hotel dining scene is arguably one of the most diverse in the world.
Given the huge investment in hundreds of new hotels – each boasting a plethora of F&B outlets– the guest is spoilt for choice.
But actually creating that portfolio, realising the perfect mix of concepts to suit a particular clientele, is no mean feat.
“Conceptualising F&B outlets, with a new hotel and a blank canvas, is both exciting and overwhelming,” concedes Thomas Tapken, vice president – operations for Millennium Hotels & Resorts Middle East.
“Start with the basics: an analysis of what already exists in the area, identifyingthe concepts currently in fashion, the long-term successes and the expectations of your target audience,” he advises.
“You also have to analyse the actual space available within the hotel, along with the positioning and identity of the property.”
This process requires the expertise of a whole range of hospitality and F&B professionals, explains Philippe Montaubin – cluster general manager for Novotel, Adagio Premium and Ibis Dubai Al Barsha.
“It is essential for the F&B director, operations manager and executive chef to get involved almost a year before the actual opening date,” he asserts.
Simon Casson, regional vice president and general manager of the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, adds that including the designer from the early stages can be a boon: “By involving both designer and chef, it ensures the direction and general flow of the project (in terms of both style and logistics) remain symbiotic and grow simultaneously.”
For certain projects, hotels may decide to engage additional out-of-house expertise.Enrico Clementi, managing partner at F&B consulting and design firm Tribe Creators, notes that external opinions combined with specialistinsight can streamline the process.
“Too often, the decision regarding F&B mix is based on random opinions, comparisons with existing hotels,or simply rushing to fill a perceived gap in the market,” he observes.
“Every hotel needs to be treated differently. The days of going down a checklist and ticking off Italian, Japanese and steakhouse concepts are over. A hotel’s F&B offering should be unique to that property, andfit with increasingly demanding and well-travelled clients.”
External expertise is also available at Thomas Klein International (TKI): a firm offering consultancy, design and management services to the hospitality, entertainment and leisure industries.
Principal and managing director Daniel During asserts that any new F&B project should start with four basic principles: “Add value to the entire property; create clear differentiation factors; create competitive advantage in each F&B concept; and consider Dubai trends, but don’t follow them.”
Setting the style
With so much to take into consideration, developing an F&B portfolio from scratch seems a daunting task. But anyjourney must start with a single step:in this case, selecting the themes.
According to Clementi, the decision must be based on “thorough research, taking into account aspects such as existing competition, catchment areas, customer demand and so on”.
“This identity needs to match the ultimate objective for that specific outlet; for example, an Italian restaurant could be stylish, classic, modern – and that direction impacts everything from design to staff uniforms. So it’s really important this is established from the start,” he adds.
At DusitThani Abu Dhabi, director of F&B Rami Zok advocates the importance of strategic planning. “This is the process of matching the company’s goals and resources to opportunities in the marketplace and helps you marry the F&B concept to the local area”, he explains.
This combination of professional expertise and market research is vital – particularly in a region where there are already so many diverse dining options; asFadeelWehbe, general manager at the recently opened Pullman Jumeirah Lakes Towers, notes.
“Trendy themes tend to go out of fashion quickly, and the cost of bringing a concept to market can be immense. As a sizeable brand, we have a number of tried and true concepts to call on, but we also have to take in to account what’s in the market – and in Dubai particularly, we’re already spoilt for choice,” he admits.
During agrees that originality is vital to an outlet’s long-term success – and voices concern that, all too often, Middle East operators fall back on tired concepts.
“It is sad to see that a lot of the things we have now in Dubai, not only in terms of F&B concepts but also architectural styles, are already somewhere else,” he observes, adding the warning: “If you follow the herd, you will only go as far as the herd goes.”
During’s advice? “First and foremost stop copying and introducing franchises. Develop your own concepts after investigating what’s on offer, and do nothing that’s already here and done.”
Too many cooks…
Teams developing multiple new outlets will have to deal with some obvious challenges – such as sticking to the budget and meeting deadlines.
But according toTapken, one of the most common problems in devising an F&B portfolio is simply “differences of opinion” among those involved.
As Clementi puts it, when it comes to food and beverage “everyone has an opinion”; and deciding which one should become a reality can be a long conversation.
During believes such issuesarise when hoteliers without an F&B background become overly preoccupied with old-school practices: “Hoteliers are, in general, not restaurateurs…and are reluctant to implement anything that may be a bit ‘non-traditional’,” he comments.
“I come from a hotel background and have been on both sides of the fence. Hoteliers need to understand that the old concepts of coffee shops and all-day-dining outlets are over, and new concepts need to be implemented to replace them.”
Tapkenbelievesattitudes can be a problem across the board.“Laziness and lack of passion is yet another challenge – you will always encounter those with the opinion that ‘we’ve always done it like this, so why change what’s always worked’.
“But an outlet without passion will just be a place people eat because they have to,” he asserts. “It will never be the restaurant people are willing to queue for.”
Happily, recent years have seen growing enthusiasm amongst Middle East hospitality professionalsfor raising the bar when it comes to new concepts.
Wehbe notes: “We wanted to bring something a little different into the community, something that would appeal to our in-house guests. But it’s important to remember that you might face issues of sourcing, or marketing a venue, if has an overly complex theme.”
Turning up the heat
Confirming concepts may be the start of a long process, but as Zok points out, some aspects of this process are pretty enjoyable: “The most fun step is to choose the name. That should reflect the theme, region, country or ingredients of the outlet,” he explains.
Developers must also go through the all-important process of checking the name is unique, and that it has no negative connotations in other languages.
Design is the next big focus, demanding a careful balance of style and practicality – whilst simultaneously taking into account region-specific requirements.
Montaubin expands: “There should be family seating options such as private booths – and if you want to serve pork, you need to take that into account in the kitchen layout and get the necessary permits. You also need to apply for a license to serve alcohol, and get official permission for any live entertainment.”
Wehbe flags up the need for “seating areas for women and families that allow them to protect their privacy”.
These details are followed by menu development andteam recruitment.
“Working out the staffing guide, followed by the recruitment process, is a pivotal step. A good team creates good service, which is of the utmost importance,” says Casson.
The outlet should now be at the stage where it is stocking up, conducting staff training, and hosting ‘dry run’ dinners with invited guests.
Furthermore, the management should by nowhave a good idea of how the business will evolve, Casson continues. “The costs for operating supplies and equipment procurement, along with the forecast profit, loss and revenue projections, should all have been forecast,” he says.
The final stage is promoting the new entity – which means a lot more today than traditional advertising, says Zok: “Nowadays the use of social media sites seems to be the most efficient way to spread the word about a new F&B venue; you have to tackle those areas,” he asserts.
Built to last
The Middle East has a huge number of restaurant and bar offerings, with new launches or revamps happening all the time. So how can hotels ensure their concepts stand out – and last?
Tapken says it comes down to continual assessment and investment: “Even with comprehensive initial research and groundwork, the ongoing success of any outlet requires effective marketing and public relations support, to build and maintain awareness.”
Naturally, a key part of any marketing drive is to understand“exactly what type of customer you’re targeting”, as Clementi points out.
“Food is at the heart of a restaurant, so in terms of priorities the food offering and quality has to come first,” he says. “Then all other aspects like branding, uniforms, service and interiors must be in synergy, to give the diner a 360-degree experience.”
There are also multiple factors to consider to guarantee customer loyalty stresses Montaubin:“We make sure we use high quality products, and conduct internal checks such as tasting and inspection of produce, to ensure that standards are maintained.
“There’s also regular staff training, and we introduce special promotions for occasions such as Eid.”
At the end of the day, as Wehbeputs it, consistency is the vital ingredient: “People are keen to try something new – but if you have that combination right, you’ll build upa following of regulars who will always come back.”