Ralph Homer, CEO and co-founder of Lincoln Hospitality, and Restaurant Secrets Inc., has spent most of his life in the UAE in F&B, as an operator, trainer, consultant and business leader.
His leadership style is marked with a great sense of humour, genuine desire to serve all stakeholders and deep thirst for knowledge. His particular brand of expertise and ambition is marked with a vision to impact and improve both the business and social communities of the region. With more than 20 years of F&B leadership experience and a Master’s in Business from the University of Hartford, USA, Ralph, a family man and avid reader, is committed to leading from the heart and with a passion for excellence.
Ralph’s company vision is to remain a purpose-driven, result-focused business, and operate with a synergistic alliance of professionals who strategise, plan and impact prosperity for all. Lincoln Hospitality’s mission is to provide superbly experiential dining in premium locations in Middle East and Europe.
Tell us a bit more about Lincoln Hospitality – your venues, unique guest experiences and how the concepts came to be.
Lincoln Hospitality owns and operates premium F&B brands across Middle East and Europe. In the UAE, the following brands come under Lincoln Hospitality’s umbrella: La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie, Taikun, Distillery Gastropub, and The Loft at Dubai Opera.
La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie has established itself as the number one breakfast spot in the Downtown Dubai area, with most weekends seeing the outlet fully-booked – particularly for our newly-launched Champagne Breakfast in Bistro, also for our new Mademoiselle Ladies’ Night on Wednesdays.
Since its launch last year, Distillery Gastropub has fast become the area’s favourite local. It’s a place where friends meet to catch-up, watch live music and enjoy wholesome food and craft beverages. Distillery promises a good time till the early hours – it’s a fun spot. It offers everything from post-work happy hours, gastro dining and weekend brunches. With a seating capacity of 80 and a small outdoor terrace, it’s a cosy community hangout.
‘Taikun’ is an archaic Japanese term for respect, which once referred to an independent ruler who didn’t have any imperial lineage. Its literal meaning is ‘Great Lord & Prince’ or ‘Supreme Commander’. Our dining experience include brunches and ladies’ nights. With a seating capacity of 250, Taikun is the perfect venue for private and corporate events.
The Loft at Dubai Opera was conceived around the poetry of an oyster shell, and its award-winning design by Alexander & Co in association with Tribe Studio, is a harmony between oceanic architectural references and contemporary design. Each element pays tribute to the colours and tones of the sea, oyster and sea cliff.
Serving Modern European cuisine with emphasis on the freshest seafood and the best produce, The Loft has a glamorous atmosphere and seeks to be a timeless and sophisticated destination for the enthusiasts of fine food. It’s open for dinner, hosts a caviar brunch on Fridays, serves pre- and post-theatre dining, and offers live entertainment.
What are your core brand values?
At Lincoln Hospitality, we strive to have impeccable service standards. The quality of an experience will be remembered long after the price has been forgotten. Mindfulness and anticipative leadership form the key foundation of our service strategy.
Passion comes next. A desire and capacity to go above and beyond mediocrity is often what separates average performers and amateurs from extraordinary performers. When you pour passion into your work. and into your life, everything has more value. It creates interest, it gives meaning and it guarantees quality.
Then there’s excellence. Unlike perfectionism, excellence is a standard for personal achievement, totally immersed in the belief that we are capable and meant for much more than we fathom, think or conceive. And excellence is impossible without passion. We define ourselves as people filled with a passion to excel.
Lastly, we value consistency. It’s the difference between failure and success. Consistency allows for measurement, creates accountability, and establishes your reputation. It’s about being the same regardless of the situation. By focusing on people first, being consistent and always serving others, we can find success.
What was your “turnaround plan” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, the pandemic has disrupted business, but I’m the kind of person who thrives when something tries to push me down. The pandemic has brought out a refreshed hunger in me that pushes me to continually raise the bar and push for greatness during these tough times.
We’ve had to tighten our belts and really buckle down, but we’re already experiencing a turnaround in business – success is possible with the right formula. I refuse to cower in the face of a downturn. My way is to adapt, be flexible and work with my colleagues to push forward. From tough times comes greatness, always.
I’ve been though it before. I was here in UAE in 2008 and 1999 when we experienced downturns, and also in 1991 during the Gulf War. Times were tough, but we bounced back. During times like these it’s important to be lean in business and go back to basics.
We’re focusing on immaculate details and impeccable quality, whether in the ingredients we use, the presentation of dishes, or touches on our front-of-house service. We’re revisiting everything and ensuring we’re at the top of our game. We’re also currently going through a big rebranding to make us stand out from the crowd. Staying hungry for success during these times is vital.
What measures have you implemented and how have you mitigated the damage?
We have amazing teams in all our outlets – this isn’t a one man show. We have outstanding talent working with us at Lincoln Hospitality, and my employees are the ones who bring everything together during these challenging times. It’s because of these people and their exceptional work ethic and dedication that we survive.
We can’t ride forever on successes of the past, we must continually innovate, invest and push forward towards new activations, new trends and markets, investing in public relations, strengthening relationships with our customers and establishing new ones. Evolution is key. We live in the present, yes, but we must always anticipate what is to come. This is how I operate.
Pushing forward on all fronts with new ideas, and staying upbeat and energetic to keep up with the market’s demand.
In terms of the UAE restaurant market, I’m a big believer in research and observation, so I dedicate time to visiting other restaurants in the area to see how they are managing during this time. Last weekend, I tried to make a reservation at a handful of restaurants for a Friday night and all were fully booked. So, I’m positive that we’re already on the road to recovery.
We, of course, need to take into consideration that places are not operating at 100% and tables need to be socially distanced, but in time, the industry will make a full recovery and I believe we’re already making progress. I believe that 2021 is our year here in the UAE, especially with Expo coming.
Has your relationship with suppliers changed in any way?
Many of our supplier relationships have actually been strengthened throughout all of this. I have personally met with our suppliers to ensure we will continue to work closely together and get through these challenging times together. Our relationships are long-term and we will continue to move forward.
You have directly and indirectly been involved with 261 F&B brands across different GCC markets, how different is the F&B world in the region from the rest of the world?
What works in Europe or North America, might not always work in the GCC region. The unique melting pot of the nationalities around this region makes it different from the rest of the world. The culture here plays a role, and so does the diversity in consumer taste buds – all of this makes a huge difference in how we operate and market our brands.
Can disruptive technology help the new industry revolution?
Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. Those that ignore it and its value will be left behind. Currently, we’re developing our own in-house loyalty apps for our customers, as well as collecting data to understand consumer behaviour and adapting our internal technologies to cater to their needs. Artificial Intelligence is the future.
How will marketing messages change in the future, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic?
Our marketing efforts are based around the company’s core values. Exceptional service and the safety of our guests have always been a priority in our restaurants and that hasn’t changed. We’ve made additional efforts to show our guests the safety precautions we’ve taken in our restaurants to ensure their safety.
Our focus is on what our team is doing day in and out, the guest experience, the effort the culinary team has put into each dish served to our diners, and being authentic in what we do in our brands.
Where do you stand now and where are you directing future growth?
In market downturns, there’s always opportunity. Lincoln Hospitality is taking this time to penetrate new markets, including Riyadh, London, and Monaco.
We’re already on track to launch the La Serre brand in King Abdullah Financial District, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia later this year, and we have further expansion plans for 2021, including a brand-new outlet in the Marina end of Dubai. We’re also launching a Dark Kitchen model, with a facility set to launch in DIFC by October.
We have to be adaptable in business, and I truly believe in pushing higher during difficult times to achieve success.