No need to get hot under the collar about UAE’s F&B industry

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There are multiple challenges, but nothing that a right mix cannot overcome

An oversupplied market. Turbo-charged tech evolution. Social media inflection points.

Shift in demographic equations. Proliferation of online platforms. Elevated customer expectations.

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Delivery revolution. Costs through the roof.

It appears that every conceivable challenge has conspired and converged to create this seemingly perfect storm for restaurant operators … and many have begun to succumb to its gale-force winds. But as the pace of developments in the outside world continues to baffle, a strategic shift in mindset can help devise viable solutions.

* Approach the business from the “outside-in” instead of the traditional “inside-out”

In the past, the primary focus while establishing a restaurant would be on the key elements of cuisine, ambience and service. The business model would accommodate other trends only if deemed necessary.

Today, however, tech advancement, social media and sophisticated ordering systems create touchpoints that can make or break a brand even before the customer’s first physical encounter. Concepts therefore must be reverse engineered to ensure these touchpoints have been adequately addressed well before, and not after, the business opens.

* Prioritise people and tech over fixtures and decor

Customers are increasingly demanding dining experiences with depth and impact, that can only be delivered by well-trained people robustly supported by tech and data. Although bells and whistles can lend some character, physical features can generally be scaled back without hurting the business.

Cutting corners on people and their tech support, however, compromises the fundamental guest experience, and is certain to hit the bottom-line adversely.

* Be aware of the competition, but don’t obsess over it

A key parameter through which brand positioning is established is vis-a-vis the competition. But in a crowded food and beverage space, it just isn’t feasible to keep up with everything happening around us.

Remember that ultimately what happens within one’s own extended operations will determine the success of a restaurant. Besides, that’s the only thing you will ever have any real control over.

* Know that millennials and “Gen Z’ are more than just overused clichés

A transparent, seamless, mobile-friendly, efficient omnichannel experience is what millennials want and Gen Z demand. Pay heed. The numbers in these demographic groups are set to rise significantly, and so is their influence.

* Do less but do it well

Consistency is absolutely critical to a sustainable food service business. Hence simplify, do less, but do it well. Small pockets of excellence within a restaurant business are far more likely to get customer attention and loyalty than a 150 item, mediocrely executed menu.

* Do a test run when possible

Nowadays, numerous year-round pop-up restaurant options are available in most markets to test run an idea. These can help avoid expensive mistakes and tune your concept before infusing significant capital into it.

With many of the kinks ironed out beforehand, the scaled-up version of your restaurant will be far better placed for potential success.

* Think reverse globalisation

Over the past few decades, food service concepts have proliferated unabatedly across borders and cultures. But “global” isn’t necessarily a seductive word anymore. People increasingly crave simplicity, uniqueness and local character.

* Remain agile and flexible

There is no room for inertia or complacency in today’s restaurant business. With the pace at which the industry is changing, disruption will be a constant, and a dynamic nimble-footedness will be a crucial prerequisite to operating restaurants.

* Be receptive to timeless wisdom

These priceless pearls of wisdom are more relevant than ever: Unpretentious is good. Experiences don’t happen, they are designed. Small isn’t bad, its manoeuverable.

Stand for something specific, even if it doesn’t fit into a predefined slot. Always limit the initial investment. Never rush to expand.

Despite times of unprecedented change, good food, service and experiences will remain the cornerstones of the restaurant business, but only when effectively integrated with technologies and trends of the day. Besides that, one should be prepared for a food service playbook that is going to be rewritten more frequently.

Sanjay Duggal
Sanjay Duggal is Vice President of Business Development for the Dubai based Middle East & North Africa Franchise Association (MENAFA), a membership organization of franchisors, franchisees, and service providers. As the only formal organization serving the $30 billion franchise sector growing at a rate of 27% annually in the region, MENAFA is a platform that actively promotes the cause of franchising from both sides of the franchising divide. www.menafa.com