Caterer Middle East managed to get Hilton’s regional F&B power team all together in one restaurant – BiCE at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah – last month to grill them on everything from ambitious restaurant expansion plans to digital menus
Hilton Worldwide has announced plans to open 500 restaurants in three years. How many of those can we expect to see in the region?
Simon Lazarus: The overall strategy depends entirely on the market and customer needs. We match concepts to the market so strategy-wise it’s open. We currently have 52 hotels and 41 in the regional pipeline, with an average of five outlets in each new hotel.
That comes to about 200 new outlets within the [upcoming] hotels in this region over the next three years. We also have several renovations and refurbishments underway in the region.
Jean-Michel Dixte: We have a range of new builds, master plans and renovations globally. Within the Middle East and Africa, F&B solutions we offer range from bespoke concepts to prototype concepts and partnership deals. We are also trying to promote brands we want to get affiliated with, as well as celebrity chefs.
How many of the 200 restaurants in the region will be bespoke concepts and how many partnership deals?
JMD: We’re trying to give some bespoke solutions to each individual property according to the local market and the demand in each city. So for instance, in Dubai we would like to implement 30% Hilton original concepts.
SL: We will be much more focused on bringing branded outlets to key markets like the UAE, and not ruling out cities like Cairo. If the brand is right we will put it in.
Is there a move towards more branded restaurants within hotels?
SL: I think the industry in general is moving towards branded, known concepts – there’s definitely a trend in that direction. We’ve been doing that for many years now. This restaurant [BiCE] is a prime example of a franchise partnership which works amazingly well.
JMD: The UAE in particular is very brand-centric. Brands work here. There are other areas that wouldn’t support a franchise brand, but I think the UAE is a few steps ahead. It’s almost like Las Vegas in terms of the brand offerings, with its combination of celebrity chefs and the known outlets.
Is Hilton looking to create more celebrity tie-ups with its restaurants?
SL: We had a fantastic partnership with Gordon Ramsay at Hilton Dubai Creek, but [when that ended] we formed a great partnership with the local chefs that were already at the restaurant (now called Table 9) – Nick Alvin and Scott Price.
Knud Bundgaard: The trend is going towards homegrown, local celebrity chefs, so when people go to Table 9 they know that the celebrity chef is actually cooking – that’s what’s changed in the last couple of years. People want to know that the food is being cooked by the chef who’s got their name on the restaurant.
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