Dubai hotelier Michael Scully, managing director of Seven Tides Hospitality, is back to give the owner’s view on the major challenges facing hotel operators in the Middle East today
Q: The four hotels closest to mine all offer well-known, branded restaurants, but my owner wants me to run all of my five outlets in house. What can I do to make my restaurants stand out against these famous names? General manager, Dubai.
There has been a lot of debate recently within Hotelier Middle East and generally in the industry about the large number of branded internationally-known restaurants starting up operations in Dubai.
The debate being whether it is good, bad, unfair, or good competition. I believe that it can be a combination of any of these. Firstly we need to look at the long-term success and viability of these branded restaurants as opposed to hotels creating their own restaurants under an unbranded name.
I say this as we have seen some branded restaurants working and others not working, which leaves us to analyse what it actually takes to make a restaurant work.
We must firstly remember that times change, expectations change and competition changes, meaning that a particular type of restaurant in one area being successful at a particular time may not be appropriate or work in that area in three, four or five years’ time.
Demographics change, tastes change and fashions change. I believe that firstly, even before the quality of food and service — which is obviously a key criteria — anyone creating a restaurant must understand what entertainment value that restaurant will give to its customers.
I believe that entertainment is the key to the success of any restaurant and without this factor there is very little chance of it working. It is only in very specific cases and cities in the world where a fine dining restaurant can work without the entertainment factor.
Where do we find this entertainment factor? Let’s look back over the years: One of the first real forms of entertainment was table service using guerdons, which for decades was extremely popular and helped fill the upmarket restaurants of London.
We then saw a fad which involved Teppanyaki Japanese-style restaurants where the food was prepared in front of you by a juggling chef, again, entertainment in its own way.
We have always seen the traditional nationality-style restaurants such as Lebanese with belly dances, Greek with plate throwing, Italian with singing chefs and pizza jugglers, Russian dancers etc — all of which have had and still do have a time and place.
So what will work today? The entertainment factor, if not created by the view, such as the seaside, or location, such as shopping mall or culture, needs to be created.
This can be done through exceptional and talented staff as we have seen in DIFC, or the creation of a trendy bar associated with the restaurant, whereby the restaurant becomes an ‘in’ place to be and certainly during or after dining there is an opportunity for patrons to enjoy a DJ, drummers or a combination of both.
What we are finding is that destination areas and restaurants are certainly becoming key, where the success of one restaurant can lead to the success of others by the nature of providing variety in one set location, allowing for fine dining to be successful due to the fact that nightclubs or action bars are in close proximity.
Again, we see that trend occurring in DIFC, Festival City and the Marina. So my advice to anyone looking at setting up a restaurant — if you have the resources and location to justify a brand, bear in mind that unless it has the entertainment factor it will not necessarily be successful and, if creating a standalone restaurant, if you do not create the entertainment and the ‘in’ factor, you will certainly not succeed.
The savvy entrepreneurial hotel operators are those that understand the value of good food and beverage offerings, and are able to create the entertainment factor with a product that people want at a price that is acceptable to the market that you are attracting.
And if you are a hotel you need it to become a destination in its own right — in other words with enough entertainment to draw the crowds. We have seen many success stories on this front where this has been created, and equally seen many failures where this has not, and I am afraid this will continue.
Lastly, having opened or been associated with the opening of five hotels and over 40 outlets in Dubai — some branded, but the majority not — many of them extremely successful and others marginally so, the key to ultimate success is the energy, drive, entrepreneurial flair and dedication of the management and staff.