The park’s vice president of food and beverage, Naveed Dowlatshahi, tells Caterer Middle East he was “wasn’t interested in doing the regular food court, QSR, typical theme park offering. The park’s vice president of food and beverage, Naveed Dowlatshahi, tells Caterer Middle East he was “wasn’t interested in doing the regular food court, QSR, typical theme park offering.

With thoughts turning to the look and feel of the outlets, it becomes clear what Dowlatshahi and Stokes mean when they say eating at the theme park will be an immersive experience. None of the designs of the restaurants are the typical four walls with the dining décor; instead, they are heavily themed.

“You walk in [to the restaurant] and feel like you are within that zone, absorbed within the icons of that zone,” Dowlatshahi reveals, adding that, extra entertainment comes in the form of open kitchens in the majority of IMG’s restaurants, which also serves to reinforce its approach of “fresh food made in front of you”.

He says he was surprised, during the research stage of the project, to find how important the quality and range of food on offer would be to customers, but, as Stokes puts it: “People know their food and you have to offer a certain level quality to people now.”

In order to delivery the high quality that the guests will expect, Stokes says part of the approach has been to use local suppliers, as well as organic and free-range, where possible.

“We have told the chefs that their mandate is to get the best quality ingredients available, hopefully as much as posssible in this region, though we do import produce as well. All our restaurants are using fresh, not frozen, produce. We don’t use extra salt, additives, colours across all our restaurants, and, for me, a big part in our healthy promise is portion sizes. Portion size is a huge part of making it affordable.”

IMG’s buying power also enables it to keep costs down — higher volume means better pricing.

“One of the fortunate positions that we’re in is that we are IMG Worlds of Adventure and everyone wants to do business with us, so we can negotiate great pricing. Second, the commissary helps in this respect; by bringing in as much as possible to one central area, we capitalise on volume and ingredients, by which I mean utilising every single bit of an ingredient where possible,” Dowlatshahi explains.

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As well as keeping the menu items as natural as possible, the pair confirms to Caterer that it will be sourcing sustainable produce, and not using hammour, for example.

Discussing the drivers behind the culinary team’s ethical and all-natural approach, Dowlatshahi comments: “The simple message from the owners and senior management was quality. It was down to us to translate that. What we’re doing is our own personal passion and expectation of what we want to see happening [in the market]. It goes back to the point of setting the benchmark and being different, not just copying what others are doing. The main thing is, we want to be accessible in terms of price point and what’s on the menu — it’s supposed to be a family environment, so not too much fusion, and [instead] simple, quality, fresh food.”

While chefs are encouraged to be creative, Stokes points out that the park’s outlets will meet the expectations of families — just in a healthier way.

“We’re doing hot dogs but we’re making the buns in-house; we’re doing burgers, but we’re making the patties and the buns in-house; we’re doing chicken nuggets but we’re making it with fresh chicken and making the breadcrumbs ourselves. We still have the food that I think theme parks have to have for the whole family but we are the ones making it, so we know what’s in it and what’s not in it.”

The team is optimistic about feedback on its F&B, as well as the entertainment at IMG, which is aiming for a mix of 50% tourists and 50% UAE residents when it opens — and hoping for 4.5 million visitors in its first year.

Dowlatshahi and Stokes also tell Caterer that they are confident IMG can play a role in Dubai's ongoing efforts to boost the average stay for a tourist in the emirate (currently three days). If the team's tenacity in setting new standards for theme park F&B is anything to go by. it’s easy to share their confidence in achieveing this.