(Back row L-R) Alex Economides, Brandon Grusd, Colin Clague, Sanjay Murthy, Henk Bruggeman, Stefan Breg. (Front row L-R) Emma Banks, Alex Economides. (Back row L-R) Alex Economides, Brandon Grusd, Colin Clague, Sanjay Murthy, Henk Bruggeman, Stefan Breg. (Front row L-R) Emma Banks, Alex Economides.

Following the success of the new format introduced in 2016 for the Caterer Middle East: Food & Business Conference, Caterer Middle East will once again host an all-encompassing conference, serving as a one-stop source for the latest trends, innovations and analysis needed to succeed in today’s market.

The sixth annual Caterer Middle East: Food & Business Conference will combine all areas across the F&B arena and offer strategic debate. As is customary ahead of the conference, Caterer assembled a panel of F&B experts from various backgrounds to ascertain what hot topics should be on this year’s agenda.

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VAT and recruitment
One of the biggest topics of conversation among the panelists was challenges facing the industry in 2017 — with rising costs and the introduction of VAT considered by many to be a key concern.

Emma Banks, general manager, Jumeirah Restaurant Group, said that operators are already facing high prices when buying alcohol, so the addition of VAT is causing concern.

“December 31, 2017, is going to be a nightmare for operators unless they’re organised in terms of VAT — what you’re paying VAT on and what you’re not, and what you’re passing onto the consumer and what you’re not. Look at the big hotels; they’re doing 80,000 transactions on on a busy day so, with the switch over to VAT, big hotels won’t be able to allow it to slip because all of a sudden they’d have a massive backlog that would be impossible to reconcile. The challenge this year is the price of a alcohol is going up and the impact of further taxation on that,” she said.

Alex Economides, managing director, M Management Company, added: “With VAT, it’s not clear what we are going to be charged and I don’t think we have received any guidelines. It’s another issue to face in addition to all the other challenges.”

In terms of what other challenges are, Banks said recruitment remains an issue, specifically finding “human capital with the image, charisma, table presence, confidence and guest interaction skills” required.

She added: “And they need the scope to take on and understand all these cuisines, and the technical specifications behind the cuisines. I think the industry is going to demand that more.”

Again, Alex Economides agreed, and felt that everyone in the industry is facing is “the human resource factor”, not least because of “the vast number of retail openings”.

He said: “There is a bigger demand for good human resources and that’s draining the market. Retail is growing in such a big way here; we all know about the different developments coming up. All these venues that are opening and you have staff who are moving around from one place to another.”

Colin Clague, executive chef, Rüya, remarked: “That obviously brings it down to footfall then — we’re all vying for the same business. Brexit isn’t helping; the British pound is so low that you’re not getting the British coming over like we used to.”

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