Tea for two: furniture and afternoon tea set-up provided by the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai. Tea for two: furniture and afternoon tea set-up provided by the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai.

The days of restaurants keeping the same faded carpet for years on end to save a few pennies are long gone. Professionals from some of the region’s top outlets tell Lucy Taylor how an interior design overhaul can help drive business

In the eyes of many F&B operators running a business in the Middle East today, revamping their venue’s interior design simply equates to spending money — not something which is high on the list of priorities right now, given the current economic circumstances.

But it’s time to change that opinion and start thinking more along the ‘spend money to make money’ track.

The industry is increasingly coming to accept that consumers are still spending money on dining out: they just want more bang for their buck. As a result, outlets need to deliver the atmosphere, the décor, the service and the food — they need to create a whole F&B experience and those that cannot deliver will lose out on custom; it’s as simple as that.

So although, on the surface, giving your outlet’s interior an overhaul before the cloud of economic gloom has lifted may seem a rash move, it could in fact give your business the boost it needs to succeed.

Time for a change

Emirates Golf Club’s venerable French fine-dining restaurant Le Classique emerged from a seven-month refurbishment in December 2008.

“Le Classique has been in existence for 20 years and in a city with one of the most dynamic food and beverage industries, it is important to ensure outlets are modernised to keep pace with competitors,” explains Emirates Golf Club general manager Chris May.

“This reassures your clientele that you are aware of changing trends, concepts and market standards and can adjust accordingly.

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“The previous décor really reflected the era in which the restaurant was launched,” continues May. “Our own assessment as well as the feedback from our restaurant patrons and club members reinforced the fact that an update was due.”

At Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel and Towers, the Creekside restaurant also underwent a considerable refurbishment, between July 2008 and January 2009. Deputy general manager Antony Wade admits this was because the interior was “outdated and needed a new look to suit the market and be more competitive”.

“In addition, the exhaust system needed boosting and the buffets were set based on a temporary arrangement, which we have now been able to replace with chilled units, induction units and a fixed buffet-counter concept,” he adds.

Other outlets taking the plunge recently were Kempinski Hotel Ajman, which refitted its Lobby Lounge and Café on First outlets last summer, and the Al Bustan Palace InterContinental Muscat in Oman, which spent 22 months closed undergoing a massive refurbishment across almost the entire property.

The hotel’s general manager and IHG’s director of operations for Oman, Tony Zamora, expands: “We have six restaurants: the all-day dinning restaurant Al Khiran; the modern-French VUE by Shannon Bennett; Chinese restaurant China Mood; seafood outlet The Beach Pavilion; Al Maha, a restaurant and bar; and Omani restaurant Seblat Al Bustan.

“Out of these six, four were completely renovated — Al Khiran, VUE by Shannon Bennett, The Beach Pavilion and Al Maha.

“Each restaurant was designed to complement the cuisine served; diners have to be comfortable with the setting, otherwise they will not enjoy the food as much,” he asserts.

According to Zamora, the principal aim of the renovation was to bring new concepts into the hotel and the city — “such as introducing the signature Shannon Bennett restaurant, which is unique to the property and the first of its kind in Oman,” he points out.

Meanwhile, the philosophy behind the renovations at Kempinski was “to adapt to the local culture in terms of service and to also reflect it in the hardware”, says director of sales and marketing Marissa Garcia Olm.

“For these two outlets, it only felt natural to use the renovation to add an Arabic flavour to them.”