Top 10 hotel F&B trends for 2012

From rewards to entertainment we look at 10 restaurant crazes for 2012

The Blue Grill - paving the way with a food and wine pairing menu
The Blue Grill - paving the way with a food and wine pairing menu

Last year saw a huge amount of changes in the foodservice industry. With the crash of the late noughties disappearing further into the distance, companies regained confidence and budgets were loosened to give scope for new ideas to be formed and the industry to move forward once again.

Franchise company Cravia, owner of Zaatar w Zeit, Cinnabon and Seattle’s Best Coffee in the UAE, has reported that sales in 2011 hit AED 100 million (US $27.2 million) for the first time ever, and the company generated profits of AED 20 million (US $5.5 million) for the first time too, compared with under AED 5 million (US$1.4 million) in 2009.

So with this renewed confidence, and more spending money in industry players’ pockets, in what direction will we take the Middle East’s F&B sector this year? We asked the experts for their top predictions…

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Trend 1: Rise of the celebrity chef
Chef’s tables, cooking challenges with paying audiences, guest appearances – we may be growing tired of famous TV personalities (so long Gordon Ramsay and Dubai restaurant, Verre), but the emergence of a strong new trend of turning chefs in our favourite restaurants into celebrities in their own right is evident.
It was in November 2011 that Wesley Berghoff won the Time Out Dubai Young Chef of the Year competition. It was a great accolade to win, and brought recognition in itself, but because the competition was live, and open to paying audience members, Berghoff was instantly catapulted up to the status of an eminent figure of authority.
“I agree that more than ever consumers are very focused on the chef,” says Berghoff. “They no longer want to just go for a meal, they want to go for an experience. And they want to know who is responsible for that experience. With so many accomplished chefs doing cooking shows, I think the trend will continue to grow long after 2012.
“I loved the high pressure of the Time Out competition,” he continues. “But more than being seen as a celebrity, I want to run a good restaurant that people love to dine in – although, if this means getting celebrity status with the perks it brings, I wouldn’t say no!”

Trend 2: Food and wine pairings
With the UAE now growing as a tourist destination, the wine market is increasing with it, and we will see a rise in the number of restaurants offering small, tapas-style dishes to accompany drinks.
Executive sous chef Chris Dodds at Yas Island Rotana & Centro, Abu Dhabi is a firm believer in the practice of pairing good food and wine for diners, and has created a new menu for The Blue Grill restaurant, focusing on just that. He says: “I think the trend for pairing food and wine will grow in the UAE – in order to enhance the dining experience you must find the right combination of texture and flavour and how both food and wine react differently to each other.
“In recent years, interest has taken off in food and wine pairings. Industries have sprung up and the media expound on the principles and ideals of it. Plus you can find guidelines and tips everywhere, which will all continue to fuel interest.”

Trend 3: The world on a plate
Fusion food has been on the menu for a while now, but its popularity is set to grow in the Middle East as a whole host of different cultures and world foods collide in this booming market. With imports growing exponentially, some chefs think there there is little we can do to keep them apart.
“Traditional cuisine is melting together with the modern cuisine,” says Juan Amador, three-starred Michelin chef, whose restaurant, Amador, will open in Abu Dhabi's Park Rotana early 2012. “The world gets smaller and ingredients are available almost everywhere, so fusion will grow as a trend. Having all kind of ingredients available means that chefs have far more opportunities to experiment with new taste combinations.
“I intend to fuse Arabic and Spanish foods when I open my restaurant,” he reveals.

Trend 4: Loyalty reward schemes
Discount voucher websites have been hugely popular over the last couple of years, springing up after the crash to coax diners back into restaurants.
“Brunches have been extremely popular,” says Dan Stuart, managing director for LivingSocial Middle East. “The number one F&B deal of 2011 for LivingSocial Middle East was the Pullman Mall of the Emirates Dubai Brunch, which grossed US $147,000 and sold 1,788 vouchers in 48 hours. F&B deals represented 15% of our Daily Deals this past quarter.”
But executive chef at Dubai’s Qamardeen Hotel, Bernd Geiger, thinks using these deals is not good for your business in the long-run. He believes they tail-off in the higher-end restaurants, and that customer loyalty schemes can outmatch their appeal.
“There are discount sites like Cobone and LivingSocial popping up everywhere like mushrooms,” Geiger says.
“We used one here to open the new Esca Caffé as a sales tool for awareness. But after you’ve brought your venue to people’s attention, you have to fight back with quality.
“If you make these deals permanent, I think you will destroy your business. They don’t create the right kind of business. If someone is loyal you have to give them something. You have to decide what they want and give them a loyalty scheme.”

Trend 5: Menu transparency
As consumers wise-up to food production methods, food ingredient and global food and sustainability issues, they’ll no longer want to accept a brief dish description as a good enough introduction to their meal.
We’re used to seeing nut allergy warnings and vegan labelling, but soon will come information on the place where produce was sourced, whether dishes are suitable for people with special dietary requirements, and perhaps even a calorie count.
At the end of 2011, the chairman of the Saudi Arabia Consumer Protection Society called for a calorie count to be put on all food and drinks on restaurant menus.
Dr. Nasser Al-Tuwaim, said: “This step is part of a national plan to curb obesity, which kills about 20,000 men and women in Saudi Arabia every year. A traffic light system indicating the number of calories and protein, fat and carbohydrate levels should be put on all menus,” he said.
And it’s not just the restaurants that will be doing it.With Lebanon introducing legislation to give the government powers to regulate organic certification, suppliers will have to up their game in what they are offering their customers.

Trend 6: Entertainment
High-end restaurants offer a fine-dining experience; low-end restaurants appeal to the masses because of their low price points; but it’s the middle-tiered restaurants that need to provide something extra to keep guests happy, say the founders of restaurant operator and developer, Glee Hospitality Solutions.
“Restaurants need to strike a balance between quality food, service and ambience,” say Louay Al Najjar, operations director and Aboudi Saadi, managing director.
“Entertainment has previously been looked at as an added feature; nowadays it forms a major part of the experience and sets new trends in upcoming mid-range restaurants.
“We launched The Gramercy at DIFC, Dubai in July 2010. Within six months of operations we introduced live entertainment into the formula, and voila! We have been identified as the new jazz spot in town: the entertainment played an essential role in the continuous success of the business.”
Lynne McGarvey, restaurant manger at W Grill & Cocktail Terrace, Wafi Dubai agrees that the trend is growing. “You just have to take a look at the popularity of new attractions at dining destinations such as Yas Island and the Dubai Fountains to understand that people are looking for more than just a culinary experience.
“Ultimately, it’s always about the food but venues today are under pressure to raise the bar. That’s the eason why open kitchens are appreciated – the technique allows the diners to interact with the chef and see them in action.”

Trend 7: Dietary requirements
Following in the footsteps of their US and European counterparts, Middle East diners with dietary requirements are demanding specialised dishes, so they can take part in the gastronomy scene too.
Hugh Sato Gardiner, corporate chef at Okku Luxury Japanese Restaurant and Lounge, admits: “Diners are becoming educated about things like nutrition and allergies, and this has spurred a rise in demand for dishes that are low-cal and gluten-free.
At Okku we’ve introduced a range of dishes that cater to this increased demand. We have also decided to focus on vegetarians as we know there are a very high number in Dubai due to religious and personal preferences – they often are overlooked or ignored.
“We have recently started using brown barley rice, which is appealing to those looking for a substitute to the more glutinous white sushi rice. And on a daily basis we consciously prepare konbu dashi (seaweed stock) for vegetarian miso soup, and as a substitute for basic dashi (which uses a base fish stock).”

Trend 8: Tableware as artist’s canvas
As more and more Michelin star chefs choose to present their food in a long, low manner, rather that stacking it high, the dinner plate is becomes less of a functional object and more and more like an artist’s canvas.
Kurosch Afchani’s key account and regional sales manager in the hotel and restaurant division of Villeroy & Boch has noticed a change in trend: “We see both trends and needs developing: people want flat and rectangular or square plates, and also big round ones. The flat rectangular or square plates are especially popular when it comes to serving plates and platters, as you can present food in a very creative, modern and exciting way on them.”

Trend 9: Blurring of boundaries
As Franck Fortet, head of international development at George V Eatertainment, told Caterer Middle East in December: “The concept specifically designed with equal parts restaurant/bar/lounge/club is the way outlets are heading in the Middle East.” These venues, like Gaucho, the Buddha Bar and Toro Toro in Dubai, and soon-to-be-launched Roberto’s (see page 16 for full details) offer ‘lifestyle solutions’ for the upmarket diner, and at the same time, capitalise on a guests’ visit.
Fortet’s idea of blurring the boundaries of restaurants is set to become huge this year, especially in the Middle East. “The restaurants are not restaurants any more, the clubs are not just clubs. We’re glad because we had a vision that began when, as customers, we grew frustrated at being stuck in one environment,” he says.

Trend 10: ‘Created’ food
It was at trade show SIAL Middle East in 2011, that Xavier Terlet, CEO of the global food industry consultants XTC World Innovation revealed: “50% of the products that will be sold in five years’ time will have to be ‘created’. He announced it as Al Ain Dairy’s cardamom-flavoured milk was crowned best new product.
“Today’s consumers are looking at the food products they buy from a whole new angle,” he says. “Technological innovation is important for the region’s food sector in order to face the challenge and exploit the opportunities it offers by adding value and differentiating products.
“In Europe or in North America for example, 50% of the products sold today in supermarkets did not exist five years ago.”

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