The results of the Caterer Head Chef Survey 2012

Reduced diner spending & rising food costs reported but not all is bad

Reports, Executive interviews, Interesting findings from inside the minds of the

A boost in standards and innovative concepts in the region, more opportunity to be innovative and experience managing rising food costs has boosted morale and brightened the outlook of chefs on the industry…

We had a huge response to the Caterer Middle East Head Chef Survey 2012, with almost 100 chefs from across the region giving their opinions.

The survey, which was conducted over the course of six weeks on Caterer’s online home,, was designed to give executive chefs a voice while addressing market trends, investigating industry progress and anticipating next year’s F&B challenges.

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We reveal the findings here and paint a clearer picture of the issues, challenges and opportunities that are affecting them today.

Positive findings
This is the third head chef survey Caterer Middle East has conducted, and comparing and contrasting results gives an incredible insight into how much the industry has changed in that time.

The most dramatic finding of the survey, as well as the most uplifting, was that more of you than ever before agree the Middle East has become a culinary hub worthy of international attention.

A whopping 72.7% of respondents to the survey said that it was, which is an increase of 8.1% from 2011 where only 67.2% of you agreed; and in 2010 just 63.8% admitted the region was offering concepts with international standards.

It seems this hike in standards is something that diners have noticed too, and it has been reflected in their spend.

13.7% of chefs admitted that in 2012, diners in their restaurants spent on average a massive US $1,000 a head. Our survey revealed that in 2011 just 8.8% of respondents saw that spend per head, and in 2010, just 5.8%.

Money matters
Positively, customer spending appears to be going up and at the same time, the average food cost percentage has dropped from 32% to 29% in a year. This could be down to a different respondent base, but other influencing factors may be the rise of affordable dining concepts that have entered the market since the downturn, and the clever partnerships with suppliers that are now having an impact.

In 2011, our participants’ main concern was rising food costs. But in 2012 this dropped down to third place in the list of major issues affecting the chefs in the industry.

Could this have been because 15.9% of chefs who answered the survey have seen a rise in budget since the economic downturn? Or is this because they are now more experienced in balancing the books?

No matter which, it seems most chefs are united in not wanting to pass on costs to the customer – only two in 36 admitted having to. Instead they have come up with solutions to absorb costs.

“We are looking at locally produced, good-quality substitutes and stricter control measures!” said one head chef from Saudi Arabia.

“We are reducing unnecessary wastage,” said another Saudi chef.

“Increased food costs are not a problem,” said a confident chef from the UAE. “Through good and active menu engineering, they can be overcome.”

Other solutions our spend-savvy chefs had come up with to balance these increased costs are to: spend more time choosing the right supplier with the right deals; up business in other ways; and be more imaginative with cheaper cuts of meat.

Industry issues
Commenting on the major industry issues that are currently affecting them, this year’s respondents cited reduced consumer spending and labour shortages at the top of the list, ahead of rising food prices.

But when we asked our chefs to tell us what they thought the biggest challenges in the coming year were going to be, there was a mixed response.

The factors most of our chefs are concerned about are: increased competition, issues with branding, and new brands entering the market.

Qatar chefs did not seem concerned about the rise in competition with the influx of new hotels – not one of them mentioned it – but they were worried about quality produce supply.

In Dubai, one chef even said that the traffic on Jumeirah Beach Road was something that would cause his outlet future problems.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for our chefs. There was a lot of optimism on the horizon as following the economic downturn they are looking forward to a continued industry uplift.

Respondents said they had already noticed more customers in 2012, the re-hiring of staff, increased budgets to spend on quality ingredients and a higher than average customer cheque.

Finding the success factor
Chefs said quality of ingredients was the main factor that determines whether or not your business was a success, closely followed by good customer service and value for money. It’s a very different picture to 2010 where good customer service won out with a majority vote.

The availability of quality produce is helping to lift standards, with an overwhelming majority of you saying that this the most important focus of your role.

“Production of good and healthy food made with high quality ingredients,” is the true key to success, claimed one UAE chef.

“Creating good quality food and always looking at client satisfaction” is too, said another.

Drives and ambitions
While working with high-quality produce was imperitive to the respondents, and providing high-quality food was their main objective, it was getting good feedback from their guests that made the hard work all worthwhile.

“Feedback received, happy guests,” commented one chef when asked what he liked most about his job.

The opportunity to be innovative and creative came high on the list of reasons too.

The survey hinted that there are now more opportunities for chefs to be creative: there has been an emergence of independent outlets; and European restaurants have taken over in popularity from all-day dining concepts; there are increased numbers of staff and higher budgets following the economic upturn; so all -in-all, more scope for head chefs to be creative in their day-to-day roles.

Who had their say?
The Caterer Middle East Head Chef Survey 2012 was open to head and executive chefs across the region. Eighty people took part.

In terms of where our chefs work, the majority were based in the UAE, but others that took part came from as far as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt and Kuwait.
As for their age, the oldest chef that responded was 53, and the youngest to take part was 28. The average age of our respondents was 40.5.

Out of the 43 people who wanted to reveal their sex, 100% of them were male, and if that is representative of every chef who took part, it goes to show that we are working in a very unbalanced environment in this region.

Most of the chefs in our survey started working in the kitchen at a young age – in fact our oldest was still only 27. The average age our executive chefs started working in kitchens was 18.

The average time the chefs have been working with their current employer was two years, although 14% of them had been with their current employer for 10 years.

The three key factors that had inspired chefs to get into the profession were family members, the want to travel, and the love of creativity.

In terms of what kind of outlet the head chefs worked in, Modern European was the most popular, and more chefs than ever were working in standalone restaurants.

It was regular customers who made up the main bulk of the respondents’ client base, with tourists coming in second, just above corporate business diners. 

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