Is honesty the best policy in food and beverage?

Aidan Keane ask whether the region's restaurants can handle the truth?

Keane Brands founder and creative director Aidan Keane.
Keane Brands founder and creative director Aidan Keane.

Do restaurants stretch the truth of the cuisine they offer? Our columnist Aidan Keane explores the theory

Do lots of outlets mean lots of choice? Whether you are putting multiple outlets in a food court, a hotel lobby or a simple restaurant format cook-line, you absolutely have to make sure there is a real and tangible difference between each option created.

If you don't, I know from experience that customers quickly feel cheated when this happens, as if tricked into thinking they were getting much more choice and many more options than reality allows.

I have seen it so many times. A new outlet opens with lots of advertised flavour choice, and visitors rock up and find it is just another thinly disguised single kitchen/single team trying to stretch the truth. Hotels are particularly guilty of this, disguising what is nothing more than a glorified buffet and packaging it as some sort of culinary adventure.

Argh! It is an absolute pet hate of mine. That is, of course, unless it is done well ... and of course there are many places where it has worked brilliantly.

Eataly (with branches in both Italy and New York City), for example, is hard to argue with. It looks great, warm and inviting. Real. Authentic in texture and atmosphere, but it could be argued it is just different flavours of one theme and therefore nothing more than an expanded Italian menu. A tad harsh perhaps, but a fair challenge regardless.

World of Food in Chicago is the one I always thought got it very right. Proper and authentic ingredients from many nations, all cooked and presented fresh, with genuine and appropriate staff teams prepping and serving you. It was fab in its time.

Aesthetically it worked well too. No silly themeing — of kimonos in the Oriental area type of thing. No, it was done as a food market, with chilled ingredients out front adding to the colour and aromas and interest, and simple open kitchens with all the interesting bits on show. Really effortless and simple. Interesting too was the payment journey — everyone given a card to charge-up as they go about, all paid for at the end. Simple!

Borough Market in London works well. A different option, a genuine gathering of independent sellers, all in one place.

And so, having worked on many multiple outlet venues the only way for it to work is to be utterly and completely focused on ensuring separation between each flavour and each option. It is not enough to just badge something and hope no one notices the truth.

Be as authentic as possible. Use genuine ingredients, employ appropriate ethnic teams and build great menu theatre for each. Do this and you will have a mighty success but be very careful with your interior design.

And unless you are a family attraction or theme park, avoid any overt themeing and caricature or quite frankly, it is you who will become the joke!

Aidan Keane is the larger-than-life founder and creative director of Keane Brands, one of the world’s specialist design houses based in London, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.

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