Regional F&B insight

The Middle East's top industry players share secrets for F&B success

HELMUT ARTHOLD
HELMUT ARTHOLD
PASCAL GAUVIN
PASCAL GAUVIN
SIMON LAZARUS
SIMON LAZARUS

Top players from the regional hospitality industry met up with Caterer Middle East at this year’s ATM, to discuss the status of the Middle East market and share some top tips for F&B success

HELMUT ARTHOLD
Corporate vice president of F&B operations, Rotana

Tell us about the role F&B plays in your regional properties.

Rotana rebranded itself not long ago with the Rotana Hotels and Resorts, Rayhaan Hotels and Resorts, then Arjaan and Centro properties, which makes for many diverse F&B options.

The outlets we put into these properties obviously vary from brand to brand, as each one has a distinct identity.

Rotana Hotels has the largest number of restaurants; these are very diverse to attract different diners, and include speciality outlets and link-ups with international chefs.

Then if we jump to Rayhaan, for which we have two inaugurations to come, you have to be very particular about the styles of outlets you build into these properties, as they are alcohol-free.

The Arjaan properties are pretty straightforward, with an all-day dining concept and lobby lounge. Again in the GCC properties, no alcohol is served.

Then we come to the last brand, Centro, which has been recently launched. We have actually just opened the second Centro, in Dubai’s Al Barsha area.

Each Centro property will have a modern, trendy bar, a lifestyle buffet and a deli. Although the outlets at each property have the same concept, we custom-design each outlet, so it’s not just a case of copying and pasting.

There is no room service, no mini-bar, but we have the 24-hour deli, so you can go and fetch yourself a coffee, a sandwich, a newspaper. It’s very much a lifestyle concept, letting the guest take control of how and when they eat, with quick service and good quality products. All the amenities a businessman needs, but without the staff hovering around you at every turn!

Many top-level properties have recently tied up with independent brands or celebrity chefs. Is that something Rotana would explore further in future?

We have done that to an extent, through our ties with Blue Elephant, Trader Vic’s and Benihana. But F&B is by nature very trendy and very fast, so you have to keep an eye on those outlets and make sure you’re still in the right timeframe and that they’re still relevant.

So we are always looking for new partners — in fact, soon we will introduce our Chinese restaurant.

Being a Middle Eastern company we appreciate that we may not have the expertise to develop an authentic Chinese restaurant ourselves, so we have been looking at high-end operators in Singapore and Hong Kong who run incredible brands, and have formed a partnership with an operator, which we feel will benefit both of us. You can expect to see the first restaurant in Doha in the Oryx Rotana Hotel.

At the same time, there are renovation programmes coming up in some of our hotels that have been operating for many years — for example, the established Al Bustan Rotana, where we are now looking at existing outlets which have done very well for the past few years but are ready for a new F&B look.

Right now we are in discussions to decide on the new F&B vision for this hotel.

In this market, where there is so much competition, how important is F&B to a hotel’s success?

We believe food and beverage is at the very heart of a hotel. There is a saying: food and beverage gives you the reputation, rooms give you money in your pocket!

You really do need well-organised F&B, particularly in a big hotel, for guests to enjoy their stay.

I think nowadays operators are coming back to more honest pricing in F&B, which is the way it should be. That is the key to proving yourself to your customers and driving loyalty. You must also recognise the value of your employees, and how important the service they deliver is.

The designer aspect is also much more important nowadays — guests today want to be wowed the moment they step through the restaurant door, and they like to see show elements too. If you have great food but it is presented in a boring way in a dull setting, the guests will not be excited.

PASCAL GAUVIN
Vice president operations for Gulf, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG)

What kind of role does F&B play across your regional portfolio?

We have 23 properties across the GCC and Lebanon, with several brands: InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites, which debuted last year. In this region we operate around 50-60 restaurants — 320 outlets across the whole Middle East and Africa

So you can see F&B is a very important part of our business; our F&B revenue for the MENA region represents 42% of our total revenue.

A lot of customers today seem attracted by familiarity; would you consider doing an in-house brand across your properties?

We don’t want to do an in-house brand, simply because we want every single customer to have a different and unique experience in each hotel.

But we can have associations — for example in Dubai we have the Belgian Beer Café, which is quite well known. And there are other places in the Middle East where it might work for us to replicate that experience; for example, we have one open in Abu Dhabi now and we are talking about Doha.

Because we have 320 restaurants, which is a huge data base, we can choose a template for a new property by speciality, by average cheque, or by concept.

Say the owner wants a French café style outlet, we can show them the data for Bistro Madeleine at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City — the number of covers per day, the average cheque, the menu, customer comments, profitability. So we can base the idea on that concept, but take it to another level suited to the particular destination.

Or alternatively, we can choose to associate ourselves with a chef or a brand. But what we prefer to do is handle the operations ourselves and operate for a brand or with a brand, because we want to keep the service consistent throughout the property.

For example, look at Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire; it is impossible for us to have Michelin-star knowhow and keep up with such trends constantly. But by forming this partnership with Pierre Gagnaire, we can offer guests a taste of what he is doing in Paris, and that truly is a unique dining experience.

But throughout all that, we still operate the restaurant ourselves — we know our customers, and we want to offer them the standard of service they expect from our hotels. So it’s a combination that works well.

We operate 100% of the restaurants in this region, and 80% are our own concepts.

What is the secret to making an outlet successful?

Today a restaurant is not all about food — it’s also about décor, experience, ambience, the people who go there, service, music, consistency of the product. People are must more sophisticated and educated than they used to be.

A few years ago you could get away with just good food; today you have to give more.

The Middle East is a demanding market and it’s essential to offer value for money. Customers have to be comfortable with what they’re paying, so you really have to set things at the right price.

So have those overcharging started to fall away, since the downturn?

Absolutely — they cannot operate like that in this climate. People will go once and not go back.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to make sure we have profitable operations, which please our customers and deliver the brand promise.

Operating a hotel means a wide spectrum of F&B, from restaurants to banqueting to room service, so you’ve got to deliver on all fronts.

SIMON LAZARUS
Hilton Worldwide area director of F&B, Middle East and Africa

What role does F&B play in the hospitality industry today?

F&B is moving forwards significantly; 20 years ago it was viewed as merely a support to a hotel, now it’s turned into a real business driver. People will come and stay based on the quality of your F&B — more so in the Middle East than other regions, I think, because the F&B scene is more focused on hotels here, due to licensing laws.

How do you ensure a concept stands out from all the competition?

We do thorough research in any market we’re going into — generally months before we go in. We look at the demographics, get market studies done, look at the competition. Plus I also look outside the geographical region for inspiration — to Hong Kong or Singapore, for example.

But one thing you must ensure is that the outlet is relevant to that particular market.

What F&B trends are coming through at the moment?

I see a move towards traceability; people are much more interested in where their food comes from.

If you look at menus, particularly in North America and Europe, they all detail their sources, whether it’s for beef or vegetables. Now that’s influencing this region — and people are paying much more attention to the carbon footprint of their food as well.

I also see a move towards more solid F&B concepts; people are going for what they know, what is familiar to them, rather than these high-fashion restaurants.

The attraction of the familiar is evident in the numerous hotel tie-ups with popular brands and celebrity chefs; is that something Hilton is looking to develop further?

That is one of the directions we’re pursuing.We’ve had a long relationship with Gordon Ramsay and with BiCE — also Trader Vic’s in the UK, which is now signed on to open in Doha with us as well.
We’ve also just signed two new brands. I can’t tell you who they are, but they will launch in the UAE very soon.

What are your F&B plans for the future?

We’re doing a lot of research and planning right now.

Hilton just formed The Hilton Restaurant Group, which is based in the States, solely focusing on coming up with regional and global concepts. They’re putting a lot into market study.

I’m working with them to devise concepts which are pan-regional in their appeal.

What we realised fairly early is that a pub that works here won’t necessarily work anywhere else, so you have to take the location into account, but we are basically trying to keep up with restaurateurs, who have really left hoteliers behind.

So will we soon be seeing an in-house F&B brand from Hilton?

Yes, that’s one of the things we’re working on. There will be several concepts, unique to Hilton, which will pop up worldwide — but again we’re very aware of where we put them. There will be announcements about that shortly. It’s exciting times for Hilton F&B!

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