Creativity, empathy and astute decision-making key to survival of Dubai’s dining landscape

Hassan Ballout, chief growth officer of Seven Management, talks about F&B’s future

7 management

This year has arguably been one of the most unsettling and unstable times that the hospitality, F&B and tourism industries the modern world has ever seen. In Dubai, where we rely heavily on international imports, exports, and customers, as well as the increasing expatriate community, we have been forced to relook at our organisational structures and more importantly, our entire approach. I believe that first and foremost, our mindsets are the key to adapting to and accelerating in this market. The more capable we are of accepting how the world has changed, and the hospitality industry in particular, the more able we are to cope in unchartered territories and be able to create successful and profitable outlets.

The Covid-19 crisis and subsequent closings of each business has forced us to review our processes and the ways of working. We have had to look at our companies in a way that we haven’t looked at them before, which has pushed us to revisit our all of our contractual agreements, supply chains, vendor programmes and ensure they are realistic and reasonable. Restaurants must remain astute and strategic, saving costs wherever possible, finding new revenue streams for existing venues and always taking health regulations into consideration.

The digital demand 

During the crisis, restaurant owners were forced to open new revenue streams almost immediately, often rushing the process that typically takes months to plan and develop due to the pressure of their circumstances. The digital landscape has different expectations, cost structures, review systems and processes of operations, as well as an independent approach to marketing, branding and packaging. Like with any new business launch, it needs to be tailored specifically to both the consumer and the market in which it operates in, specifically the digital landscape, and especially for a premium or luxury brand. We need to learn how to embed digital businesses within our standards of operations, if we are to meet consumer expectations. New technology solutions must be adopted by traditional brick and mortar restaurants, which is vital to both cost optimisations and operational procedures. As we head out of crisis and look ahead, I believe this is something will improve organically, as consumers consider and respond to the value of each offering and compare to the traditional restaurant experience.

A local approach

Previously, the industry relied heavily on international imports for ingredients and employees, whereas now we need to look within the country we operate in. Locally sourced produce is something that I think will continue to grow and develop in order to meet the demands of restaurants across the UAE. We have discovered some nice surprises and hidden gems of local ingredients that we may not have found if it wasn’t for the pandemic.

Food security is incredibly important to the region, in such arid desert conditions we must look towards new innovations that create different methods for the growth of produce, and with the investments in farming technology made by the government we are able to enjoy high-quality produce and ingredients from the region within all food outlets here. We live in a globalised market and there will always be certain ingredients that we need to import, but the quality of locally sourced ingredients has significantly improved in recent years and is now either the same or better than international imports. This means we have the ability to create our own ecosystem of supply and demand. To support this, a mental shift is required from all restaurant owners and the chefs that guide them, we must become more knowledgeable about what we can do within the region, and more aware of the work that still needs to be done. It’s a process, but one that is moving in the right direction.

Relationships matter

While interpersonal skills are an essential attribute of the hospitality workforce, issues of high turnover and inability to retain talent has plagued our industry since its inception. The casual hours and transferable expertise mean that staff have a multitude of opportunities and often come and go. I believe that the crisis may have changed this for good, if we learn from this, we can strengthen the relationship between employee and employer and create more of a family approach. Now, when looking for jobs, people want to work for the companies that truly care for their staff. They need to know that their company will be transparent, honest and take care of them in a crisis. Having open conversations builds trust and reliability, and they are the some of the most motivating emotions we have access to.

As we emerge into an open-sourced economy, the same rule can be applied across client relationships and those with our suppliers. Consumers know when you are genuine, when you care about their opinion, their point of view and the experience they have in each venue. Following times of crisis, the reasons our consumers dine with us may have changed, it is our job and duty to ask about them, check that their families and loved ones are ok and build friendships. Having an empathetic approach can do more than just inspire repeat custom.

The crisis has given us an opportunity to reflect, to fix what wasn’t working, and to use our creativity to improve our offering on an industry-wide scale. Adapting to an uncertain and highly volatile market requires a quick and efficient decision-making process, business owners must become flexible in embracing new tactics that may not have been considered previously, and this new mindset has to be culturally adopted if we are to succeed.

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