What will customers want from F&B venues post-COVID-19?
Charlie Weaving and Joao Serio of Livit Hospitality Management discuss how to adapt to the ‘new normal’
With summer fast approaching and lockdown restrictions gradually being eased, many Dubai residents are wondering what’s next for the city’s F&B industry. As people wait for restaurants, bars and other venues to be given the go-ahead to reopen, albeit under strict health and safety restrictions, F&B businessowners and management are working tirelessly to transform their operational strategies and adapt to the new normal this summer.
The Bungalow, a popular beach bar and lounge situated on the south end of La Mer, is one such venue that’s busy planning ahead for the summer months, with the aim of utilising its spacious layout, extensive outdoor air-conditioned facilities and attractive location to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for guests, while still adhering to post-lockdown measures.
Here, Charlie Weaving, managing partner, and Joao Serio, director of operations, of Dubai-based LIVIT Hospitality Management, the company behind The Bungalow, offer their thoughts on the future of Dubai’s F&B industry and how they plan to adapt their approach to deal with the new normal.
How can brunches be adapted to offer enjoyable post-lockdown experiences that adhere to social distancing measures?
CW: A brunch is essentially just another busy daytime restaurant experience, so restaurants should be able adapt accordingly and create enjoyable experiences on a day-to-day basis, no matter what the time of day or circumstances are. Hence, a brunch should be no different. While it’s true that, traditionally, most brunches have big buffets, there are also some excellent brunches based on à-la-carte menus, eight-course tasting menus, etc., and I that’s how things are going to be moving forward.
Moreover, an á-la-carte option is more beneficial for F&B businesses, because they can avoid the food wastage that comes with a buffet brunch. Even though venues will have to maintain social distancing and hygiene practices, it’s still vital that they turn up the music and create the right kind of vibe at a Friday brunch. Combine that with a special food offering, like an eight-course tasting menu over a four-hour period, and customers won’t want to leave.
JS: I believe the all-you-can-eat food stations and buffets will definitely be dropped by bars and restaurants from now on, for the foreseeable future at least. It’s exciting to see a new era of brunching being ushered in, which will finally see a shift away from the all-you-can-eat-and-drink mentality. The focus will now move to the quality of the experience, allowing F&B establishments to really showcase their ability to create diverse menus that explore a variety of great-tasting, high-quality food, complemented by an enjoyable atmosphere.
How can Dubai’s F&B industry evolve to deal with a very new set of demands, as people adjust to the new normal?
CW: We need to think completely outside the box and do things that we’ve never done before, including at-home experiences. If you’ve got a venue, but you can’t generate the revenue you’re used to, then you’re forced to think, “How can we create extra revenue streams?” You also need to bear in mind that customers will remain cautious, even after the pandemic has passed. They’ll want to have their personal space, but still have the option to celebrate with friends. So, why not take the experience to them? Send a couple of waiters and chefs to their house and recreate the kind of vibe they want. If they’re missing the beach-club vibe, then set up the at-home brunch around their pool. Alternatively, if it’s a high-end experience they’re looking for, then give them that level of service around their own dining table.
There are many ways to adapt. Of course, the delivery element is going to be integral to business moving forward no matter what segment of the F&B sector you’re in. Additionally, even digital events can generate revenue and keep things relevant. As members of the F&B community, it’s time to roll our sleeves up, knuckle down, think outside the box like never before, and come up with effective ways of generating extra revenue streams. At the same time, we also need to focus on adhering to any restrictions put in place, while still creating a great experience for guests. People don’t need to be shoulder to shoulder with each other at a restaurant, lounge, or beach club to have a great time. I personally prefer my own space when I’m, in the company of my close friends, but, of course, I still like to listen to good music and see other people enjoying themselves.
JS: We’re lucky that the Dubai F&B and hospitality scene is set in a country with beautiful weather, which enables restaurants, bars and other outlets to concentrate on their outdoor spaces. Once lockdown restrictions are eased further, F&B businesses with spacious outdoor areas can provide safe settings that allow guests to social distance, while still benefiting from upbeat vibes and an appealing atmosphere. Even though all new health and safety restrictions will have to be rigidly followed, and this will initially pose a new set of challenges, I’m confident in our industry’s ability to adapt and overcome. More importantly, F&B businessowners and management can take advantage of this opportunity to elevate their standards across the board.
Do you believe the UAE is better equipped than other countries to deal with the restrictions of a post-lockdown and post-pandemic world?
CW: Yes, I believe the UAE is better equipped to deal with restrictions, because we’re a small country, so we can adapt quickly to situations, and we’ve proved that in the past. We’re an incredibly strong country with a fantastic fighting spirit, full of residents with an immense collective pride in our F&B industry. In fact, I believe we have the best hospitality and F&B offerings in the world. We have the best hotels, the best restaurants, the best beach clubs, and the best nightclubs, which put us at the top of the tree. We know what we’re doing; we’re fighters, and we’ll come together and adapt to this situation. Dubai being Dubai, I know we’ll find a formula that works, and we’ll come out of this even stronger.
JS: As the UAE is such a well governed country with entry points limited to two airports at the moment, the government is able to effectively monitor and control the situation without having to fully close its borders. This, combined with an excellent healthcare system and its ability to reinvent itself, definitely puts it at the top of the list of countries that can swiftly emerge from this pandemic, stronger.
What gives you confidence in The Bungalow’s ability to effectively adapt and, subsequently, thrive over the coming months, as lockdown measures are eased?
CW: Even though The Bungalow is an outdoor venue, we’ve got great cooling solutions, along with a lot of space, so we’re able to spread guests out across the venue but still deliver a memorable F&B experience, along with the very best vibes. LIVIT, as a group, goes across all segments of the sector, from 3-star products to 7-star products, depending on the location, venue, etc. By 3-star, we mean casual, inexpensive and accessible to everyone, which is what we strive for with The Bungalow. The venue provides excellent hospitality and reaches all the Dubai and LIVIT standards.
JS: Having such an excellent partner in Meraas and a beautiful outdoor location at La Mer, together with a full team of experts who constantly look for ways to excel, makes me confident that we will be ready to not only cope with the necessary restrictions, but also provide excellent F&B experiences and The Bungalow’s signature vibes.
Weaving and Serio are managing partner and director of operations respectively at Livit Hospitality Management. Based in Dubai, the company provides management services to lifestyle hospitality brands, helping them bring homegrown concepts to fruition.