Adapt, adopt or perish is the way forward in a post-pandemic world. Intense competition, increased focus on health and hygiene, socially and environmentally-conscious patrons and tech-led lifestyle are spawning innovation, out-of-the-box thinking and being ahead of the tech curve to survive and thrive amidst the growing challenges in a competitive sector.
Recently, when I tried to make dinner reservations at a swish Dubai Downtown restaurant, I was surprised to find they were fully booked. No availability on a weeknight? — I wondered. Perhaps this popular hotspot was an exception. Surely, in an area teeming with high-end eateries, there would be other options, I felt. Unfortunately, the response was the same at another sought-after outlet. A third resto-bar could offer a table only at 10pm, which I gratefully lapped up.
When we arrived on the appointed night, the sights and sounds reminded me of the pre-Covid-19 era — a buzzing vibe, crowded tables and lively music. But the addition of masked servers, QR (quick response)-coded menus, sanitisers and a multitude of cashless payment options, were stark reminders that despite the ‘normalcy’, the remnants of the pandemic-induced changes to our dining-out experiences were not going away any time soon.
Whichever way you look at it, socialising is not what it used to be.
“The developments have been revolutionary,”
says Deepak Bhatia, CEO, Snowbell Restaurant Management.
“From digital transformation to accepting the robotics model and automation, cloud kitchens, ROI (return on investments)-driven campaigns, extreme hygiene checks and wellness boosts, there has been visible growth in a short span. Consumers took a while to visit restaurants post the pandemic, but the latter had enough time to adapt to the new realities.”
The result is that while the crowds have returned and the industry appears to have bounced back after the battering it received in 2020-21, our dynamics with food and eating out have inexorably changed.
In this ever-evolving scenario, chefs, strategists, restaurant owners and industry experts list the top ‘future of dining’ trends that will dominate the foodscape in the years to come — affecting people offering the service as well as those enjoying it.
Technology dictates success
No surprises there! Technology has turned every aspect of our world topsy turvy so why should food be left behind? QR-coded menus, contactless delivery models and cashless payment modes were always present, but their use has accelerated 10-fold in recent times.
“Going paperless is the way extreme levels of sanitation and cleanliness have been deployed across operations; they have become an unending necessity,”
According to Eti Bhasin, owner of Dhaba Lane, an Indian dhaba-style restaurant, cashless payments as well as digital menus are here to stay even if, in the case of the latter, there has been no major dent to ordering off the physical menu.
“Both need to coexist because the young generation’s need for instant gratification though their mobiles is increasing by the day,”
Similarly, integration of robots in restaurants globally has become an accepted model. The trend isn’t super-hot in the UAE now, though there are examples like the ECOS Dubai hotel at Al Furjan, where a robot receives guests and shows them around.
Cloud kitchens are another pandemic-accelerated trend that is going strong even now, primarily because of the benefits they offer to reduce rental costs and increase revenue.
Simply put, digitisation has made deep inroads into every aspect of the food and beverage (F&B) business from front end to the back end.
Yunib Siddiqui, general manager, Jones the Grocer, says,
“During the pandemic we invested in upgrading all our digital content including our website, aggregator and proprietor home delivery channels. Our marketing strategies changed, including ensuring clear call to actions (CTAs) that drove e-commerce to our platform. From using QR codes to track and drive traffic, and developing an app to nearly every instance where we want the customer to interact with our platforms, digitisation has continued.”
Food aggregators and delivery platforms are your best bet… even now
When hunger pangs strike, your first instinct is to go to an app, scroll restaurants, cuisines and dishes, and place an order to be delivered to your doorsteps. But here’s a catch with food aggregators and delivery platforms. What is a blessing for users, has not exactly fattened the bottomlines for restaurants.
Alexander Stumpf, co-founder, BBSocial Dining at DIFC, says,
“Many restaurants jumped on these platforms especially during the pandemic, but due to high commissions, they offer only cash flow support and are not profitable models.”
Yet, food aggregators such as Zomato, Deliveroo and Talabat will become an even more integral part of our lives because of increased convenience for diners and juicy offers.
As Bhasin says,
“Post-Covid-19, we have seen at least 80 per cent of our monthly sales coming via Zomato Pro (an online platform that allows customers to pay and get a discount via their platform).”
Regardless of the impact on profits, it has almost become mandatory for outlets — from upscale restaurants to cool, intimate cafes — to be on a delivery platform. Mike Butler, CEO of Kava & Chai, a chain of coffee and tea houses, says the increase of at-home consumption has led them to bring even their specialty coffee and chai to doorstep delivery across Dubai and Sharjah through the apps.
“People are savvier with their money, time and loyalty these days. They want food and drink that is convenient, accessible and reasonably priced. Hence, businesses must adapt and respond to prosper,”
Social media is supreme. Restaurants need to trend
The TikTok generation is massively dictating food trends, presentation and concepts. The must-haves for a restaurant to garner attention — unique themes, trendy, TikTok savvy, Instagrammable, out-of-the-box concepts, ambience, presentation and palatable balance. People want in-the-moment, insta-worthy experiences that they can document and share. Chefs, therefore, must plan menus keeping social media share-worthiness in mind.
“Along with the taste, texture and flavours, a chef also must factor in how a dish will look on social media when an influencer gushes over it on his or feed. Video content is equally important since TikTok and reels have taken over our phones. A bit of theatrics is always welcome,”
chips in Pradeep Khullar, executive chef at Mint Leaf of London at DIFC.
Vegan and plant-based options have sprouted across menus
The biggest booster shot in the last two years has been that of health. Concepts of micro-greens, super-foods and vegan foods have become part of our dietary lexicon while awareness about gluten allergy, egg allergy, lactose allergy etc. is growing within the younger generation. Siddiqui explains how Jones the Grocer had to change their offerings based on consumer feedback and studies that indicated a huge need for varied dietary preferences.
“Often, one or two people in a group of diners arrive at the dining destination. If two of them are vegan, the group looks for a location which has the variety to cater for everyone. Therefore, a tasty, well-engineered menu with plant-based, vegan and vegetarian options can broadly influence consumer groups to dine at our stores.”
Restaurants have had no choice but to take note of the green thumbs and fitness enthusiasts and adapt. Rohith Muralya, director, Concept Cuisine SFC, says the wellness and vegan infused shifts have led his restaurants to improve their menu and identify items which contain gluten, dairy, eggs etc.
“Even in terms of veganism, people have noticed that a lot of vegan alternatives use enzymes and chemicals to recreate the same tastes. To make it more authentic, we are adapting by not using fake alternatives like lactose-free cheese but instead, focusing on traditional recipes using natural ingredients. Example: raw jackfruit biryani that can replicate almost similar textures as meat or chicken.”
Supper clubs are cool again
Another interesting and noticeable shift in the UAE hospitality scene is the return of the Supper Club. The constrictions of travel and experience, the masks on and off, and social distancing contributed to raising the interest of consumers to try exotic food while also gathering around the table and building real authentic experiences. Now, after the lifting of the restrictions, supper clubs have become cool again for people looking for low budget, exotic and authentic food, flavoured with a sense of camaraderie.
Alex George, a musician, is a huge fan of supper clubs.
“I went to Casa 21, a supper club launched by Jatin Suri, and really enjoyed it because it was such an intimate evening. You sit with absolute strangers who become good friends at the end of the meal. There is soul and passion that goes into preparation, great food and great company. Over eight courses, you discover a unique gastronomic experience different from a restaurant which is rather impersonal. I’ve a huge bucket list of supper clubs to try out,”
Once again technology is playing its part in bringing diners together. Take for instance platforms like Breakbread, a digital avenue, marketplace and hub for curated home-cooked food experiences that unite chefs and diners. Passionate chefs can host live cooking sessions via the platform and home cooks can join virtually to cook alongside professionals.
Dinner shows & theatrics are a hot call
This is a counter to digitisation, in-home dining and supper clubs. People may be thronging restaurants, yet the competition and latent fear of the virus means that brands must up their game and lure patrons out of the comfort of their homes in a sustained manner. The result is a huge boost in experiential dining where you have dinner with eye-popping shows.
Several number of new concepts have entered the market over the last few months with brands like Taikun, Koyo, Sass Lounge, Cirque Le Soir and more adding oomph to the nightlife in the city.
But what used to be a more high-priced experience has trickled down to the middle market segment as well where you can play a game of pool, darts or indulge in some activity alongside a great meal. The trend is huge in the West, but the UAE is catching up. Nadine Benchaffai, partner at Ella’s Eatery, observes,
“There is the older experiential that includes your typical dinner and shows. But now, there is a mid-priced sector that is more casual, with pool, crazy golf, etc. featured with food around it. These aren’t as expensive as the current high-end offerings and can work out better in terms of value, as you get a whole experience and evening out of it, not just a meal.”
Basically, it’s not just about the cuisine but it must be cuisine coupled with service and entertainment. Case in point is the Havana Social at Caesar’s Bluewaters where you can relish a churro or two as you take in the sights and sounds of a glam crowd learning the salsa or relish an electrifying entertainment performance in a fun, casual setting.
Non-alcoholic drinks — the new high
Experts note a huge rise in consumption of non-alcoholic drinks with the sector registering double digit growth rates in the last two years. The popularity can be attributed to several reasons primarily an increased awareness of health with a lot of people trying to reduce their alcohol intake.
Johnny Nixon, head of business development, Drink Dry, a premium non-alcoholic marketplace believes the F&B sector recovery has been great for this category.
“People are actively seeking out alcohol-free alternatives, and in response, the sector’s appetite to incorporate premium non-alcoholic drinks has increased. We have seen our customer base grow over 100 per cent in the last six months, but most importantly, the volume and frequency of orders from partners show that it is selling,”
Statistics support this trend as well. Globally, non-alcoholic beverages have risen year on year by over 15 per cent with spirits being the biggest movers rising over 30 per cent versus the previous year.
“In the UAE, we have seen our own business grow hugely on all fronts, with the Drink Dry Store registering 150 per cent growth against last year’s numbers. New markets like Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are also opening up for this segment since the UAE has a great influence in the wider region,”
The underlying principle: drink less but drink better.
Food halls are the new meeting grounds
Taking inspiration from Europe, the UAE and the Middle East in general have also embraced the Food Hall scene with a vengeance. Noted examples include Time Out Market at Souk Al Bahar and Depachika in Nakheel Mall. Stumpf, who has placed his BBSocial at both dining halls, asserts the move has paid off.
“We have seen good success as we are more in control of the food quality while guests have multiple choices to mix and match their appetite of quality food execution in a casual, laidback environment. These types of business models have helped us reach food lovers who may have not experienced our offerings at the main restaurant in DIFC.”
Value-based consumption on the rise
However, post the pandemic, ‘value’ based consumption is also on the rise. Customers are keener and more inclined towards asking for discounts, offers and promotions, notes Jugal Parekh, Managing Partner at Yummy Dosa.
“Every second customer while billing, makes sure to ask and find if at all there are any discounts or promotions available. We also do get approached by several new fintech apps offering discounts and cash backs for their seamless online payment structures,”
he says, adding that online payments paired with rewards and coupon codes for discounts is a popular space to crowd leading to many restaurants tying up with different platforms to ensure a repeat customer in the highly competitive industry. For diners, of course, this is great news. Too many choices with plenty of discounts — what’s not to relish?
Weekday dining is going up
It wasn’t surprising why I didn’t find a reservation at the fancy Downtown restaurant on a Tuesday. Experts say weekday dining has indeed gone up post the pandemic. So, every day is a Saturday now, which works well for restaurants. Earlier, there was a bit of a struggle to draw in diners on a working day (thus leading to the plethora of ‘ladies’ nights’, gentlemen’s nights, dance sessions and so on).
This is true of all categories of restaurants from high-end to casual.
Rayyan Rizvi, managing director, Yoko Sizzlers, says,
“The latest trend we have noticed is that of our weekday dining footfalls that have gone up quite a bit. Predominantly, it includes old time regular faces as well. The only logic behind this is to avoid the heavily booked restaurant and crowds over the weekend. Consumers are still watching out for their safety.”
The writing on the coffee cup is clear. For the F&B industry, it is a matter of adapt, adopt or perish. Intense competition, increased focus on the two big ‘H’s (health and hygiene), socially and environmentally-conscious patrons and tech-led lifestyle habits mean that innovation, out-of-the-box thinking and being ahead of the tech curve are the keys to surviving and thriving amidst the challenges.
Gen Z is an important target audience
Gen Z (those born between 1997-2012) are now entering adulthood and have interesting ideas about shaping the world which are being taken very seriously by the F&B sector.
“They have better education, attitude on social issues and purchasing power,”
says Adel Omar, marketing manager, Bosporus Turkish Restaurant.
“These new adults also have a new perspective towards the environment which will have a big impact on the food business. Gen Z consumers have a purchasing power more than millennials and are concerned about sustainability, corporate ethics and nutritional value of their food. As a restaurateur, it’s high time you paid heed to this rising generation. Their values will decide the food industry’s trends in the coming decade.”
News Source: Khaleej Times