Special Report: Head Chef Survey 2017

The results of Caterer Middle East's Head Chef Survey show that chefs are placing greater importance on social media, quality produce and sustainability
FOOD & BEVERAGE, REPORTS, Executive Interviews, Head Chef Survey

Over the past few months, Caterer Middle East has been compiling detailed information from chefs in the region to gauge the state of the regional F&B industry and uncover any pressing issues. Now in its eighth year, the survey was conducted online which enabled chefs to anonymously contribute to the study. Topics covered included preferred suppliers, education, what they would change about their jobs and what inspired them to enter the profession.

Read on as we provide a detailed breakdown of some of the results along with comments from high profile chefs in the region who agreed to go on record with their opinions.

Social Media

For the third year running, we asked chefs about their social media habits. Just like last year Facebook leads the pack in 2017 when it comes to the social media platform favoured by chefs with 83% using the network to promote and share information about their venues. This was a slight drop from last year’s figure of 85% but what was notable this year was the 20% surge in Instagram usage from 57% to 78%.

The highly visual platform lends itself perfectly to food photography and increasing numbers of chefs are using Instagram to share pictures of new dishes or to give their followers an insight into what goes on behind the pass. Chefs are finding that it’s a good way of communicating with customers directly. 

Linkedin dropped from second place last year to third this year with 70% of chefs using the network. Twitter (22%), Pinterest (12%) and Snapchat (5%) continued their downward trajectory.

In response to the question of why they choose one platform over another, one chef said: “They are the most widely used/common platforms with the most user interaction and relevance to users in this region.” Another chef succinctly added: “Snapchat is for nudes. Twitter is for wit. I work in food.”

Inspired by the growing phenomenon, a new question this year addressed the use of social media influencers to help promote a venue. A whopping 78% of chefs said they workedwith influencers, indicating the perceived high return on investment associated with using these social media figures. 

An avid ‘Instagrammer’, Marina Social head chef Craig Best said: “Our PR agency thinks I should be the designated photographer for Marina Social. Apparently I’m doing a great job taking pictures but I have to admit our dishes are quite photogenic and they can become social media influencers. I think this trend is growing and people want to see a more personal side of restaurants, get to know the real people behind the food, our team’s daily life, our fun interactions in the kitchen, and above all else, our accents. Food aficionados want a behind-the-scenes look, they’re interested in the process of food making just as much as they’re interested in tasting the delicious finale. I definitely think it’s important to stay up-to-date with industry trends, and social media is the biggest one at the moment.”

Delivery Apps

Another way in which technology is changing the face of the global F&B industry is through the rapid growth of delivery app use. Previously confined to pizza and fast food, delivery apps have changed the face of what is traditionally considered a takeaway restaurant. This presents specific challenges.Mercato Italian Café DIFC chef Raffaello Cavazzuti said: “Delivery apps have changed the restaurant business and we have to challenge ourselves to design the menu so that the dishes get delivered to customers tasting as good as it would in the restaurant.”

There are also opportunities associated with the trend. Restaurants are no longer confined to four walls and dishes reach a wider audience. Urban Bistro chef Krishna Shrestha believes that apps like Deliveroo and Uber Eats are changing the industry: “Delivery apps have created a different playground for the restaurant businesses to work in. The costs are sometimes challenging for businesses to work with, but it’s an interesting field and direction for the market.”

When we asked our chefs if they worked with delivery apps in their outlets, the results were practically split down the middle with 48% saying yes and 52% saying no. When it came to the apps they preferred, Deliveroo and Zomato tied for first place with 45% of respondents saying that they use their services. With only 8% of chefs citing UberEats it’s clear that the technology company still has a long way to go when it comes to penetrating the regional market.

Michelin Guide

Caterer first asked chefs if they thought Dubai was ready for a Michelin Guide last year. In 2016, 68% of respondents said Dubai was ready however, this year the amount of positive responses decreased to 59%. This could indicate that chefs in the region are placing less stock in fine dining establishments and moving towards the more casual, ingredient-driven concepts that we’ve seen emerge across the city in the past year. Still, one of the respondents threw all of their support behind the Michelin Guide coming to Dubai saying: “I honestly believe that the restaurants in Dubai can challenge any restaurant on the Michelin Guide.” 

Marina Social’s head chef Best echoed this sentiment: “As the majority of my experience in the UK is from Michelin-starred kitchens I really understand the intensity of work that goes behind the scenes to obtain a star. I feel that there are a handful of restaurants that could obtain a star and Dubai needs to attract food travellers to come try what I believe is a trendy food scene here in the UAE.”

Another chef was of the opinion that: “Most of the customers cannot really appreciate the value of a Michelin star, most of the fine diningrestaurants are struggling. Only if The Guide itself changes and starts appreciating the overall experience without the fancy set up and the overpriced ingredients.”

Though some chefs were optimistic about the arrival of The Guide, supply stream challenges were cited as a concern. One chef said: “There are plenty of good places and good investment, the only thing is that Michelin expects local produce on menus and here that is a bit hard.”

Zahira Dubai executive chef, Greg Malouf has strong opinions about the Michelin Guide’s arrival in the region: “Nothing grows here naturally except for camels and dates. Chefs instinctively gravitate to stunning fresh produce. Michelin restaurants thrive on delivering excellence in service. From my own experience, The Michelin Guide likes to see home-grown restaurants, originality, longevity and consistency.”

Staying Local

Being able to source high quality local produce is a major concern for most chefs with 78% of respondents citing quality ingredients as the most important factor for the success of their restaurants closely followed by good customer service at 64%. In fact, in response to what he most disliked about his job, one chef answered: “The lack of knowledge and understanding of good produce in the region.”

The good news is that more chefs are sourcing local produce than they were last year. In 2016, 23% of participants stated that 20-30% of the items they procured were local and this year 28% of chefs said that 20-30% of their ingredients were sourced locally.  Not only are chefs sourcing locally, they are also growing their own ingredients: “We have our own organic boxes where we grow small amount of herbs and vegetables and we work with local producers.”

This is an important development for chefs as well as customers, who want to know where their food comes from. When asked what additional support would facilitate their jobs, a participant said: “Being able to have great fresh produce available more easily and not so expensive to enhance customer experience.”

Being able to source ingredients locally is especially important for outlets that are striving to be sustainable. In a region known for its disproportionately large carbon footprint, several outlets are introducing sustainable practices. One of the chefs gave some examples: “We have implemented a food waste management programme where we segregate food waste into garbage, plastic, paper and glasses. We also have a compost machine to reduce the wastage and reuse it for plants and we do charity and food donations. With regards to the menu, I have removed hammour and we go more with the option of buying goods from the local market.”

Six Senses Zighy Bay executive chef Tim Goddard is passionate about using local produce saying: “In order to best capture local flavours one must honour the regions' offerings. This is easily done simply by sourcing inspiration/product from what is in front of you. For example here at Six Senses Zighy Bay we have local Zighy dates (nearly 1,000+ trees around the resort), Omani lobster and Sherry fish from the local fishermen.”

When asked about the top three challenges they face, the majority of participants named increased competition, reduced consumer spending and labour shortages. The same top three issues were named last year. Increased competition was a concern for It seems that outlets are being squeezed financially and the resulting cost-cuts are having a knock-on affect on the number and the quality of employees that are hired.

A chef commented on labour shortages saying: “It is the disparity of the wages between upper management and rank and file. You get what you pay for.”

The Caterer Middle East Head Chef Survey 2017 has revealed that chefs in the region are resourceful when it comes to overcoming supply chain obstacles and responsive to industry changes brought about by developments in technology. Financially, it’s been a tough year for hospitality. The pound has failed to recover from last year’s Brexit fall-out which means that tourists are spending less. 

Still, the region continues to attract restaurateurs who believe in its potential. Having recently opened a new restaurant, Malouf added: “Dubai, geographically, is almost the centre of world. Cultures mix and blend, locals share there hospitality and generosity and tourists fill hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. So much can be gathered as a resident living in Dubai, the opportunities are endless!”

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