Every downturn has a silver lining

    Aidan Keane, founder of the specialist leisure and retail design company Keane, says the looming cloud of recession has a silver lining for the Middle East's F&B industry
    FOOD & BEVERAGE, Front of House, Opinion, Comment & Analysis

    Aidan Keane, founder of the specialist leisure and retail design company Keane, says the looming cloud of recession has a silver lining for the Middle East’s F&B industry

    Recession is a good thing.

    Yes, you did read it right — recession, a new phenomenon in the Middle East, does not in fact have to be feared, ignored or even unwelcome.

    Speaking as a Brit who has lived and worked through a couple, I believe I’m in a pretty good position to offer some advice to all of you in the region.

    Taking out the dead wood

    Recession sorts out the junk from the stuff worth keeping; it gets rid of the rubbish and makes every retailer, whether they’re selling food or futons, work harder to please and appeal to their target clientele.

    It removes a layer of arrogance from the market, that pompous veneer that so often infuriates us all as customers. It is also a huge reality check for those that think they have some divine right to operate, no matter how dire or dank their product.

    At this point, just before I race off headlong into the benefits of a recession, I do want to offer a caveat to this thinking —  teh fact that recession also claims the livelihoods of some who simply do not have the means, financial or otherwise, to withstand the ill wind of economic downturn.

    A tragic loss in some cases, but generally my original theory still rings true: in the long term, recession and the aura that surrounds it has a positive effect.

    A lesson in recession

    Let me rewind and remember my very first recession — nearly twenty-five years ago when I was leaving school, in 1984. Frankie may well have been telling us all to relax but outside my bedroom was manufacturing mayhem.

    The then–prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, laid into the heavily-unionised industries of the time and showed them the new way: that industry cannot be permanently subsidised by a government and that the burgeoning new world was in fact a ferocious free market, where the survivors were always the fittest.

    Then in the early nineties came the housing collapse, during which the words ‘negative’ and ‘equity’ were first mentioned together. It was tough, but we knuckled down and came through it two or three years later. (Although will I ever forget those 15% interest rates? I doubt it.)

    Sure, at the time, living through a recession was enormously hard work — but both times the outcome was good. And usually, the people who got properly stung were those who were desperately overcommitted and certainly batting way above their weight.

    Sound familiar? It seems that no matter what the governments of the time says, we always have a downturn following a period of prosperity — every decade or so. Perhaps it is just another natural cycle, like fashion and flares. Or a way of reminding us that too much of a good thing is not a good thing at all.

    A clean slate

    In short, recession clears every market of its overstock and that is certainly the case in the Middle East’s F&B businesses.

    Let’s face it: we were, and still are, served up some really quite desperate dishes from some truly terrible places; emphatically below-average restaurants that deserve to be wiped out and should have been, long ago.

    And at another level we have the incredibly pompous, stuffy places that revelled in exclusion. There’ll be a few less of those in the start line next year.

    See my point yet? If you are hard-working, focused on what the customer wants, striving for quality and keeping your place or places in time with the market, you will survive and come out of any downturn even more focused and full of expectation for the future.

    If, on the other hand, you believe yourself to be above or beyond such lowly rules, then watch out, because the recession’s going to bite a serious chunk out of your bottom line.

    So let’s not look upon this downturn as anything more than a large cut-back, a pruning of our market tree. It’s a clearing-out of the old, unfit and expired, so that the strong and new and adventurous brands can flourish.

    Just remember: be brave, be strong and be true!

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