Food Fashion

How can outlets remain relevant without becoming a food fashion victim
Carluccio's is one of the outlets Foodmark has developed in Dubai.
Carluccio's is one of the outlets Foodmark has developed in Dubai.
Fire & Ice at Raffles Dubai
Fire & Ice at Raffles Dubai

In a world of fickle consumers and ever-changing F&B trends, how can outlets remain relevant without becoming
the latest food fashion victim?

When it comes to trends, the Middle East market is a bit like a youngster eagerly trying to emulate a trendy older sibling: if there is something new and exciting going on in a more established market, be it in fashion, food or finance, you can bet your life it will make its way here.

That’s not to say all incoming trends will become permanent fixtures; the fad may pass almost instantly. But this is certainly a region that is willing to experiment.


In the F&B industry, trends over the past few years have included crazy cocktails, Japanese food, cupcakes, molecular cuisine and organic ingredients — and more than a few new outlets have closed down within months, after trying to cater to a craze and falling short.

But whether these trends have had positive or negative outcomes for operators, the bottom line is that today, food is fashionable.

Ritz-Carlton Doha executive chef Matthew Morrison said he felt the foodie renaissance was down to media influence. “Cooking programmes on television and the celebrity chef boom of the past 10 years have got people more interested in food as an art; today people see it as a modern, chic interest,” he explained.

Increased public knowledge is all well and good, but constantly-changing food fads can put additional pressure on F&B operators.

As Baptiste Aubour, outlet manager of L’atelier des Chefs — a culinary ‘school’ located at Le Méridien Dubai — pointed out, guest expectations are “constantly moving, changing and evolving”.

“Cupcakes, for instance, have seen real success in the Middle East — but not for long, I’d guess,” he predicted.
“The best way to follow trends is to study your customers, so you know what’s working in real time,” Aubour asserted.
Foodmark deputy general manager Naveed Dowlatshahi agreed the consumer must lead the operator, noting: “The best form of advertising is word-of-mouth and that is how food fads are created.

“If the consumer likes what they see and taste, word will travel — and nothing beats that sort of PR.”
However Raffles Dubai executive chef Andrew Whiffen said he believed it was the industry that should take the lead when it comes to F&B trend-setting.

“The key is identifying an aspect of the F&B industry which has not been approached, or giving an old approach a new twist. Having said that, there is every possibility that the consumer can have a strong influence on what direction trends take,” he admitted.


“The increase of farmers markets across the UK is a good example: local food providers such as butchers and fishmongers were on the verge of becoming extinct. But as the general public became more aware of the potential health benefits and superior taste of organic or local foods, demand for these items has returned.”

However it starts, once a trend takes off, it can mean big bucks for those with the supply to meet demand.
Furthermore, a successful trend may well become a consumer expectation when they dine out — so not catering to the current craze could hold an outlet back.

But surely there are also risks if a restaurant or bar panders to every fad that comes along, thereby confusing its offering?
Nadine Lombard, manager of Filini Restaurant at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Yas Island, noted: “Like the fashion industry, restaurateurs are constantly striving to create something different and trendy to draw the crowd.

“You could choose to follow every trend that comes along — or you can stick to what you know and what your guests expect of you.

“I think there’s a careful balance to be struck,” she continued. “If you experiment too much with trends, you risk losing your regular clientele; better to look to ideas that hold a timeless quality.

“But if you do take that risk, and follow new market trends, you need to be prepared to re-invent yourself every six months when each fad fades, which could cost you a fortune and leave the consumer unsure of where you are heading,” she warned.

Foodmark’s Dowlatshahi added that outlets adhering to trends too closely could “lose focus of what should be the real driving factor, which is delivering what the customer wants”.

“For me the formula is simple: find a niche in the market and then focus on providing quality in all areas of that arena,” he asserted.

But this is not always the case in the Middle East market, as Raffles’ Whiffen noted.

“Fads in F&B are very common here, and unfortunately opening a restaurant based on a trend does have a potential risk,” he said.

“There do seem to be a number of restaurants and bars which launch and are trend-based — and it’s always interesting to see how long such ventures last.

“But if you do build your business on a new trend, doing a full and detailed market survey can help ensure the concept will last the test of time,” he advised.

Although some fad-based ventures will fail, those with a solid grounding — and a nose for a lasting trend — could do extremely well.

But for ventures that make the decision not to chase every new food trend that comes along, how can they ensure their offering remains current, relevant and in fashion?

Foodmark’s Dowlatshahi said the best bet was to “keep things simple”.

“Understand your customer and deliver what they want in service and quality. Play with the menu occasionally to keep the taste buds interested, but stick to the original concept,” he said.

Radisson’s Lombard agreed listening to customers was key, and recommended “maintaining high, consistent standards”.

 “Small changes can make a huge difference, so keep your outlet exciting by introducing new menu items or changing the look of your menu and wine list,” she said. “But most individuals are creatures of habit, so overly drastic changes may cause you to lose customers.”

So although a carefully thought-out change can refresh an outlet, dramatic changes won’t necessarily impress your clientele — as noted by Raffles’ Whiffen.

“Should business demand that changes be made, simple and cost-effective alterations can be made to things such as the music, menu format or content or uniforms,” he commented.

“Any long-standing restaurant or bar must have built up a good client base — and they will keep returning because of the offering and service they receive there.

“So simply making reactionary, dramatic changes can ultimately be worse for business than no change
at all.”

Fleeting fads...
“I would say in recent years it would have to be Japanese restaurants, especially with sushi.”
Naveed Dowlatshahi, Foodmark

“The minimalistic, cold approach to food and interior, which lack personality and atmosphere.”
Nadine Lombard, Radisson Blu Hotel, Yas Island

“Molecular gastronomy. With all respect to the pioneers of the discipline, which has raised some great cooking techniques, I personally feel that the consumers are more interested in eating a perfect olive than an olive which has been puréed and then chemically turned back into an olive with no texture.”
Andrew Whiffen, Raffles Dubai

“I believe recently, due to the global economic climate, we’ve seen great value for money at the top restaurants. The same applies to Friday brunch deals — a great trend in this market, which I do not believe will disappear any time soon.”
Naveed Dowlatshahi, Foodmark

“Lively venues with a great atmosphere, that are capable of transforming themselves depending on the time of day.”
Nadine Lombard, Radisson Blu Hotel, Yas Island

“Lounge bars: these are becoming more and more popular all over the world, offering a casual atmosphere with light snacks as an evening option, rather then going out for a full meal.”
Andrew Whiffen, Raffles Dubai

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