Well, 2018 has arrived and so has VAT. Time will tell exactly how value-added tax will affect the industry but what we do know is that the forecasts for this year weren’t positive irrespective of the newly introduced duty.
When we last checked in with them, the region’s restaurateurs were bracing themselves for what they expected would be a difficult 2018. Though VAT was a concern, the business owners we spoke to had other concerns on their plates. Licensing, large upfront payments and high rents are all issues that need to be addressed if the industry is to continue thriving. Sharing his thoughts (p6), Creneau International director Dirk van de Haar said: “I cannot explain to a customer they are being charged AED 400 for a meal due to high rent. They are not going to accept that.”
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. Consumers aren’t going to stop going to restaurants but the likelihood is that they’ll be more selective about where they choose to spend their hard-earned cash. And restaurateurs should do the same.
The industry has been talking about experiential and personalized dining experiences for a while, but restaurants that fail to engage with their guests run the risk of failing entirely.
There has to be a balance between staying true to your concept and applying a cookie-cutter approach to hospitality. Perhaps it’s about carving out spaces within the concept where customers feel that their needs are being catered to.
In her comment piece this month (p11), LXA’s Sarah-Jane Grant said: “We need to start by understanding that successful design now involves offering guests a sense of belonging to a community as well as feeling comfortable and sociable in their chosen restaurant.”
With comfort comes intimacy and connection. It’s hard to picture a more intimate restaurant than the 28-seater Kohantei (p32) tucked away in the Dubai Opera. In the three months that the restaurant — serving traditional kaiseki cuisine — has been open, it has cultivated a cult following of repeat VIPs, who co-founder Benjamin Ng has on speed dial. The restaurant keeps a file on each guest detailing what they’ve ordered, their likes and dislikes. This level of service and personalization is something that a 300-seater could never achieve and something that has evidently struck a chord with guests.
Featured on this month’s cover, Naim Maadad (p18) believes that successful concepts start with “doing your homework”. Before opening a new outlet, the restaurateur spends several weeks on the ground, studying the area, the demographics, the existing outlets, the parking, and more. If the result is a restaurant that customers resonate with, they will come, even if it costs them 5% more.