HOW WA­TER IS CHANG­ING THE DIN­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE

While the hu­man body is made up of over 50 per­cent wa­ter, most of us have lit­tle, if any, spe­cific pref­er­ences when it comes to the drink­ing wa­ter we con­sume. This may be due, in part, to the fact that many con­sumers can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween one

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That re­al­ity, how­ever, has been grad­u­ally chang­ing, due to a broad range of fac­tors, chief among which is grow­ing health aware­ness, life­style and an ever-ex­pand­ing ho­tel and F&B scene. Con­se­quently, man­u­fac­tur­ers of bot­tled wa­ter are pro­mot­ing new ranges of prod­ucts aimed at sat­is­fy­ing these shifts in de­mand. At the same time, and in line with broad-based bids to add value, the global F&B in­dus­try has moved to im­ple­ment var­i­ous strate­gies aimed at dis­tin­guish­ing the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of­fered to their cus­tomers.

Cre­at­ing a niche mar­ket

Ac­cord­ing to Al­lied Mar­ket Re­search, the global bot­tled wa­ter mar­ket was val­ued at USD 169.8 bil­lion in 2015 and is ex­pected to rise to USD 319.9 bil­lion by 2020. Growth has been par­tic­u­larly strong in the GCC mar­kets, as ev­i­denced by the 1500 dif­fer­ent wa­ter brands reg­is­tered with the Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in 2011, ac­cord­ing to re­ports. The crowded mar­ket has proved to be es­pe­cially tax­ing for pre­mi­um­branded wa­ters op­er­at­ing in the Mid­dle East re­gion and, though the chal­lenges fac­ing the F&B in­dus­try are clear, the best strate­gies re­main elu­sive. Some F&B man­agers are pay­ing closer at­ten­tion to the brands of wa­ter they give their guests, thereby fo­cus­ing less on higher profit mar­gins and more on qual­ity of the ex­pe­ri­ence. Other hos­pi­tal­ity out­lets are of­fer­ing their guests rare bot­tled wa­ter brands that are un­avail­able in the re­tail mar­ket, cre­at­ing a niche for them­selves by adopt­ing a strat­egy based on brand ex­clu­siv­ity. De­spite these ap­proaches, how­ever, the big­gest bar­rier to grow­ing this kind of of­fer­ing stems from the need for a dif­fer­ent kind of ed­u­ca­tion that few seem to have.

In­sight from a global author­ity

The trend in food is for health and farm-to-ta­ble con­cepts, you want to know where your food is com­ing from, the same will hap­pen with wa­ter

To shed fur­ther light on that mat­ter, HN spoke to Martin Riese, the US’S only wa­ter som­me­lier and a global author­ity on the sub­ject.

Riese cur­rently holds the po­si­tion of gen­eral man­ager at Patina, an award­win­ning, Miche­lin-starred restau­rant, lo­cated in the heart of Down­town Los An­ge­les, serv­ing con­tem­po­rary French cui­sine with in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ences.

In 2013, he be­came the first pro­fes­sional in the world to of­fer a wa­ter menu at a restau­rant.

Riese be­lieves the big­gest chal­lenge in the wa­ter mar­ket is that con­sumers re­main un­der-in­formed about the

There are wine menus, se­lec­tions of beers and liquors, so why shouldn’t I of­fer guests a wa­ter menu?

dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of wa­ter avail­able. “Con­sumers are con­fused when it comes to the ques­tion of the source of wa­ter,” he said. “What is pu­ri­fied, what is spring, what is min­eral wa­ter?”

That re­al­ity, how­ever, hasn’t stopped a small num­ber of fine-din­ing restau­rants and five-star ho­tels from of­fer­ing wa­ter menus, a nov­elty they hoped their guests would find fas­ci­nat­ing.

An ad­vo­cate of this con­cept, Riese pointed out that mak­ing op­tions avail­able to cus­tomers has long been a prac­tice in the restau­rant busi­ness. “There are wine menus, se­lec­tions of beers and liquors, so why shouldn’t I of­fer guests a wa­ter menu?” he asked.

Though the im­ple­men­ta­tion of such a strat­egy can seem daunt­ing, Riese ex­plained that in­tro­duc­ing a wa­ter menu lends the restau­rant sev­eral key ben­e­fits. Firstly, he pointed out, “When you of­fer your guests a va­ri­ety of non-al­co­holic bev­er­ages, they will be tempted to try some­thing new in­stead of ask­ing for tap wa­ter right away.”

Such of­fer­ings, Riese added, raise the restau­rant’s re­turn on in­vest­ment (ROI) and add more value to the to­tal din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “In all the restau­rants where we im­ple­mented a wa­ter menu, wa­ter sales rose be­tween 100-350 per­cent,” he said. “The wa­ter menu is not just a fun idea, it is an ex­tremely im­por­tant rev­enue cen­ter now for restau­rants.”

Riese ex­plained that while the prices of the wa­ter on the menu range from USD 5-20, the high-end va­ri­eties are prov­ing pop­u­lar. “We ac­tu­ally now sell wa­ter in the price range of USD 12-20 all the time,” he noted. “You can def­i­nitely build your guest av­er­age with the wa­ter menu.”

Grad­u­ally, it seems, din­ers who are ex­posed to these of­fer­ings de­velop a soft spot for wa­ter. Riese is con­vinced that it’s an in­vest­ment.

“My mes­sage is al­ways the same; give wa­ter value and honor wa­ter,” he said. “Peo­ple will start to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of wa­ter and rec­og­nize that it’s way more than just a side bev­er­age.”

In an at­tempt to ex­pand its mar­ket share by draw­ing on this trend, Nestlé, which pro­duces a whop­ping 50 brands of bot­tled wa­ter, has cre­ated a som­me­lier ed­u­ca­tion scheme for re­gional F&B op­er­a­tors, as well as a wa­ter codex, com­pris­ing three books ded­i­cated to em­pow­er­ing the F&B com­mu­nity.

It has also been re­ported that a num­ber of com­pa­nies are tak­ing mat­ters a step fur­ther by in­vest­ing in wa­ter som­me­lier

ed­u­ca­tion. How­ever, some ex­perts be­lieve that this ap­proach needs to be adopted through­out the en­tire re­gion to be ef­fec­tive. One so­lu­tion, some say, would be to have F&B op­er­a­tors and bot­tled wa­ter sup­pli­ers join forces to cre­ate and in­tro­duce plau­si­ble strate­gies to un­lock the mar­ket’s po­ten­tial, while also ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple. At present, the learn­ing curve re­mains steep. How­ever, ex­perts are con­fi­dent that just as con­sumers be­gan mak­ing dis­tinc­tions be­tween Aus­tralian and Brazil­ian beef, they will also start de­vel­op­ing pref­er­ences when it comes to wa­ter.

Riese sees the trend as a nat­u­ral in­dus­try pro­gres­sion. “The trend in food is for health and farm-to-ta­ble con­cepts,” he con­cluded. “You want to know where your food is com­ing from. The same will hap­pen with wa­ter. Peo­ple will start to ask ques­tions about the source of the wa­ter they’re be­ing of­fered and, in the fu­ture, will de­mand wa­ter from un­touched, nat­u­rally-oc­cur­ring sources. I there­fore en­vi­sion ma­jor suc­cess in glacial, spring and min­eral wa­ters.”

Martin Riese, the US’S only wa­ter som­me­lier

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