THE RESTAURANT MARKET IN KSA
Testament to the exciting changes that are happening in the Saudi F&B market, the GRIF Society will be holding its inaugural event in Riyadh on November 29 as part of an exclusive series of global events for the restaurant investment industry. Here, we speak to Gustavo de Hostos & Ronald Huiskamp, owners of H-hospitality Middle East – Africa, a concept and design studio based in Dubai and Amsterdam, to find out more about the restaurant market in KSA and the exciting opportunities it offers investors
It is an exciting time to be part of the restaurant market in Saudi Arabia. New rules about seating sections, music, entertainment and female staffing, have brought a new vibe to the diningout market. Entrepreneurs are capitalizing on this with fresh concepts that, for a large part, are much more casual than previously was the case. We see more and more inspiring venues, focussing on a casual approach to service and design. Restaurant concepts have become more diverse in cuisine and style, compared to the largely American-orientated big brands from a decade ago - even though they too, seem to enjoy good demand. This article briefly touches upon restaurants at every level, with highlights to watch out for.
The restaurant market in Saudi is something like a large tanker ship; it took time to get going, but now that it's on the move, it will be hard to stop it
'Fast good' is certainly a segment that offers much potential. Byblos Xpress, the offspring of the well know Byblos restaurant of the Leylaty restaurant group, is an example of good quality fast food in a modern Lebanese setting. Other examples include Firegrill, Shobak and Chunk. At the far end of the casual spectrum we can place the food trucks and in Saudi these seem to be blossoming. Great examples are Dr. Fele, the sweet truck that 'gives cardiac arrests', Baozi food truck and Ice Revolution. But healthy food is also on the rise and has become an integral part of the eating habits of the young and educated Saudi millennials. We see operators slowly going into a more balanced offering with less sugar and more vegetarian and vegan options. Circle and home-grown Sinless and Yogi Riyadh are good examples of this growing development.
The large-sized market of people that can afford to eat out seems to have a preference for casual dining in smaller places. Places like Urth Caffe and Bafarat generate a feeling of quality in a relaxed and stimulating atmosphere. The market seems keen to adopt new concepts like this. Whilst big brands remain popular and continue to play an important role, smaller and more European types, like Le Pain Quotidien, Paul and Lenotre have been added to the landscape. It is interesting to note that neighboring Kuwait has become something of an example in the region, developing good quality casual restaurants through companies like Gastronomica who have created some contemporary, hip restaurants like B+F Open Flames, Cocoa Room and White Robata (they are expanding into the KSA market).
Hotel restaurants are, for a large part, still quite traditional and less aligned with what the market nowadays is expecting, but it won't be long before they adopt the same approach as hoteliers in other parts of the Peninsula, and outsource their F&B spaces, or cooperate with a brand of a particular chef. Some very promising future upscale openings will be Cipriani, Hakkasan (having announced five near future openings), Nusret and Novikov, all blockbuster brands that will lift the Saudi gastronomical landscape. Asian powerhouses Toki and Nozomi are doing this already in both Jeddah and Riyadh.
The restaurant market in Saudi is something like a large tanker ship; it took time to get going, but now that it's on the move, it will be hard to stop it! If done well, there are plenty of opportunities in the quick service, casual and upscale dining markets. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind in this fast-developing market. The first risk is that too many people see the opportunities and jump into the market at the same time. The Dubai market, however exciting it may be, has witnessed some of this saturation, with plenty of casualties as a consequence. Secondly, quality is key in a demanding market and the restaurant business is tough and unforgiving. Customers are experienced and in order to manage their expectations, good staffing and training are absolutely essential.
To find out more about GRIF Society and the Riyadh Conference, visit www.grif.com.
Ronald Huiskamp, Co-owner of H-hospitality Middle East – Africa