Hospitality News Middle East - - HORECA NETWORK -

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

Ron­ald Huiskamp, Co-owner of H-hos­pi­tal­ity Mid­dle East – Africa

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