F&B comes of age

Graeme Erens, CEO & ECD Genius Loci Worldwide.

Hotelier Middle East Magazine

The GCC is experiencing an influx of expatriates coupled with rising numbers of inbound travellers. This broadly influenced society is deeply involved in the growth of the hospitality sectors, whilst the regional entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in a push towards developing unique entertainment and dining experiences to engage this population.

In response, food and beverage trends are moving quickly as restaurants become destinations and the considered design of space adds to the eating experience in interesting environments.

Interior design, brand positioning, sub-culture association and dietary support as lifestyle additives are increasingly important in creating, launching and maintaining successful food and drink outlets.

We have a demanding and energetic population who will spend their cash on everything and anything they believe will add value to their lives and current experience, ensuring an early adopter recognition by peers.

Social media platforms have turned customers into ambassadors and evangelists which has created a culture of questioning, inquisitive individuals with strong opinions, real-time reviews and a knack for ‘experience’ documenting on multiple channels. They want authenticity with a balance of comfort and innovation and food that appeals to both the novice and the extreme foodie. Being the first to try the latest thing, eating consciously right, explorative indulgence and accessible nutrition is the game, and if the dish is worth a picture, all the better.

As the industry embraces the diverse dietary demands, we must be honest in our description of ingredients and their source. Millennials especially are averse to processed food — and artificial colours, preservatives and genetically modified ingredients are the death knell for brands.

Ethnic street food has migrated into five-star hotels and we’re seeing an increasing use of obscure ingredients and their origins almost as buzzwords and points of differentiation to these explorative, over-informed diners.

What we like to call ‘ancestral eating’ is on the rise, offering food influenced by cultures long forgotten or from lands far away. Dietary trends are also linking back to these ancient cultures, where grains and hunter-gatherer portions and diversity are on the rise.

The three-course meal has matured to older traditions of multiple shared plates and platters, reflecting a demand for diversity and perhaps (jokingly) supportive of shorter attention spans.

Vegetables are not going away and we expect to see veg-centric restaurants like Ladybird in New York which offers a vegetable charcuterie plate of smoked carrot, cured beet, mushroom pate, beet chorizo, cultured cheese and fig compote. The trend of round-the-clock breakfasts will continue and smart chefs will introduce new ingredients to the breakfast table such as crispy chicken — but the eggs must be cage-free! These establishments will be more communal and lend themselves to food-sharing.

Licensed hotels are seeing an increase in the creation of bars that are brand-independent to the operator, outlets that have environments that are (or appear to be) ‘owner-run’ and targeted towards a very particular clientele. There’s also a significant growth of owner-run, independent foodie speciality stores and cafés, outlets that realise the need to offer well designed and considered lifestyle experience spaces, often where food service is combined with sport or business activities.

Food trucks in the UAE have enabled an entrepreneurial spirit which is bringing authentic local and regional food offerings to temporary gatherings for residents and travellers alike. The food truck entrepreneurs, who are completely social media savvy, will continue to surprise us with creative dishes and destinations.

As home-grown hospitality and food and beverage brands continue to grow, we’ve seen the boom in cute cupcake bakeries, master chocolatiers and the coffee culture explosion. Now we are waiting for the next big thing to arrive in the region. We predict ‘over the counter’ culture will make a return with meat emporiums providing the finest products from around the world and the growth of everything artisanal from bakeries to cheese.

We eagerly await the next trend to get our teeth in to!

About the Author: Graeme Erens is the executive creative director and CEO of Genius Loci, which provides the hospitality and leisure industry with branding and experiential design solutions.

Contact info@geniusloci-uae.com.