I have recently been wondering why, having lived in the Middle East for over seven years now, I can’t find a good, regular local eatery that can cater to my needs two or three times a week within a 5km radius of my house.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cooking at home, almost as much as I enjoy going out, and yet there is a memory of a time whereby upon returning home from work, a spur-of-the-moment decision would result in departing my abode and venturing up the street and around the corner to my local dining haunt, becoming a pillar of daily life.
To be fair, it was not about the atmosphere or ambiance of the place, more so, it was the quality of the food, reasonably priced and served with genuine warmth, care and heart. I could complete my experience in 45 minutes, walk back home feeling content and satiated, and repeat the above on a regular basis.
This brings me back to my original thought. When talking with others about our favourite restaurants in the Middle East, it dawned on me that here, our favourite is not necessarily our regular. Publically voted restaurant awards are a great barometer of this, as the name of a truly unique destination dining experience with a famous chef at the helm is reeled off. What they fail to reveal is this amazing experience was in celebration of an anniversary last March. It is truly a special occasion venue, however it is classed as a favourite. Why? Surely there are some restaurants, that we frequent more often than not, which can stand up to their rights to the claim of being our favourite?
Possibility one: we are so spoilt for choice in the Middle East that we don’t need to limit ourselves to one outlet. It’s true, the F&B scene in the Middle East is on a continuous surge throughout the region. However, where are these surges occurring… shopping malls and hotels predominately? Not really the destination for a spontaneous meal in a residential area.
Possibility two: there is a huge gap in residential areas for outlets offering quality products at reasonable pricing. We are spoilt for choice with both high-end fine dining destinations and casual outlets. The industry as a whole needs to focus on creating more home-grown premium casual concepts that fill this omnipresent void.
Possibility three: delivery has replaced the local. It’s not the hour-long waits it used to be, from the time you pick up the phone to your meal being delivered can be less than half an hour. It would take longer for us to get in the car or walk to a local to begin with!
QSRs have been doing delivery for years. The wider F&B industry has grabbed onto this idea with both hands and now not a day goes by where you do not pass a motorcycle with a heated box on the back advertising anything from falafel and roast chickens, to salads and sushi.
Two clear outcomes: one is a lack of development of the kinds and types of outlets needed to fill that premium casual space in the market and the second is the choice available to us for delivery options. At this stage the local has not really disappeared… it just comes to us now.
As featured on www.hoteliermiddleeast.com on September 7 2014
Duncan Fraser-Smith is the founder of The Cutting Edge Agency that specialises in the development and creation of benchmark F&B concepts through conceptualisation and training, as well as sourcing and partnering with international brands and high-profile chefs to successfully establish their presence in the Middle East. Visit www.thecuttingedgeagency.com