x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Food serves up safe investment

Karl Goransson, a restaurant manager in Abu Dhabi, shares his thoughts on money and investment.

Karl Goransson, the manager of Al Fanar in Abu Dhabi's Le Royal Meridien hotel, enjoys spending his money on food.
Karl Goransson, the manager of Al Fanar in Abu Dhabi's Le Royal Meridien hotel, enjoys spending his money on food.

I've always been involved in food and beverage. I like to serve people, I like to see them enjoying themselves and having a good time, and where else can you do that but in a restaurant? I started my career back home in Sweden in the mid-1980s, and then I was in South Beach, Miami, until my visa ran out in 2006. At that point I felt it was time for a change. The UAE has been a magnet for people since I was in hospitality school, and then there was the question of whether to choose Dubai or Abu Dhabi. I thought, in terms of the evolution of the food industry, Abu Dhabi is going to be the next big thing. I moved here in November of 2006. I'm comfortable with money. I like to think "what goes around comes around", and I try not to be too cheap because you don't want to be treated that way yourself. I don't spend too much, but I don't hold back too much, either. I think my view of money has to do with the social system in Sweden, where you pay a lot of taxes but everything is provided. I was brought up with that idea. My attitude towards money has changed since I came here, and I think that has to do with the whole economic situation at the moment. Like most people, I'm getting a bit more cautious. Inflation is starting to bite. The price of onions recently jumped by 200 per cent in just two weeks, for example. I've seen that privately and in the restaurant. Here in the UAE I don't own property, but back home in Sweden I own land. There are no mortgage payments on it, but there is always the Swedish tax, which can vary between 30 per cent and 50 per cent depending on your income. I have a monthly retirement fund that I pay in to privately, and then I've got my student loans. That's it. I'm not married, and that makes my finances easier. I check on my accounts regularly, mainly online. I try to keep track of what I have and have not done. For example, let's say on Thursday I went out and did this and that, and it cost roughly this much. Every time you log on you can see the balance in your account, and of course sometimes I'm off by a few dirhams here and there, but I'm fairly good at keeping track of what I spend. I always pay with cash or debit card. I use a credit card every once in a while, but that can get out of hand. The only savings nest egg that I have is my retirement plan. I own stocks, most of them based in Sweden, and I've got quite a few bonds, also in Sweden. If I want to change anything, I contact my bank online, and I can always get a recommendation from the bank on how to manage my portfolio. As for what I spend money on regularly, I would say food. Sadly, I don't cook for myself as much as I'd like, but when I buy groceries I usually spend Dh200 (US$54.45) to Dh300 a week. When it comes to consumer goods, I don't really spend much. Maybe books. My investment in food is the biggest one. I did get an expensive toy last year, a BlackBerry Pearl, but I think that's the last major thing I bought. The most expensive thing I ever bought was my property in Sweden. I own the land, and we built a house on it. The house is owned by my parents. I had some money but I didn't have enough to build a house, and they had enough money for the house, but not for the land. I don't think people here in general have a skewed perception of money. Even though some in the UAE are among the richest in the world, there are also so many expatriates who aren't as rich, wherever they come from. It took me a long time to understand that anyone can live here - perhaps not as well as locals, but they can still send home a lot of money. For business lunches, I see no limits on how much people will spend. In the evening, some people definitely think twice about what things cost, but it doesn't seem that big of a concern for most. When it comes to top-end dishes, we're talking about fine quality, and that's something you expect to spend money on. Last year, I did an exclusive booking for two people. They wanted the whole restaurant to themselves. I had to cover for the perceived loss of revenue, so I needed to earn that back, and I did, because they were paying a lot of money. We had a 16-course menu with caviar and sea urchin and lobster and all kinds of things. It's not like we could say in that situation, "here are some French fries". The bill was Dh29,000. I don't see a demographic trend when it comes to tipping. When someone has had a really good evening, most likely for business, there tends to be a little bit more on the cheque. There is a service charge of 10 per cent included on all bills. Of that, 1 per cent or 2 per cent goes back as cash to the hotel staff, and the other 8 per cent or 9 per cent goes towards staff welfare, towards accommodation and health care and so on. That's all done by the hotel and distributed through the payroll system. The tips we pool, and we pay that out once a month. Money comes, money goes. I don't believe that money is a motivator, but more an instigator.