x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

US restaurant chains limit customers' options, UAE food exhibition hears

A panel of restaurant consultants has blamed American food chains in the UAE for stopping customers getting the kind of food they want.

ABU DHABI // A panel of restaurant consultants has blamed American food chains in the UAE for stopping customers getting the kind of food they want.

They complained that big US brands, which account for a third of mall food outlets, are crowding out smaller start-ups.

"What people want isn't what is in malls," said Stefan Breg, "chief worrier" at Tribe Restaurant Creators, a hospitality consultancy.

"American is the top food in malls but people are showing that they want Italian, French and Lebanese."

Mr Breg was speaking at a panel discussion on casual dining at SIAL, the region's largest food exhibition, which took place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre last week.

"There's no sugar-coating the reality of the situation," said Naveed Dowlatshahi, executive director of Kash Global Consultancy.

"The market is still dominated by US brands. There are a lot of investors here that want to go for the American brands.

"That's OK, but they don't do their homework to understand the market and what customers want."

Others agreed.

"It's faster to buy ready-made concepts here than making them on your own," said Daniel During, the principal and managing director of Thomas Klein International.

But some start-ups are thriving.

"The market is slowly changing and although we have a long way to go in terms of attracting brands, people are learning and looking to develop new concepts," said Aboudi Saadi, the managing director at Glee Hospitality Solutions.

There is also a push towards local organic food.

"We're trying to integrate local food," said Mr Saadi.

"It's not an easy job but we're getting there."

But there is some way to go. "We're still in an emerging market," said Mr Dowlatshahi.

"We need US chains but we need to see more chef-driven concepts."

cmalek@thenational.ae