Randy Garutti Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: The CEO of restaurant chain Shake Shack, Randy Garutti, said he’s relying on Millennials and Gen Z to push sales in the crowded fast casual dining segment.

“I think when you have a growing population with a growing interest in food, especially Millennials and Gen Z who are spending more on food, my hope is that the growth in restaurants is kept up with that growth in population and growth in spending,” Garutti said.

Millennials and Generation Z are those born between the 1980s and the 2000s.

In September 2017, the stock of the New York-based hamburger chain took its worst hit in a year, over fears that competition in the US was mounting at a time when growth in the fast casual segment was slowing.

Fast casual refers to the dining segment between fast food and casual dining, with operators in this space usually emphasising higher quality ingredients and better service, at a slightly increased price.

Asked whether he thought the market was crowded, Garutti told Gulf News: “I think that’s fair. I think there’s more options available than ever, no doubt. [That’s] especially true here in Dubai.”

The New Yorker is also convinced of his company’s technological prowess, and its superior hospitality and customer experience.

Following double-digit growth in recent years, the food industry consulting firm Pentallect is predicting that the fast casual segment’s sales growth will decelerate to between 6 per cent and 7 per cent in 2017.

Despite saying that the company hadn’t decided on its next location in the UAE yet, Garutti did note that locations such as La Mer, Box Park and City Walk were attractive.

“We want to have restaurants wherever it is that communities gather,” he said, adding that this was likely to be “more experiential” spaces “outside of the mall.”

However, Garutti did say that in this region, peoples’ preferences changed seasonally, and his company had to take that in to account.

“You’re not dying to be [at the Shake Shack branch on JBR] in the summer time, but in the winter, it is where you want to be,” Garutti said.

As a result, the chain would need to be in malls and outdoor locations, he added.

Garutti said that regionally, the brand was expecting to open a “couple more [Shake] Shacks in Riyadh,” noting that they would be in a mix of indoor and outdoor locations.

The hamburger chain, known for its American-style burgers, milkshakes, and crinkle-cut fries, currently operates 33 restaurants throughout the six Gulf nations, including 11 in the UAE.

Explaining Shake Shack’s curious absence from the food delivery scene in the UAE, Garutti said: “You’ll see it more and more,” adding: “Burger and fries weren’t necessarily meant for travel. They are not as easy to travel as pizza and Chinese food, for example. So, we want to get that right.”

He confirmed that Shake Shack was actively working on packaging in the UAE, and back in the US, adding that he was working on finding the right partner for third-party delivery.

“We won’t be doing it on our own, for now at least,” Garutti said.