There’s practically a new restaurant opening, new menu launch or a dining terrace re-opening, every week, in the UAE right now. Specialty restaurants are the talk of the town. Haute cuisine to hawkers’ fare, every kind of food experience is now available for the interested diner.
"The UAE's strong and diversified economy has led to increased disposable incomes among residents and tourists. They are ready to spend on luxury and unique experiences. As a result, people are more inclined to spend on dining experiences," said Chef Quinten Lauder, Executive Chef at Enas Restaurant, First Group located in Palm Jumeirah.
“The UAE remains a top global tourist destination, drawing millions of visitors annually. Tourists seek not only cultural and leisure experiences but opportunities to savour international cuisine in the country's diverse restaurant scene.
“Dining out is not just about the food; it's also about socialising and creating memorable experiences. People are eager to reconnect with friends and family over meals, leading to increased dine-in visits. Restaurants in the UAE are often chosen as venues for various events, from birthday parties to business meetings. This trend has strengthened the dine-in industry. Also, the UAE's competitive dining scene often features promotions and discounts, making it an attractive option for cost-conscious consumers.”
Weekday crowd and healthy cuisine
According to Chef Heri Fitriyanto, Chef de Cuisine for Buddha Bar, restaurants are experiencing a substantial increase in customers not only on weekends but also on weekdays, due to business meetings and conferences. “The rush usually begins on Wednesday and continues through the weekend.”
Similarly, Chef Carlos Frunze, Executive Chef of Michelin-recognised restaurant Teible, has observed an overwhelming surge in customers who have an affinity for locally grown foods, especially “the farm-to-table” concept is picking up. This is seen in the number of specialty farms coming up in the country. He said that their inventory had gone up from 100 local farms to over 300 currently.
Many restaurants now offer healthier menu options, such as plant-based and low-calorie dishes. Chef Federico Bartoli, Head Chef at Italian restaurant Monno, discusses the importance of aligning with dining trends. “The dining experience allows you to savour the moment. The table setting is crucial, as it allows you to dine with your loved ones and create personal memories that benefit a restaurant in the long run. I believe in word of mouth."
Chef Lauder, added, "Here in this region, people are more concerned about what they eat and how it's affecting their health. The homegrown herbs and spices lend unique flavours to dishes. Menu planning and concept development is the key aspect to sustain the market, and supporting locally grown ingredients and farmers is very important to access the ingredients fresh."
Chef Eddy Langton, the Chef De Cuisine at British restaurant Geales, explained the importance of portion sizes when dining in. With 11 years of experience in the food industry in the UAE, he said that portion size is crucial for customers now. They have adjusted their portion sizes based on the customers' needs. Dietary restrictions also pose a significant challenge for restaurants nowadays.
“As people become more health conscious, they are more aware of dietary trends and are experimenting with different diets. As a restaurant, it's essential to keep up with the market and stay on top of these trends to meet customers' needs and create strong relationships with them.”
Earlier dine-in was about good food, but now it is more about the whole experience.
Fine dining and fusion cuisine
According to Chef Joseph Dsouza, Cluster Executive Chef at Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, pop-up restaurants, chef's tables, and themed dining experiences are becoming increasingly popular to offer something different to diners. Traditionally, casual dining was more trending, but now, fine dining has made an impact on the dine-in trends.
With 19 years of experience in Dubai's food industry, he said: “I have seen Dubai developing… the food culture has changed dramatically, and we have to do market research every two months to keep updated and ensure we are at the top."
Many restaurants in the UAE have integrated technology for menu ordering, reservations, and even virtual dining experiences. Online delivery has affected the dine-in culture. People are now looking for a specialty experience, which you can't get on online delivery. The rise of food delivery apps and online reservations has spurred innovation.
"Presentation and aesthetics are crucial, with chefs creating visually appealing dishes to cater to the Instagram generation. Especially during weekends, people come to restaurants to dine in," said Chef Susu Chuen, Head Chef at Michelin-recognised Goldfish. He added that people are ready to spend more, and they want to get a good experience.
Food, ambience and everything else…
“Earlier, it was only about the food, but today, it is the experience they can share through social media."
"The UAE's diverse population has led to a demand for a wide range of cuisines, too, prompting chefs to explore international flavours,” added Chef Fitriyanto from Buddha Bar.
“I have been here in the UAE for the past eight years and here in my restaurant, people come for more traditional cuisine, but there is a rise in fusion cuisine as well."
A sentiment echoes by Chef Prasanth Chipkar, Executive Chef at Indian restaurant Masti. “About 60 to 70 per cent of our customers are Western expats and tourists. They want to explore Indian-inspired global cuisine. We add elements like truffle and other ingredients that elevate the dishes. We have regulars through the weekdays."
As the dining out culture in the country grows and continues to evolve, chefs in the UAE feel that the UAE Offers the best of the world cuisine to residents and tourists alike, and can compare to the restaurant culture of “New York, London and Los Angeles”.
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