Friday, May 24, 2024
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Jonathan Doughty – RLI The Food Guy

When brands take flight and migrate…

Jonathan Doughty has joined the RLI Editorial team as “The Food Guy” to bring additional foodservice and leisure content to the readership of RLI. He will be writing a monthly “Food for Thought” article and contributing content and opinion on the fast changing world of food and leisure around the world.

Jonathan Doughty - RLI The Food Guy 1

We are living in extraordinary times, that is for sure. As the world tries to re-balance after Covid-19, we are seeing an unprecedented movement of people around the planet in search of new opportunities, places of comfort and safety and places for establishing their futures. It is not easy and there is no “one solution” but it is happening, despite the current turmoil.

In many ways the hospitality industry is going through exactly the same. Post Covid-19 we have finally understood the value of “human capital” as every business worth anything tries to attract, retain and really care for those they employ. A huge shift has taken place making the hospitality industry a better place to be. For me, after 46 years in the industry, it is the ONLY place to be and here is why.

We are seeing brands and operations that have been in “status quo” mode for many years now stretch their wings and fly! Despite the global increase in materials and food costs, despite the lack of staff, despite the cost of finance increasing, despite the short term reduction in consumer confidence, on a GLOBAL stage the hospitality industry is on fire!

We have learnt how to cope with all of these headwinds by bringing in new technologies, caring for and nurturing the people that we have, listening to our guests and re-balancing the price and service equation, which has inevitably meant the cost of eating out has gone up. No bad thing in my view, as we are not a “cheap option” and the hospitality industry needs to charge appropriately for what it does for people. Let’s not forget we give people a lifetime of amazing experiences.

One of the most amazing things is how the world has re-opened after Covid-19 and the hospitality industry with our hotel brands and restaurant operations has embraced this opportunity with both hands. Countries dealt with the pandemic in different ways and now we are seeing an unprecedented movement to globalisation in our industry.

I have been incredibly lucky to spend time in KSA with both friends and colleagues working on some of the giga projects in the region. Neom, Trojena, The Line, The Red Sea and many more are incredibly impressive and are going to happen or have already happened at a pace of delivery that is truly incredible. I will return to KSA soon and I am going to visit the new Red Sea International Airport, gateway to the Red Sea area, a new, but incredible tourism destination. What has been achieved there to date is nothing short of spectacular and will become part of the global tourism vocabulary in a few years in the same way Dubai did. Coincidentally, I am there to plan out a culinary tour of Saudi Arabia to dig deep into the culture, heritage and history of the country, because as a chef, I just don’t know enough about this incredible country and the regions and food. A dream project if ever there was one and one, I have done in several countries.

But the global expansion of operating brands and companies is not just limited to KSA and Dubai, as we see Asia, USA and even the UK and Europe become the landing field for many migrating brands. What strikes me is the diversity. Of course, the QSR brands are moving across the Atlantic (in both directions) with an invasion of chicken, burger and other formats landing in the UK and Europe like Wingstop, Chick-fil-A, Wendys and Popeyes. When the latter landed in the UK it became the most successful store in their portfolio.

Dubai has for a long time been a natural landing point in the GCC for brands wanting to spread their wings, but what is astonishing is the development and maturity in that market. I had reason to be invited to the new Atlantis the Royal recently for work and I was incredibly impressed by the design of the whole building, but also the interior design maturity of the space, the elegance and dare I say it, quite under-stated opulence of the public spaces. Dubai has really grown up from the days of “soukification” and goldleaf interiors and as a result is gaining another level of guests. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal was just superb and, in my mind, better than London. The team was truly outstanding and again, reinforcing my statement that the “human capital” is really understood and valued and now allowed to deliver a stunning experience. Estiatorio Milos was just exquisite, and I am fortunate to have eaten in both Athens and Miami and it was superb in comparison and every bit as good as the others. Miami is another great migration location for world food operators, but like anywhere you have to know where and where not to go and put your roots down.

What is certain in the next two-three years is that amazing operating brands and groups are going to continue their migration from their home countries. The opportunities are bewildering, challenging and exciting in equal measure, but there are plenty of people who can hold your hand, help decide “what’s next” and bridge the gap from where you are now to where do you want to be.

In my professional world, the number one location I am being asked about, every day, every week, is KSA. “Is it real? “Is it happening?” “Is it for us?” When I answer, I am very careful to point out that the brand or operation must be fit for purpose, because if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter where you take it. However, there are so many opportunities, in such a huge, diverse development landscape, that any truly global player would be doing themselves a dis-service if they didn’t look long and hard at what is on offer. You just need to meet the people behind these projects to know what is coming to Saudi Arabia, very soon.

Jonathan Doughty, the “RLI Food Guy” is a “C level” executive in the foodservice and leisure industry with 45 years of experience and leadership in restaurants, hotels and global consulting.