As restaurant consultants and service providers, we have the privilege of working with some of the most delicious brands in the Middle East and all across the world. This section is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and learnings; think late night musings about why are donuts shaped like, well, donuts; some industry and legal insights from the ‘serious ones;’ and just simply our love for food and giving back what we’ve learnt to aspiring restaurateurs.



Catering Business HACCP

How to get HACCP Certification for your Catering Business

In the hospitality world of today, there is no higher food standard than the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Certification, which is quickly becoming a mandatory / legal requirement to have, to serve food within the premises. The HACCP Certification is a system that identifies food businesses that have created, documented and executed systems and procedures for food safety in accordance with HACCP. It is also an indication that the certified food business has achieved the highest level of service.


Why is it important for a catering business to be HACCP certified?

With the growth of the food business and the increase in the appetite by the nouveau riche, it is not surprising that for the budding catering industry, the only way to get to these elite clients is to have the right qualifications and certification. Most of the high-end hotels have their in-house restaurants and cafes, however it is not uncommon to get requests from their exclusive clientele for specific food to be served at various events, and when their in-house eatery cannot comply, they look to outside caterers to deliver. However, since almost all four and five star hotels are required to be HACCP certified, one of the criteria for the certification is to only use vendors that are HACCP certified as well. Therefore, we are now seeing more and more caterers getting certified to reach a yet under-tapped part of the market.


How get HACCP certified?

To get the HACCP certification you need to be audited by a reputable HACCP certification provider. Any catering business that requires the certification needs to undergo an assessment of its food safety and procedures to see how it complies with HACCP policies and procedures. This assessment is required to be undertaken by a competent and qualified food safety auditor. The audit process will require an on-site inspection of the caterer’s practices and a review of both the company documentation and records.


What does a catering company have to undergo to get certified?

There are seven critical principles that the certification is built around:

  1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis: Requires an evaluation of your processes to identify where hazards (be it physical, chemical or biological) can be introduced. This is done in two steps, first the identification of hazards, then an evaluation of the hazard.
  2. Identify the Critical Control Points: Requires determining in your process when can controls be applied to prevent or eliminate the hazards that have been identified?
  3. Critical Control limits: Establishes what are the maximum or minimum limits for time, pH, salt level, temperature etc. It also establishes the criteria (regulatory or otherwise) to control the hazard at the critical point.
  4. Monitoring Procedures: Establishes what you will measure and how will you measure it. Since there is continuous monitoring and record keeping required during the critical control point to show the critical limits have been met, are you able to continuously monitor? If not, how frequently can you measure to show that the process is under control?
  5. Corrective Actions: Establishes what corrective actions will need to be taken if a critical limit is not met. For each CCP, the catering company will need to identify the corrective action before an out-of-control situation occurs, ensuring you are prepared to act quickly when it does occur.
  6. Record Keeping Procedures: Determines what records are needed to show that the critical limits have been met, and that the system is in control. It also addresses any regulatory requirements which may include records from the development of the system and the operation of the system.
  7. Verification Procedures: Ensures that once the plan is in place, it is effective in preventing the hazards identified. The HACCP plan must be validated, so the product needs to be tested, to verify that the controls are working as planned.


All this requires a qualified HACCP expert to audit and help you figure out the right places to focus on to minimize the hazards that affect food safety and hygiene. The HACCP system has proven that It is possible to systematically identify where the hazards are by setting up control limits at critical points during the food production process. What is critical is to identify the right HACCP partner to ensure that this process is done in the most methodical way, so that it creates the least disruption to your catering business.

Common Mistakes When Launching a New Restaurant

It’s very unfortunate but we see well many often smart people get in the restaurant business and make many the same mistakes.
Today we are going to discuss some of the most common missteps and poor decisions that we see first time restaurant owners making both before and then after the restaurant opens.
If you decide to move forward and open your own restaurant, being aware of these common pitfall should be extremely valuable as you make those crucially important planning and startup decisions that can literally “make” or “break” your restaurant.
Avoid these common errors, and you will dramatically improve your chances for success.
We are going to discuss this topic within the framework of the three steps to restaurant success:
1. First of All, find out what they want, remember, it’s not about what you want to sell, or what you are passion about cooking, it’s all about what to the people in your market want in terms of Food, Beverage, Atmosphere, Service, Style, Price, Speed and so on.
2. Step 2, is Go and Get it.
After listening to the market and identifying what they want, you have to create it, that means finding the right location, and in incorporating the design, ambience, equipment, menu, recipes and skills needed to give your market what they want
3. And then Step 3, Give it to them.
Once the restaurant opens, you’ve got to be ready with the well trained capable staff to execute and deliver the high quality guest experience that your customers want consistently every time, and you have to be able to do it in a profitable manner.

Just to review further, the first two steps take place in the startup phase before the restaurant opens, and those decisions will determine whether you have a shot that having a good restaurant which is providing the experience that appeals to a sufficient number of people in your local market.

Step 3, Give it to them, begins on the opening day when the focus shifts from the startup activities to taking care of customers, ensure the quality and the consistency and managing the financial aspects of the restaurant.

These activities will determine whether the restaurant becomes a “good” that is a profitable business.

So, here are the common mistakes we see connected with Step 1, Finding out what they want.

1 Number 1, WRONG CONCEPT:
• Is we see many independent owners starting restaurants without finding out what the people in the local market actually want to buy.
In other words, instead of being market driven and determining what type of concept or experience that restaurant should provide, they started out focused inward, on the menu or the products that they prefer to sell, or the type of restaurant that they want to own and operate.
So, as a result, they begin the process of planning and developing the restaurant based on an idea or product or experience that they are personally passion about, before identifying if it’s something that people actually want.
If you cannot articulate who will want what your restaurant will offer and why they want it you will have a serious problem.
Now, do some folks get lucky? Yes they do!
But relying on luck is not a winning business strategy, especially when putting hundreds of thousands of dirhams or more on the line, THAT is a recipe for disaster.
Don’t make the mistake in believing that just because you and possibly a few friends or family members think you have a brilliant idea for a restaurant that anyone else in your town or area will think so too. You must find out the people in your market want to buy.
So how you find out what they want to buy!
You have to go out and talk to as many potential customers as you can and you ask them, what restaurants do you go to on a regular basis now and why?
And what kind of dining experience would you like to have that currently isn’t available.
Ask them to be specific, what kind of food, location, service style, price points etc.…
Would they be attracted to and how often they would go?
Talk to people and then listen very closely to what they say. Talk to enough people and I promise you, you will end up accumulating lots of incredible valuable information, and you will likely discover that what they want, is quite different than what you initially thought.
That is the first and the most important step in the process. Just because you built it, does not mean that they will come, unless, you are able to give them what they want. So FIND OUT what they want.
• We also see many independent restaurants are open that we refer to as “Weak Concept”, in other words, the restaurant has few of any meaningful distinctions that defining characteristics that set them apart from the competition, or delivers a clear compelling value proposition, it lack of distinction often means that the restaurant either intentionally or by default is attempting to appeal to everyone.
And when you try to appeal to everyone, very often, you end up appealing to no one.
One of the main reason many first time independents lack to find the characteristics is that they are focused almost exclusively on the food and the menu in describing their concept and restaurant .Sure, the food and menu is important, in most of the restaurants, it will be THE driving force of the concept, but never forget a restaurant today is SO much more than just the food, it’s about the entire dining or guest experience.
• In addition to the food and menu, a restaurant’s concept should encompass everything about the restaurant that touches the customer, PHISICALLY, VISUALLY and even EMOTIONALLY.
Let me explain.
A concept description should include meaningful and unique characteristics and design, atmosphere, service and even includes values, culture and other important aspects of your operation.
This could mean distinctions in sourcing products, sustainable practices, support for certain causes.
In other words, all the elements that define not only what’s on the menu, but also you are in a distinctive ways you intended to do a business.
Why this is so important?
The one reason is the largest living generation, millennials, those who are born between 1982 and 2004, tend to be particularly interested in the values and the operating practices that the companies they do business with.
They are looking for more than just products and services, they want an emotional connection with the companies that they patronize.
Millennials also spend more money dining out than non-millennials.
So when you are talking to potential customers, be sure and listen for all the things that they would like to see embodied in local restaurant.
Not just about the food and the service style, ask questions that drill down deeper to learn what types of values, business practices and other characteristics that they look for in companies that frequent on regular basis.
Again, listen to your market, let them tell YOU what THEY want and plan accordingly, your odds of success will go up dramatically

2. Now let’s move to common mistakes and step 2, Go and Get it.
• Another way to missteps, especially for first time operators has to do with finances.
Particularly the initial startup or the capital investment of the restaurant.
Often the first time restaurant owners in particular, their total startup cost in relation to the sale potential of the restaurant, let me say that in general the anticipated sales volume should be at least 1.2 to 1.5 times the Total Startup Cost of opening the restaurant:
For example, if it’s going to cost 1,000,000 Dirhams to open a new restaurant, there should be a high level of expectation that the restaurant in this location will be capable in generating annual sales of at least 1,200,000 to 1,500,000 Dirhams.
For every Dirhams of startup investment there should be an expectation of generating at least 1.2 to 1.5 Dirhams in sales for the project to make economic sense.
In a location there is LEAST, one thing you must do in considering any location is to prepare a reasonable conservative projection of sales volume based on an estimated check average and anticipated a daily guest counts. THIS is a very very important exercise to conduct in analyzing any site or location.

• Also, cost overruns are common for first time operators because there are always and surprises always end up costing more money. This puts many new restaurants in a position of starting out in a hole in owing money more than they have, that is why, under capitalization is such a big reason many restaurants go under shortly after opening or within their first year.
They simply runout of cash before the restaurant has a chance to become profitable.
We always recommend first time operators add at least a 20% contingency to the startup budget for unforeseen startup expenditures and cost overruns.
• Also, since many first timers are unfamiliar with the construction details, contracts, and choosing and working with contractors, problems often arise that extend the construction period or cause the project to go over budget.
• Another big mistake, is choosing or settling on a poor location.
As you can imagine selecting the wrong location can be devastating for a restaurant.
Here are few the most common location mistakes:
a) First, a restaurant opens in a wrong market.
b) Next is poor access or visibility, especially for the new concept, the location must be convenient and easy to access. Even the smartphone apps that help people find you online, still there is no substitute for a highly visible and appealing store front and sign that lots of people see it every day.
c) Another common mistake is going into a location that is too expensive, a good rule of thumb is that occupancy cost should be no more than 10 % of your yearly projected sales.
Occupancy cost includes rent, common area maintenance, insurance, real estate fees etc.…
Even if you have a stellar concept and lots of customers, if your rent is too high, it will seriously handicap your restaurant’s potential for success.
As you can see the restaurant business is much more than just serving food and customers, it’s also about numbers and making smart business decisions.

3. Now let’s move to step 3, GIVE IT TO THEM.
I’m talking about some of the common mistakes that occur once the restaurant is open.
• Number 1 in the operating phase is the lack of systems
Systems in a restaurant includes checklist and forms and manuals and procedures and other tools to ensure that the restaurant is organized and operates in a consistent predesigned and determined way all day every day
And these systems need to be in place and functioning on DAY ONE!
So that means that the process of assembling and creating some level of operating systems should begin way before the Opening Day. That is actually it is a very important start up activity.
In many new independent restaurants, there is no standard recipes, or instructions how to prepare every single item on the menu exactly the same way every time.

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Starting a restaurant: Be thoroughly prepared before taking the plunge

This post is cross-published with Data On a Plate.


A large number of entrepreneurs enter the food service industry with concepts and dreams alone, hoping that their venture will be successful because they’re offering something new to the market. It cannot be emphasized enough how critical it is for entrepreneurs to do their homework before jumping into the restaurant business. It starts with asking if the market is prepared to accept what you are offering.

Any amount of time, money, and effort spent on the groundwork for your restaurant can only benefit your business in the future. If you’re investing half a million to a million dirhams on a restaurant in the UAE, you’d rather spend the time and money initially learning from experts and getting your business strategy right than regretting it later when you start losing every single penny that you’ve invested. There are so many common mistakes we see entrepreneurs making that could have been avoided easily, and we also see them being repeated because of their carelessness.


Think beyond location

Nobody can argue against the importance of location for a restaurant business. If you can afford a prime location, take it only for the right reasons, such as your target customer, tenant mix, and propensity to consume.

However, the majority of new entrepreneurs face the reality of not being able to get the best locations. Furthermore, it would be unwise to spend all your capital acquiring a prime location and risking your cash flow, particularly if your brand is new to the market.

New restaurateurs must start thinking of alternative ways to get the attention of customers, such as better service and delivery. Good examples of such restaurants in Dubai that have created the wow factor include Freedom Pizza and Smiling BKK.


Have realistic ROI expectations

The restaurant business in the UAE is a capital intensive business, requiring from 1 million to 2 million dirhams. Don’t expect returns for at least the first two years. In the third year, you’d be lucky to recover some of your costs. If you survive up to the fourth year, you’ll start seeing a return on your investment.

It is common for restaurateurs to recruit the available talent, spend money on their training, and find out that they don’t perform up to expectations. Be prepared for hiring costs. You may need to hire and rehire until you have the best team.


Create a roadmap for expansion

If you want take the franchising route for expansion, take that into account in your business plan and develop your brand accordingly. The vision and commitment required for franchising a brand is different from those required for organic growth. Franchising demands the preparedness for co-ownership of the brand. It is important to have that mind-set even before you open your first outlet. This would require you to direct all your efforts to make your brand attractive to potential investors in the future.

If your restaurant is not ready for franchising after its first outlet and you need more confidence, open a few branches, test, and perfect your business models before talking to franchisees. If you’re not interested in franchising, consider launching smaller formats, which will make it easier for expansion.


Don’t become the barrier to growth

As captain of the ship, avoid becoming too comfortable that you forget the vision you had initially. You cannot be the jack of all trades. It’s easier to delegate responsibilities to the right people as long as you direct them towards your vision.

Avoid becoming entangled in the complexities of managing day to day operations that you start resisting change and gradually becoming part of the problem yourself. More importantly, keep the excitement of entrepreneurship alive and maintain the enthusiasm you had while starting out.

Event: How to use technology to create a competitive advantage

We’re pleased to welcome Mr. Ian Ohan, CEO of Freedom Pizza for our 4th F&B Mentor Series event.

Drawing from the local success of Freedom Pizza (formerly NKD Pizza), Ian will talk about “How to use technology to create a competitive advantage.” Now we know Freedom Pizza has a great reputation for its swift deliveries – so it will be interesting to see what role technology has to play to make that possible.

All yout fast food/fast causal restauenters and aspiring foodpreneurs, this is one event you shouldn’t miss!

Event Details

Date: Wednesday, 30 September, 2015

Time: Doors open 7pm; Talk starts at 7:30pm sharp

Venue: The Bureau Dubai (Souq Al Bahar)

RSVP on our Meetup Group

Imago Mentor Series #3: Franchising 101

Last month, Aseel F&B in partnership with Imago Growth Accelerator and The Bureau Dubai hosted Mr. Murad Al Nasur from Boubess Group. Mr. Murad, a 30 year old vetran in F&B industry shared some key insights on Franchising 101 for beginner franchisors and franchisees.


Below are some key highlights from his talk.

Key Learning #1: Know the brand inside and out

For both franchisors and franchisees, it is important to know the essence of the brand they have created/are bringing to the market. Some of the questions that need to be asked are:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your brand? How do you mitigate the weaknesses?
  • How does the operation work? This includes the detailed processes that can be passed on to a franchisee.
  • What are the key elements that you need for a brand to succeed?


Key Learning #2: Know your customers

It is imperitive to understand your customers before you enter a market. You need to answer questions like:

  • Who do you want to serve?
  • As a franchisee, why did you choose that particular brand for your customers?
  • Does the brand suit the client’s taste and preferences?
  • Who are your preferred markets (in terms of geography and nationality)?
  • How is the competition in the market you want to enter?


Key Learning #3: Match the product to the customer
Match the product to the customer, not the other way around. A lot of people select brands as opposed look at the need it is solving – and for a concept to be successful it has the solve a need first and then be paired with a successful brand.


Key Learning #4: Be Original 
We see many copycat brands in the marketplace and that is the worst startegy to stand out, espeically in the long run. Invest in creating and running original brands that offer something unique to the marketplace.


Key Learning #5: Hire people that suit your brand

Corporte culture is everything. In addition to the required on-the-job skills, it is important to hire people who represent your brand DNA.  


We thank Mr. Murad Al Nasur for this wonderful talk. If you are looking to become a franchisor or a franchisee, contact us to schedule a free consultation.

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