After almost two years of not being in Saudi Arabia, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, it was great to get back to Riyadh for a week. I first visited Saudi in 2014 and it’s fair to say it’s been through a huge transformation during that time.
My colleagues Greg, Danny, Sam were with me as we represented the Restaurants Division at Food People. It was a chance for us to really feel the pulse of how the F&B scene is in the city right now and it was a welcome chance to try out some new concepts, as well as catch up with some of our long-term partners to see how they are adapting to the rapidly changing environment.
Video calls are a great thing but they will never replace meeting people in person, tasting the food we talk about, appreciating the experiences on offer and understanding the culture that is today, not 12 months ago.
Our Restaurants Division has grown significantly over the last two years, in particular, there are now six of us focused just on this part of the industry. We always talk about the importance of being on the ground to actually see the change going on and I think this is more important than ever in KSA and the wider GCC, as the speed of change in these territories is so quick.
While we were in the Kingdom, we got the chance to try some food in locations including U walk, Riyadh Front, District and Riyadh Season. It is clear that Saudi has plans to become a major F&B hub for the region. In 2014, there weren’t really many options when considering the fine dining scene, especially. In comparison, there is a huge range of options for people to experience today, from coffee concepts, casual dining, fine dining and QSR.
Experience is a keyword here. It’s clear that concepts in KSA appreciate the importance of consistently delivering great customer service to give themselves the best chance of achieving customer loyalty, and that is not easy right now with the volume of options around the country. You need to have a slick venue and your employees need to be at the top of their game because expectations have risen.
It was great to see local talent on the frontline representing brands now, which is something that is appreciated.
There is a crazy fight for talent globally right now and, contrary to what people believe, people have a choice of where they want to work. There were a few common challenges we took away from this trip that we would be happy to discuss with anybody, as we feel we could add significant value. One in particular worth mentioning is how difficult it is for companies to attract and retain front of house talent.
A great strategy is only great if it can be executed and to do that, more often than not, you need the right people in place. Equally, you need people in the business who believe in your vision and what you’re trying to achieve. The F&B industry is not easy, you need to work long hours and have to put on a smile even when sometimes you’re having a bad day. All of these things shout out that talent retention is so important. A key factor in talent retention is certainly around training and development.
Having somebody in the organisation that is focused on learning and development as well as training is absolutely pivotal to long-term success. Frankly speaking, it is quite evident these days which organisations invest in people from the moment you arrive at a restaurant and which ones don’t.
Bringing in fresh blood should not be rushed but at the same time companies that take too long will lose out because there are so many opportunities around. Hopefully local Governments, Saudi Arabia included, will recognise the need to invest in the development of talent in this sector for the sustainability and attractiveness of the industry.
It is important to note that the industry will not succeed if it does not have local talent across all levels, it’s that simple. That’s not an easy task but it’s something that will not disappear.