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KHALEEJ TIMES, Wednesday, May 20, 2020 | Ramadan 27, 1441

Cook and deliver: Dubai restaurants start to get creative

Emirates: Running a restaurant in Dubai, where a discerning international clientele has over twice as many options per head as in New York, was a cut-throat business even before the coronavirus struck.

Now restaurateurs are having to adapt fast by learning to make money delivering their food, a service new for some and for others more familiar as a marketing tool.

“What this epidemic has done is leap forward the digital age of ordering by five years,” said Mohamad Ballout, CEO of Kitopi, which runs kitchens specifically for online deliveries in Dubai.

For fine dining Peruvian restaurant COYA, that has meant getting its waiters to drive deliveries and, once it decided its signature raw fish ceviche was too fragile to take off-site, turning its mashed avocado guacamole dish into a kit for customers to combine at home.

“You have to review everything ... Coming to delivery we had to make sure it transports well ... make sure it keeps hot,” its operations head, Cedric Toussaint, said.

COYA will review after September whether to keep deliveries going.

Around half of the UAE’s food and beverage units have temporarily closed, industry consultancy JLL said, and a survey it compiled makes for sobering reading.

UAE food delivery revenues fell as coronavirus restrictions increased, including a month-long 24-hour lockdown in Dubai from mid-March. They fell 19 percent year-on-year in March and 7 percent in February.

Dine-in revenues fell 16 percent in February and 52 percent in March, with restaurants forecasting a 76 percent drop in April. JLL’s initial findings also showed Dubai, where tourists and residents eat out several times a week, offers roughly twice as many dining spots per head as New York.

Many former customers now perceive home cooking as a safer option and may continue doing so.

“It will be quite a while before people have the confidence to go out into a dine-in environment on a mass scale,” said Duncan Fraser-Smith of Cutting Edge Hospitality consultancy.

Dubai-focused campaign group The Middle East Restaurant Association has asked the government for long-term industry support, and called on delivery aggregators like Deliveroo to reduce commission fees.

“The recovery profile of the restaurant industry is expected to be a lot slower than other industries,” JLL’s Alexis Marcoux-Varvatsoulis said.

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