As U.S. foodservice brands make more headway into Middle Eastern markets, they are learning to adapt their units and menus to the local tastes.
Ziad Dalal, chief executive and founder of Dallas-based Nestle Toll House Café and its parent company, Crest Foods Inc., currently has 13 units open in the Middle East and has aggressive plans for more this year.
The Toll House Café concept, launched in Dallas in 2000, currently has 114 units in the United States, Canada and the Middle East.
Dalal said the first Middle Eastern unit opened in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2010. The company’s current portfolio and plans include: three open in Saudi Arabia with three more coming this year; five open in Kuwait with three more coming this year; two open in Jordan with two more coming this year; one open in Qatar with two more coming this year; two open in the United Arab Emirates with two more coming this year; and one in Lebanon with two more coming this year.
In addition, one unit is under construction in Bahrain and another in Oman, Dalal said, and those will open soon.
Dalal updated Nation’s Restaurant News about changes the concept has made since last year and new markets the brand is entering. Dalal also spoke about the environment for expansion, including in Canada.
Has the unrest in the Middle East changed any of your expansion plans?
Honestly, the unrest has been outside the countries we’re talking about. The unrest is mainly in Egypt and Syria. We don’t anticipate any of that in these countries.
What is the strength of the market?
The Middle Eastern market is teaching us to take our coffee to a different level, including the execution in the U.S. The Middle Eastern consumer is much more demanding in the coffee items.
What have you done with the coffee program?
We are serving a lot more of the coffees like espresso, macchiato and frappes. The barista is much more skilled and better trained.
We also have the table service there. We can serve you. It’s a little more indulging.
With longer times at the tables and higher priced drinks, what has happened to the check averages?
The check average is probably 8- to 30-percent higher. They are buying more.
How about the look and layout of the units?
The ambience of the cafes is being scaled up a little bit. They are also larger. The customers linger more in the cafes. Here in the United States we don’t have as much linger in the cafes, so the cafes don’t have to be as large.
How about Canadian development?
Canada is going very, very well. We have a huge influx of inquiries and opportunities that have opened up for us in the Toronto area. All of a sudden the Toronto market is opening nicely. The coffee consumption there is probably among the highest per capita in the world.
What advice do you have for operators considering an entry into Middle Eastern markets?
Know your market very well. Know your partner very well. Take your time and do your homework very well. The competition there is very, very sophisticated.
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