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Tue 12 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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It’s all in the details

For part four in Caterer's series on the challenges of opening multiple F&B outlets at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Lisa Magloff examines the process behind menu design and the various concepts for the hotel's restaurants.

For part four in

series on the challenges of opening multiple F&B outlets at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina,
Lisa Magloff

examines the process behind menu design and the various concepts for the hotel's restaurants.

There are now around four months to go until opening, and with the fixtures and fittings in place and the décor completed, attention can now be turned to the nitty gritty - designing the menu.

While the basic restaurant concepts were developed more than a year ago, the menu design is where these concepts are fleshed out and made real, and with ever-increasing competition in Dubai for diners, it is crucial to get the details of the menu right.

The first step in the menu design process was to bring in Graeme Erens, principal partner of leisure and destination brand design firm Genius Loci, which Genius Loci began working on the Westin's F&B brands in June 2007.

"The challenge in Dubai is that people don't generally eat in five-star restaurants, but in Dubai they do, so F&B is a big selling point for hotels here, and a major source of revenue," explains Erens.

Genius Loci was brought in after the interior design and the overall restaurant concepts were developed.

It is Erens' job to interpret the general design and overall concept into a brand personality.

"The theme, design, style - we interpret that into a [restaurant] name and ideally into various collateral items to develop a distinct personality for each outlet," he explains.

Each concept must also stand out as individual from the others, and from what is on offer at sister property Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, next door.

Merely offering different food is not enough, says Michael Scully, general manager-complex for the Westin and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi.

"The restaurant is there to make money and not just for show. Tang [at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi] improves our profile, but does not make a lot of money."

"We can have one of those, but the other [outlets] have to make up for it."

Stephane Buchholzer, executive sous chef of Tang and of research and development for the complex, says that Tang's emphasis on molecular gastronomy and cutting edge allows it to "develop new techniques that we can then use throughout [all the restaurants]".

"It allows us to give our food a more modern look and develop a better product," he adds.

Scully goes on to explain the process of creating a brand. "The interior designer makes up design boards and gives these to Graeme."

"The brand designer extracts the colours and starts creating the story for each restaurant."

The brand designer must then decide how to express each story in terms of food, menu language and signage.

For example, for the Westin's steakhouse restaurant, Hunter's, Erens created a story about the days of safaris.

This story will be placed on the menu and alluded to through marketing, in order to create a complete concept.

In contrast, signage for the Westin's all-day dining outlet, Blue Orange, will include plasma screens that will broadcast interviews with the chefs and give a modern, "buzzy" feel to the restaurant.

The physical look at feel of the menu is also very important. Paper stock, colour and binding are used to give a feeling of texture and quality.

"The material of the menu needs to mirror the interior design."

"Menus can be used in a conceptual way to inform people."

"For example, for the Atrium lounge, the deisgn of the menu links into the design of the environment, and will also feature some information about local birds," says Erens.

For Emporium, a restaurant serving foods involving spices from around the world, the logo features coloured dots, mirroring the many colours of the spices.

Although the look and feel of the menu is important, it's not as crucial as as the food itself, and although this has not been finalised yet, the team at the complex has been working on food design for several months already.

"For the steakhouse, we did a market survey of what dishes steakhouses serve."

"We also looked at pricing, at what works, and at what Dubai needs. Based on all this input we compile the menu," says Anston Fivaz, complex executive chef.

There have already been two tastings of the steakhouse menu, where it was decided that the food was too high-end and had to be toned down.

"For the steakhouse, you can get all arty, but that's not what people want. They want tradition," says Scully.

Once the dishes have been decided on, the menu is laid out and written and the costings are done.

This last element is crucial to the success of each outlet. Scully points out that too many restaurants in Dubai up prices and drive away any chance of a regular clientele.

However, if the prices are too cheap. this can make a restaurant seem downmarket.

Scully explains that Le Meridien does not work to a policy of "playing percentage management", which he feels is one of the biggest downfalls in hospitality, and the same will be true of the Westin.

Instead of setting prices as a percent of revenue, Scully says prices at all of the outlets will reflect realism and be responsive to customer needs.

A restaurant is a bit like an orchestra - all the parts must be harmonious.

"You have to get the pricing right. We looked at where our market is. We have Media City and Internet City right behind us, we also have big groups and the family market."

"You have to know your markets and then price accordingly," he explains.

One thing that Scully, Fivaz, Erens and Buchholzer all emphasise is that, when it comes to the food, the most important factor is giving people what they want, a philosophy that is also clearly a key part of the Westin's strategy for attracting corporate clients.

To achieve this each outlet will have unique food, but food that is designed to be familiar.

"Every restaurant has to have an edge," says Fivaz. "For example, for Blue Orange it is worldwide experience in one meal."

"We have stations featuring Thai food, Indian, an ice cream slab, sushi, Italian, grill, fish... we give people the world."

Emporium will also serve food from a variety of regions, including Asia, South America and India. "We are not here to educate," says Scully of the broad range of food offerings.

Even Buchholzer, who specialises in cooking what many consider niche food, agrees that the food at the Westin's outlets will be designed to appeal to a wide variety of tastes, "We will try to implement a touch of modernity that will make us different from [the rest of] the market, but we must give people what they want. We must serve food people can relate to."

This strategy of giving people what they want also comes through in the wine menu at the Westin's wine bar, which will offer at least 30 different wines and champagnes by the glass, including several priced very reasonably.

The Westin will also have a dedicated sommelier, who will work throughout all the outlets, but the plan is to keep the wine list focused.

"A lot of people know their wines," says Scully, "but a key problem for people in chosing wines is when you have too big a variety. It confuses people. People are responsive to a well-presented wine list."

Opening day?

All of this sounds good, but it won't mean much until the doors open, and the date for this has just been pushed back for a third time.

Originally scheduled for January, the resort is now set to open around the end of April, but Scully is philosophical about the delays.

"We expect delays. Four or five months is normal."

Scully admits that one group booking has had to be rescheduled and that more recruitment is needed, as some people originally hired to start in January have found other work in the meantime, but he is nonetheless confident the delays will translate into a hassle-free opening.

"We have so many experienced staff and, based on this experience, we will open smoothly."

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