< Read Before: Franchising in the Middle East
The US-based National Restaurant Association (NRA) is the largest foodservice trade association in the world, supporting nearly 500,000 restaurant businesses. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the NRA, discusses the factors to consider, before taking the franchising plunge
What do you believe American SMEs see as the barriers to entering the Middle Eastern market?
Some companies are a little more cautious about international expansion for a number of reasons. They first want to make sure their businesses will be profitable, that consumers there will embrace them and frequent their brands regularly. They also want assurances that the areas they trade in are politically stable and that, legally, they won’t get caught up in hostile business environments, experience overwhelming bureaucracy and regulations, be faced with a lack of trademark protection, high taxation, or barriers to exit, if they need to leave, or expatriate profits. It is complicated, certainly, but several foodservice and restaurant companies do have Middle Eastern operations, so it is happening and has for some time.
Which concepts not yet present in the Middle East could appeal to consumers?
I think the more interesting answer is to look at how many concepts are present in the Middle East. It is not difficult to find a US-branded restaurant operation on any given block, much the same as you would here in America. The brands that have the money and resources to expand internationally are making sure they take advantage of that opportunity.
What are the latest quick-service restaurant trends?
One thing we’re seeing is the popularity of chef-driven, fast-casual concepts. Examples of these types of concepts are Shake Shack, the very successful burger chain started by US fine-dining impresario, Danny Meyer, and Bobby’s Burger Palace, the burger chain started by celebrity chef Bobby Flay some years back. Both cater to consumers’ demand for great-tasting, freshly prepared, high-quality menu items that are made to order at an affordable price point.
What will be the most popular food and restaurant trends in 2019?
Interestingly, we’re seeing more consumers tucking into ethnically influenced food items, especially at breakfast. They offer big, bold flavors, and appeal to many Americans who have come here from different parts of the globe. These foods meld together the flavors they grew up with and the newer tastes they’ve adopted here. This trend truly illustrates America as a culinary melting pot.
What factors should Middle Eastern restaurants consider to ensure their concepts are palatable in the US?
You have to make sure you appeal to your business’s target demographics. You can introduce new things, but you have to temper that with consistency, familiarity and comfortability. That’s
the way to win market share.