Keeping up With the Caterers

Keeping up With the Caterers

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Catering has become a sophisticated business, with boutique companies rigorously tailoring their services to meet the needs of ever-demanding consumers. We asked seven big names on the Middle East’s catering scene to tell us about their concepts and the challenges of operating amid a global pandemic.

Wadih El Haddad
Executive chef, Salam Hospitality
QATAR

What differentiates your brand from your competitors?
We strive to gain high customer satisfaction through innovative and scalable catering solutions that suit the needs and budgets of our customers.
How are you catering to your health-conscious clientele?
There are various menu options available at Eatopia, including vegan, vegetarian and keto dishes. We pay attention to portion size and optimal calorie counts for our health-conscious customers.
Which green practices do you employ?
We have transitioned to ecofriendly disposable solutions, such as biodegradable plastic straws, glass beverage bottles, recyclable paper bags, boxes and food packaging.
What catering trends can we expect to see in 2021?
We’ll definitely see more pre-packaged meal boxes, customized experiences with printed cupcakes, macarons, cakes, cookies and pastries, and diet-specific catering (organic, gluten-free, ketofriendly and vegan).
What is your biggest challenge?
The cyclical nature of our business leads to demand volatility. Therefore, we are working on making the supply chain more agile to reduce waste.

Deema Hajjawi
Owner, Flavours Catering
JORDAN

What differentiates your brand from your competitors?
We do not have set menus. Instead, we meet our customers, understand their needs and build a menu accordingly.
How are you catering to your health-conscious clientele?
We use the finest ingredients and focus on comfort food packed with great flavor. We cook live, which builds trust with our customers.
Which green practices do you employ?
We use proper chinaware and stainless steel cutlery at most of our events. The rest of the time, we use the best food grade disposables.
What catering trends can we expect to see in 2021?
New trends may include: virtual cooking classes, focusing more on online food ordering; innovative, healthy cocktails and juice blends; and ready-packed catering solutions.
What is your biggest challenge?
Covid-19 made maintaining and controlling costs challenging. Offering our customer cost-effective solutions is another great challenge.

Amina Hassaan
Managing director, The Cookery Co.
EGYPT

What differentiates your brand from your competitors?
Passionate about food, our executive chefs are proud holders of Le Cordon Bleu degrees, and our banquet team members are masters at setting the ambience and pampering our guests and their clients.
How are you catering to your health-conscious clientele?
Our menu includes items that are rich in nutrients, such as roasted vegetables, quinoa and nuts.
Which green practices do you employ?
We try as much as possible to reduce our carbon footprint by limiting the use of plastic, so we tend to use environmentally friendly and biodegradable packaging, namely kraft paper boxes, wooden forks and paper straws.
What catering trends can we expect to see in 2021?
Experiential catering is definitely high on the list.
What is your biggest challenge?
We try to turn the challenges we face into opportunities. The ability to grow in an unstable environment like this can get very challenging at times, especially with the pandemic striking hard again.

Bibi Ali Hayat
Creative director and owner, November & Co. and Bibi Hayat Events and Design
KUWAIT

What differentiates your brand from your competitors?
We do not follow trends, nor do we use readymade ingredients. We remain focused on customer service, never compromising on quality and being very bohemian in our approach, store style, branding and packaging.
How are you catering to your health-conscious clientele?
We have started to offer gluten-free cakes in our daily display. We also offer lowsugar, whole-wheat and nut-free options.
Which green practices do you employ?
By the end of 2021, 80 percent of our packaging will be biodegradable. Currently, we use paper straws and our takeaway items are served in recycled cloth bags.
What catering trends can we expect to see in 2021?
Vegan desserts, creative ways of displaying celebration cakes and individual portion items on the buffet for health and safety.
What is your biggest challenge?
Meeting clients’ last-minute requests in a way that allows us to be organized, offer quality and make a profit in Kuwait.

Rita Kahawaty
Founder, Mama Rita
UAE

What differentiates your brand from your competitors?
Our ingredients are clean and our food is incredibly light, yet filling and wholesome.
How are you catering to your health-conscious clientele?
Most of our meals are under 500 calories. We will be adding nutritional values to all of our dishes.
Which green practices do you employ?
All of our packaging is either recyclable or reusable, and our cutlery is biodegradable. We barely use any plastic. We prefer selling out of a certain dish to overproducing and wasting food.
What catering trends can we expect to see in 2021?
People ultimately want food that tastes good and is healthy. There is a shift towards veganism, so we want to make sure that the final menu we release in a few months from now caters to all lifestyles.
What is your biggest challenge?
Our biggest challenge is consistency. The best feedback we get from customers is that our food is delicious and light. It is important that we continue providing that quality.

George Khalil
Founder and GM, Q6 Bistro & Catering
UAE

What differentiates your brand from your competitors?
We have a team of professionals who continuously innovate with the latest catering trends to meet our clients’ needs and requests while maintaining the highest quality.
How are you catering to your health-conscious clientele?
We integrated different menus into our portfolio including vegan, vegetarian and healthy, low-calorie dishes.
Which green practices do you employ?
We do not use any plastic disposable items. When requested by the client, we use environmentally friendly items made of recycled banana leaves.
What catering trends can we expect to see in 2021?
Live cooking stations for small groups of under 20 people, ready-to-serve platters to complement small home gatherings and ready-to-cook packages.
What is your biggest challenge?
Seasonality and high operating costs are challenging. There’s also a lot of competition; restaurants are adapting their operations to offer catering services.

Rouba Khalil
Founder and CEO, Rouba Khalil Kitchen
TO GO LEBANON

What differentiates your brand from your competitors?
We make everything in small batches using premium ingredients.
How are you catering to your health-conscious clientele?
We offer gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free options. Our menus are “healthy” by default as we focus a lot on fresh produce and seasonal vegetables.
Which green practices do you employ?
It is definitely a challenge to stay green; Lebanon offers very little recycling resources and people have to literally go out of their way to maintain a relatively green lifestyle. Since we started doing drop-off catering, we have been using more packaging (all items need to be packaged individually in order to be sent out to clients). Unfortunately using ecofriendly packaging would just drive our prices through the roof, so I am not able to say that it has been easy to stay green.
What catering trends can we expect to see in 2021?
As get-togethers are becoming smaller and smaller, I think clients are seeking better quality catering that’s more focused on the ingredients and the experience. I think the “chef at home” concept will become a trend as well as do-it-yourself kits.
What is your biggest challenge?
Paying suppliers cash on delivery, mental gymnastics to figure out conversion rates, dish pricing, event pricing, juggling accounting with multiple currencies (the Lebanese pound, US dollars, “lollar,” “chollar,” etc.), keeping our menu items affordable while maintaining a profit margin, keeping the team motivated and working amid a lockdown and a pandemic… the list goes on, but I will stop there!

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