Duncan Fraser-Smith. Duncan Fraser-Smith.

It seems to me that there is an underground movement afoot, one which is harbouring fear in relation to the ‘S’ word. It’s whispered in corridors and by water coolers on a daily basis but no one is prepared to step up and discuss it in the light of day.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that time has now come. This mysterious word that we do not wish to speak is… saturation.

When I first arrived in the Middle East, nearly 10 years ago, there were a little over 2,000 restaurants listed on TripAdvisor for Dubai alone. Today that number sits at 8,649. And here’s the kicker; there are nearly 6,000 more set to open in the next five years.

Statistically that is a lot of lunches and dinners out for all of us to simply sustain this phenomenal number of outlets. Or is it?

Given the rapid rate of outlet openings, and the fierce competition associated with sourcing and securing every last available dollar from our dining community, inevitably some existing outlets will cease trading. This can be for wide and varied reasons — and, in my mind, it is necessary.

Why? Well change ‘for the sake of change’ is something I disagree with profusely, however as the palettes and cuisines on a global platform continue to develop and harness more interesting and authentic dinning opportunities, change keeps things fresh and lively.

In essence we need some outlets to close and be replaced with more up-to-date, cutting edge dining options — not only to stay relevant in the international dining community but to continue to pioneer product and experience in this part of the world.

Not naming names, but operators are approaching us regularly to try to figure out how they have lost their market share when once they were at the peak of their game in the industry. The answers sometimes are simple. Standing on a branding basis that you serve the best insert menu item here in the city and you have been for the last 11 years, probably goes to show that the market around you has shifted and there has not been a course correction along the way.

It’s time to rethink either your demographic, cuisine or overall concept. This is the time to look at the potential of a complete transformation into a new, current and on-trend dining and ‘eatertaining’ experience.

The Michelin and high-end branded restaurants will continue to attract and carve out their existence on the promise of quality and consistency. I have spoken before about the need for more development in the mid to premium casual dining space, where the purchasing choice on a regular basis is easy, product quality is high, service is excellent and value for money is paramount.

I know that nearly 6,000 new food and beverage outlets seems unimaginable, but out of all those, how many will repurpose an existing operation and turn it into something relevant, and above all else, consumer driven? I will let you decide.

Duncan Fraser-Smith is the founder of The Cutting Edge Agency, which specialises in developing and creation of benchmark F&B concepts through conceptualisation and training, as well as sourcing and partnering with international brands and high profile chefs to successfully establish their presence in the Middle East. Visit:www.thecuttingedgeagency.com for more information.

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