Casual dining takes off

International chains such as Chili’s and Nando’s are investing in the Middle East, as the popularity of casual dining outlets soars.

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By  Laura Barnes Published  December 1, 2006

International chains such as Chili’s and Nando’s are investing in the Middle East, as the popularity of casual dining outlets soars. “There is a lot of room for growth in the Middle East’s casual dining industry. We started out with one outlet in the UAE in 2001, and now we have four outlets, with another four opening across the emirates within the next six months,” said Suhail Gidwani, CEO, Nando’s UAE. Popular with Arab nationals and expatriate families, casual dining restaurants in the region are generally positioned in shopping malls. However, with the rise of residential areas throughout Dubai, for example, the number of outlets are increasing as an alternative to dining in hotels. “We have our flagship restaurant on Sheikh Zayed Road, as well as outlets in Rigga Road, Dubai, Sharjah and the latest one is in the Greens, Dubai. The next four are positioned throughout the UAE showing our popularity and growth in the region,” commented Gidwani. “We have signed a deal with Emaar to have a store next to the Burj Dubai; in February we will open in Dubai Marina; and we will also be opening outlets in Ras Al Khaimah and Al Ain,” he added. The international chain, which specialises in chicken-based dishes, has not just experienced growth in the UAE, but also across the entire Middle East. Doha has three Nando’s restaurants, with plans for two more, and in Saudi Arabia, which currently has four restaurants, a further 11 will be rolled out over the next five years. Kuwait will see its first Nando’s in March, Gidwani added. Other international chains are also expanding after a boom in business region-wide, including Chili’s, which is owned by Dubai-based Saleh Bin Lahej Group. “Chili’s has proved popular because not only is it reasonably priced, but the whole family can come and dine out together,” commented Hassan Kanen, operations manager, Chili’s UAE. “Our diners range from Arabs, Europeans and Americans, so it is not just confined to one group,” he added. Currently boasting 17 restaurants in the UAE and Oman, last month Chili’s launched its ‘Big 5’ campaign and opened five more restaurants in the UAE. Located in the Green Community, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Healthcare City and Al Munar, the fifth outlet is expected to open later this month at Dubai’s Festival City. Looking outside of Dubai, the international chain has also opened an outlet in Ras Al Khaimah, targeting Arab nationals. “Chili’s has been very popular in this region because the food and service is good, but casual dining plays a big part in this market because it is more laid back. Sometimes people don’t want to dine in a hotel, but they want that same international offering, and that is what we provide,” commented Kanen. “But there is a lot of competition, as more outlets and international chains start to look at this market,” he added. Other casual dining companies eyeing the GCC market include Dairy Queen’s Grill and Chill. The US-based company opened its first Grill and Chill outside of the US in Bahrain in 2004, and already operating a number of outlets across the region, in destinations including Qatar and Oman, it is expected to open in Dubai next year.

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