Navigating the Pandemic Tunnel.

We find ourselves locked in against our own wishes, for our own betterment & safety. No one knew that this pandemic would grow to such scary heights, take away so many loved ones, make so many sicker, cripple the world economy, force closures of schools, universities, markets, economies, tourism, hospitality and affect every facet of our lives, personal and professional

A great interaction focusing on navigating the pandemic with peopleHum, a leading
technology platform that is shaping the Future of Work by developing the next generation people platform by extensively deploying predictive and AI technologies to enable better people decisions for organisations.

Focusing on customer service, customer engagement, people management, team building & motivation, the discussion centered around the most important aspect of the industry : People

People make up the Hospitality Industry, be they customers, employees, team members or suppliers, there are people at every end of the matrix and thus it is that much more imperative to take care of each and every member involved in the chain of supplying, producing and providing a superior experience

Leadership as a key asset became a focal point during the discussion, not only in the pre-Covid world but more so in the current times. Leading from the front, holding everyone’s hand, guiding teams, motivating people around with a lot empathy and navigating the business at the same time are every leader’s challenges & opportunities, especially in today’s highly charged and precarious environment

New realities of doing business and living our lives is now the way going forward. Business models, irrespective of industry, but more so for Hospitality, have to be re-looked, re- designed and possibly also turned over their heads to create new ways of working and operating, which shall then hopefully lead all of us towards a brighter future

Leading teams and businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic tunnel whilst maintaining high standards of ethics, morale, quality, perseverance and hope were the key aspects highlighted during the discussion. There is light at the end of the tunnel and as leaders, we must navigate carefully but surely to come out on the other side, fitter, stronger, leaner and as a unit, together.


Covid 19: The Unintended & Unknown Destination.

  • A road not traveled by any of us before
  • A journey not undertaken by any of us before
  • We are all headed to a destination unknown to all of us

We find ourselves in the midst of unintended and unplanned for circumstances, unaware and unprepared of how to deal, survive, fight and live through this period. The extreme uncertainties bring about new situations and challenges to which we react, act and sometimes fail or succeed, on a daily basis

As an industry, we find ourselves in a F-I-L-O environment. No, this is not a new inventory storage mechanism but rather a timeline of events that have occurred upon all of us with a potential view of evaluating and coming out on the other side. I call it the First In Last Out model.

We were amongst the first to get hit with the emergence and spread of Covid-19 and shall be amongst the last to emerge out of it, thus making the journey through this phase, not only the longest but also that of going through and enduring maximum pain, financial stress, instability, impending closures with last but not the least, facing dire prospects of losing many livelihoods of passionate industry colleagues

That we will emerge is certain, which is just a matter of time. With all the strong and immediate actions taken by governments the world over and specifically those taken by the UAE government, have indeed set the tone and pace for tackling, dealing, containing and treating those affected. The UAE leadership’s decisions backed by supreme intelligence, learning and collaborative efforts have ensured the safety for all citizens and residents, alike.

Our industry’s resilience is on test, no doubt. This very same asset has brought everyone together for the common good. The good for each other, for humanity, for our employees, our customers and everyone’s well-being. With the UAE government proceeding with gradual opening up of all sectors, it seems like we could see the light at the end of this long tunnel very soon. While yet walking through this tunnel, I for-see many an activity that we all must and shall be forced to undertake, if we are to reach that light towards the end. I hereby highlight all these below :

Dig through the Hay Stack
Dig your business deep, unlock all the bolts, re-evaluate and re-jig your business model if you wish to survive. The earlier ways of doing business may not come back fully or in the same fashion. Business models for all of us and across industries are going to get turned over their heads
Polish Up
Lean times are an opportunity to rewind, rejuvenate and re-energize. Get the teams together, polish their skills and yours. Un-learn the old to learn the new
Embrace the New Normal
The new normal, when it does arrive, shall bring with it a complex web of challenges, ways of working and trends. Leaner and lighter business models shall emerge too
Look for out emerging trends such as home-cooking, home-chefs, supper clubs, new packaging for food delivery, meal-kits, merging lines between food, ready- to-cook and grocery preferences, sustainability, heightened customer consciousness about ingredients quality & ethical sourcing, to name a few
There is no choice but to do this. Re-align all your processes, internal and external. Outsource what you can, integrate with others in the industry to synergise and generate efficiencies while reducing overall costs
Larger companies will feel the heat to do their own levels of integration : backward, forward, internal and external at great speed to be able to hopefully come out leaner and stronger on the other side
It is inevitable for us to see consolidation in our industry in the months to come. Many a great concept may not be able to cross the tunnel and reach the other side. For those who actually manage doing so, will not reach there unscathed either. Serious long-term investors are expected to pick up brands and concepts at very low valuations. This is definitely not the best scenario for those selling out but left with none to very limited options, biting this bullet might be the only way out for many.
Preserve what you can hold onto, beginning with your employees, customers and yourself. Our industry is a skill driven one, powered by all human capital, which if allowed to dis-integrate will take the longest to re-build
Preserve cash if you have some left. The rain hasn’t gone yet
Keep the Faith
Last but not the least, trust yourself and those around you. You need everyone including yourself to stay safe and stay sane.
Wish the very best to everyone and see you on the other side

Leading insights about the current and future marketplace at the Europe & Middle East Coffee Symposium.

Akhilesh from Malt & Salt was invited to speak & present at this very prestigious, highly focused international conference on the topic of developing an F&B business in the Middle East.

The audience comprised of leading coffee suppliers, café owners & operators, international coffee brands and industry leaders from across the globe. To give them a perspective about the Middle East, its F&B industry and to set up a venture was a very interesting yet a wide subject to be speaking about.

Bringing to the fore-front, Akhilesh focused on how the Middle East and in specific, the UAE has emerged as the destination of choice for all leading F&B brands from the world over. An international customer demographic, high spending patterns, world-class retail exposure, ensure that all roads lead here.

The home-grown café environment was another key feature discussed & presented wherein local talent from the UAE have come forward and started entrepreneurial ventures and turned successful in the face of highly visible international brands and carved an identity for themselves.

It was great to meet and interact with industry leaders and share with them the future potential of doing business in the UAE and the wider Middle East. It was very interesting to see how coffee and its many new recipe formulations are taking the world by storm, including grab ‘n’ go healthy options focused on the millennials, thereby making coffee younger & trendier.


Restaurants, Cafe’s & Lounges: Simplifying key elements for the industry.

This two-day conference brought to the fore many interesting participants, new faces, hard-hitting topics of discussion and the opportunity of meeting industry professionals.

Participating in the conference, Akhilesh from Malt & Salt led many discussion panels surrounding topics of the emergence & importance of deliveries for a restaurant, selecting the right location in today’s high-octane retail environment and starting & scaling an F&B business.

Each session was well empowered and represented by industry professionals shedding light on their experiences & best practices in the industry. A lot of key elements that came forward were:

  • How deliveries are changing the way food is consumed
  • How the delivery trend is poised for greater growth thereby consolidating its position as a way of life for existing & newbies entering the restaurant space
  • International trends in food delivery and dark kitchens thus affecting how we choose locations for new outlet openings
  • Key metrics to be considered while setting up different kinds of F&B ventures across genres of the industry’s value chain
  • Connecting with customers in the fast-changing digital world and yet knowing who your customer is
  • Key touch-points in engaging with customers, their preferences, establishing a direct rapport with them and aiming at providing enhanced personal experiences

Retaining the Customer and Building a Food Delivery Business in the Restaurant Industry.

Attending and participating in the Gulf Host Restaurant Development Conference for the second year in a row was a very exciting and an enriching experience.

Malt & Salt Hospitality was involved in panel discussions and networking throughout the conference. Highly charged topics of Retaining the Customer and Building a Food Delivery Business in the Restaurant Industry were key areas of participation for us.

With the topics being very close to our hearts, the level of engagement & quality of discussions from all panelists were of a very superior grade. Akhilesh moderated both the panels and spearheaded critical points pertaining to the exciting topics.

Retaining the customer involved not only a high bent into marketing tactics, building customer loyalty and factors of maintaining stickiness but also dealt with in-depth analysis of operational capabilities, cuisine standards and operating procedures thereby creating a cocoon of the customer engagement cycle.

Building a Food Delivery business allowed the discussion to dive deep into the psyche of customer’s taste preferences, spending patterns, food packaging & quality, logistics of the delivery mechanism, training, managing each touchpoint in the food delivery journey to the customer, including the last mile experience and enabling technology as a focal point in controlling the entire universe.


Why do Restaurants Fail? An interesting panel discussion on the struggles of opening, operating and sustaining a restaurant business.

A great session on the title of "Why Restaurants Fail" was moderated by Akhilesh from Malt & Salt Hospitality at the Zomato Restaurant Summit in Dubai.

With a panel strength of industry experts, Akhilesh delved & implored with them the many reasons for the success and failure of restaurants, around the world as also, specifically in the UAE.

It was very interesting to understand and share experiences across the board including but not limited to the following :

  • Owner led restaurants find it difficult to grow out and expand
  • Owners are very tight with their controls, which is both good and bad for the restaurant
  • Spending too much capex on non-essentials vs focusing on hiring the right skill sets and establishing superior cuisine standards led to many a restaurants’ downfall
  • Choking of financial capabilities due to lack of funding sources turned out to be another key bottleneck
  • The belief that anyone/everyone who opens a restaurant will be successful was amongst the highlights of the discussion points
  • Too much discounting led promotions impacting top & bottom lines value erosion
  • Entry of people in the business without adequate and appropriate know-how

The topic being so interesting, we all got fairly engrossed and could have carried on for a few more hours, had it not been for the time limit. All in all, a great session and a superb summit organized by Zomato.


Are you ready to become a Franchisee : An analysis on the many facets of taking on a franchise brand vs developing your own.

A new territory, a new audience, a twist to the tale of franchising.

Akhilesh from Malt & Salt analysed & presented two sides of the franchising coin. A very interesting subject that has been the main driver of growth, development and expansion of a lot of Western brands in the Gulf region over the last few decades. Leading brands have found favour from Middle East investors willing to put their monies into opening, operating & expanding brands from overseas.

Such has been the pace of expansion that the Middle East region has become the hub and melting pot of most international brands with high spends from customers, higher revenues, customer loyalty thus contributing handsomely to the international coffers.

Akhilesh analysed the franchising model and showcased at the expo, the merits and demerits of taking on a franchise brand vs building your own. The presentation was an absolutely unbiased break-down of the business models, operating practices, legalities, financials & growth potential.

Interacting with and meeting delegates at the conference in Bahrain was a great learning experience, which also improved our learning about the region, especially with investors who had come from Saudi Arabia to attend the expo.


Relevance of Chef’s in today’s environment and Investment Trends in the Restaurant Industry.

Focusing on the various investment scenario’s, funding sources, appropriate utilization of funds and generating ROI’s for restaurants.

Malt & Salt Hospitality participated in the Gulf Host Restaurant Development Conference hosted by the Middle East Food Forum (MEFF) and International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA).

Speaking at the panel discussion, the other members and Akhilesh from Malt & Salt, discussed the importance of keeping the chef alive in today’s fast changing restaurant operating mechanisms.

Akhilesh stressed that even though most QSR’s & franchise brands have turned their reliance on chefs to a minimum on the front lines, expert & experienced chefs are nonetheless required for recipes development, training, creating procedures, menu & value enhancements.

Discussions also revolved around celebrity chef restaurants, where chefs rule the environment and such restaurants operate & are quite successful too. Leading hotels also have their kitchens run by senior experienced chefs and their large brigade of medium to junior level chefs.

It was widely accepted and agreed that even though large scale expansion of popular franchise brands has taken place by reducing reliance on senior chefs, the chef is as relevant and extremely important for any F&B venture’s creation, development, growth & ultimate success. It is the chef who creates and customers that devour. The Chef is here to stay.

Investment trends in the restaurant industry focused on who invests, where the money comes from, do first time investors understand where and how to spend the money in developing a restaurant, do first time food entrepreneurs know what to focus their spending on, how do restaurants make money, do they actually make money and how much ROI should investors realistically expect to make in today’s highly competitive landscape.

There emerged a fair amount of counter discussions on the topic, which also generated a lot of interest during the Q&A session from the audience. All in all, a very pertinent matter to be discussed and not to be taken lightly at all.


Building Your Dream Restaurant: It’s not just about Location Location Location.

Akhilesh from Malt & Salt was invited by the Middle East Food Forum (MEFF) to present their experience and learnings about how to develop a dream restaurant.

Malt & Salt Hospitality created a detailed presentation outlining key facets to work towards developing a restaurant business. A key element highlighted by Akhilesh during the presentation was explaining the idea of not being overly fussed about only finding the best location for the restaurant but to also work very hard on all the other elements involved.

Merely having the best location does not ensure that the restaurant has the best food or the best service, which are equally important, if not more in contributing towards the success of any restaurant venture.

According to Akhilesh, a dream restaurant must comply and inculcate many aspects, which were detailed in the presentation and summarized as under:

  • Culture & Ethos
  • Passion & Drive
  • The Art & Science of building great teams
  • Managing finances effectively
  • Great food
  • Great service
  • Approachable & a highly visible location
  • Technical compliances
  • Area compliances
  • Customer demographic study & compliance
  • Financial feasibility
  • Discussing a few live case studies
  • To name only a few

The post presentation session became quite interesting with a lot of members from the audience engaging with Akhilesh to discuss finer details and various elements of developing and operating restaurants. A super session indeed!


It’s All About People: The key role of team building & managing them in the Restaurant Industry.

Malt & Salt Hospitality was invited by the Indian Restaurant Congress to discuss and present on how to build great teams for managing restaurants successfully.

Akhilesh is extremely passionate about people and processes and thus had a great time interacting with and presenting to a large audience comprising of Hospitality & Restaurant professionals from across India.

Key highlights brought forward by Akhilesh were :

  • The importance of selecting the right attitude in people
  • Importance of searching for and selecting candidates with distinct personalities
  • Developing an innate internal company culture revolving around people
  • Remembering that we work in a people’s business
  • Encouraging & enhancing soft skills and emotional quotients
  • Focusing on continuous trainings & improvements
  • And many more important aspects including Esprit des Corps

The two-day conference was a great confluence of industry leaders & professionals leading to a deeper learning & understanding about the Indian restaurant industry.