Try Something New
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Nick Norris
Long before the Burj Khalifa was built in the UAE, Nando’s was introduced to the region; a move that has proved resoundingly successful ever since and that continues to tantalise the taste buds of a nation 14 years on.
Owner, Suhail Gidwani is the man to thank for bringing the globally-renowned brand to the country following his own experience of PERi-PERi perfection in South Africa, and he did so with one very clear goal in mind: “to bring PERi-PERI flame-grilled chicken to the region and offer great tasting, healthy value to consumers”.
Chief Operating Officer (COO), Richard Dening-Smitherman continues: “Our focus was to make our flagship restaurant a unique destination and over the past 15 years we have grown the business to 20 restaurants with a delivery service that now reaches customers throughout the UAE.
“The business has also become the highest performing franchised market in terms of sales turnover and second largest in terms of scale. Within 20 years we will have become a $50 million turnover food business.”
The UAE franchise was launched as a consequence of a global restructuring of the wider Group – an initiative which now comprises more than 1,000 restaurants worldwide, a number set to double within the decade – and the challenge remains to maintain national growth at a pace that will keep the Company at the top of the market.
“We have seen a particular shift in the modernisation of our business over the past five years and an evolution of both our menus and restaurant design, while retaining our core values,” Dening-Smitherman explains. “One of the unique features of the UAE is the hugely diverse demographic with more than 200 nationalities resident in the UAE and every location served having a very different customer base.”
Connection to customers
Reputation has a lot to be thanked for in achieving such a rapid rise to prominence, but this isn’t to say that the UAE audience was aware of the Nando’s brand prior to its inception in the country. Instead, this reputation has become a reassurance, rather than a pulling factor, for customers knowing that they will experience a world-class level of service and taste when entering one of the Company’s 16 restaurants for the first time.
Spanning Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Al Ain, a further four restaurants will be added later in 2016 in order to reach an even wider consumer base. However, despite the dramatic increase in shopping malls across the UAE, it is the community feel of the independent restaurants that provide the most effective lure; a fact in-keeping with the global Nando’s philosophy.
“In these locations we are able to make a closer connection with customers who identify with us as part of their neighbourhood and adopt us as their regular eating destination,” Dening-Smitherman says. “We look at our physical growth planning geographically, aiming to develop both our visibility and accessibility, targeting areas where we see opportunities in new communities as property developments enable us to build new restaurants.”
The monitoring of trends take on even more significance when addressing the foods on offer and the menus rolled-out to consumers, with spicier foods becoming more popular since the arrival of Nando’s, and the subsequent introduction of its Espetada – a hanging skewer made with chicken thighs and vegetables – a few years ago.
“Espetada brought our brand and offer closer to our local customers,” the COO continues. “When we opened in 2002, our restaurant offered full table service. While Nando’s has developed a hosted counter service globally, we have retained our service model, which we believe has enabled us to maintain alignment with consumer expectations in the UAE.”
Espetada has consequently become Nando’s UAE’s most popular product outside of its chicken on the bone option, and is complemented by another bespoke dish, Cataplana; a chicken, rice and vegetables offering which resonates with many other local delicacies.
Much like its menus, the restaurants themselves are all unique and designed from scratch in conjunction with world-class design agencies. Influences spanning from London, Malaysia, Singapore and – of course – South Africa culminate in a look and feel that is not only bespoke, but that epitomises the wider Nando’s brand.
“The significance of our focus on unique restaurant design is that we give our communities something unique and inspiring, creating an environment which reflects our values; using real and natural materials, building beautiful restaurants for our customers,” Dening-Smitherman says. “In addition to our art and design, we enhance our restaurants with our unique blend of Afro-Luso music; creating real energy and uplifting sounds across our business and streamed from Nando’s radio station in Johannesburg.
“We believe that our restaurants are not simply about serving great food, but immersing our customers in the smells, sights and sounds of Nando’s and giving them a unique experience which is founded on bringing people together through food.”
Family privacy is another area addressed as an important aspect of Arabic communities, via the introduction of higher seat backs and even seating booths; offering further evidence of Nando’s UAE’s commitment to customer comfort. All-told, renovations, improvements and developments such as these amount to more than $4 million a year being spent on providing the most beautiful and enduring restaurants.
“However, as we continue to invest increasingly in every restaurant, we maintain our anticipated levels of return through enhanced restaurant performance,” Dening-Smitherman adds. “This year we will be focusing on our operating systems and investing heavily in our IT infrastructure to maintain the accelerating pace of millennial change.”
IT, data management, cloud storage, administrative recording and bespoke furnishings are just some of the elements flourishing from the capital expenditures, while new point-of-sale systems, touchless payments and an interactive loyalty app will be introduced to achieve the goal of creating a ‘second home space’ for customers.
“That is why we call our restaurants ‘Casas’ – Portuguese for ‘Home’ – and our Restaurant Managers are called ‘Patraos’, Portuguese for the ‘Head of the Family’,” Dening-Smitherman affirms.
As well as becoming a restaurant of choice, Nando’s has also become an employer of choice as a result of its family feel, instilling the principle: “It’s not just about the chicken, it’s also about the people that make the chicken.”
“This founding principle is underpinned by our key values, which are pride, passion, courage, integrity and family,” Dening-Smitherman says. “We continually refer back to our founding principle and values in everything we do. We use these as a moral compass for our decision-making and this ensures we always maintain a clear direction as we grow the business.
“Suhail has a simple philosophy that we follow: ‘Have fun while making money’. He believes that if you spend more than three-quarters of your life working for us, then you should also enjoy the work you do and who you work for; to live to work rather than to work to live.”
This employee strategy is compounded by a local focus which comprises a mix of nationalities and a natural diversity added to the business. More than 20 different nationalities exist within the family at present, a mix which reflects the marketplace it continues to evolve within.
Dening-Smitherman concludes: “We believe that there is nothing more important than the chicken we serve and the people who serve it, and [moving forward] we will have doubled in size to become the UAE’s largest and most successful fast-casual dining brand.
“The UAE is one of the world’s most competitive food markets. However, we do not see the constantly growing and evolving competition as threatening. We find it energising and see the changing landscape as an opportunity to continue differentiating by never forgetting who we are, where we have come from and what we are about.
“It is critical to continue enhancing our environments so that we adapt as our customers’ needs adjust. But we will never change what we believe in: The best flame-grilled PERi-PERi