It's no secret that 2020 has been a difficult year for the food and beverage industry as a whole.
But despite the many challenges that have been thrown its way, home-grown brand La Serre is not just taking them in its stride, but taking operations to the next level.
Earlier this month, it was announced that the contemporary French dining restaurant would be opening branches in London, New York and Riyadh.
The first international outpost is to be La Serre Riyadh, scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2021. The London branch is to follow later in the year in Knightsbridge, followed by the New York venue before the end of 2021.
The international outlets will maintain the Dubai restaurant's design and menu structure, although chefs will be given creative freedom to put personal touches on the menus.
It's an ambitious plan, but its fans probably aren't surprised. Since its launch, the restaurant has racked up a string of awards and accolades for its service and ambience. The food is much-talked about, with the truffle fontina pizzetta; escargots de Bourgogne, snails with garlic butter; grilled lamb chops and pain perdu all being particularly popular.
But Ralph Homer, chief executive and co-founder of Lincoln Hospitality, which owns and operates the restaurant, says the success of a restaurant is "not just about great food and service".
“There is no guaranteed way to ensure the success of a restaurant – there are many great restaurants that close their doors after a short period of time. Our focus is always based on creating the best experience for guests,” he says.
“Food and beverage is only part of the equation. Ambience, music, decor and cutlery, as well as many other small details go into creating a full dining experience. The key to success is to never take your foot off the pedal, never stop learning, continuously evolve and strive to be better every day.”
The expansion plans also come at a time that’s particularly difficult for restaurants in general. Even a restaurant as popular as La Serre has felt the impact of the coronavirus on its day-to-day operations.
In line with government regulations, the bistro remained closed for months earlier this year, with only its boulangerie available for a period of time. Most of its staff were off during that time.
“We had a very challenging few months like everyone else. We did all we could to support our staff and the business by advertising delivery through different platforms and providing care packages to the staff,” says Homer.
When restaurants were allowed to reopen, the restaurant launched new offers, like a business lunch to get guests back. However, due to capacity restrictions, it still cannot seat as many guests as it used to.
All things considered, opening three international branches in this environment is a daunting task. Homer admits that plans for the expansion were already in the pipeline when the pandemic hit. And while this did slow down their announcement, they decided to go ahead as they had found the right locations.
“Saudi Arabia is a fast-growing market and we have always had plans to add to our GCC portfolio, so when we found the right spot in King Abdullah Financial District we made the decision to open there without hesitation. The restaurant business is very much a real estate business, we focused on the best locations available here in Dubai and will do the same in our new locations.
“Every year we see international restaurant brands flocking to Dubai in the masses, so I couldn’t be prouder to be pushing in the opposite direction and taking our UAE home-grown brand global,” he says.
So how does the brand plan on bringing some of its UAE success to new markets – especially in the midst of a pandemic? Homer says it’s all about constant brainstorming, looking for new ways to attract customers, engaging with them and creating better experiences. “Constant evolution is the only way forward,” he says.