Eating is the new shopping as UAE malls grow fat on new restaurant tenants

The food courts that adorn most of the major malls across the UAE have become a staple of our everyday lives, and the options will soon get bigger and wider.

The property consultant JLL expects that a fifth of mall space will be taken up with food and beverage within 10 years after having already doubled its footprint from 7 per cent to 15 per cent over the past 10 years.

And research from the property adviser CBRE shows that, in the UAE, 50 per cent of customers, the highest rate in the world, choose to visit a mall just for the food options.

Which explains the sight that surprised Susan Harris, a student visiting from the UK, as she was shopping in The Dubai Mall last week.

“I’m a bit bewildered by the amount of fast food restaurants in this mall,” she said. “The UK’s malls have a lot of coffee shops, not as many as here, but the food here seems to be everywhere. I can’t walk further than 50 metres without seeing another outlet.”

Cravia Group, the parent of Zaatar w Zeit, will open a new outlet of the Lebanese eatery at Dubai Festival City after its business grew 15 to 25 per cent across its portfolio last year. It will be the 15th outlet for the brand. The group runs 65 food and beverage outlets across the UAE, including Cinnabon, Seattle’s Best Coffee, The Steak Bar and Five Guys.

“The increased F&B [food and beverage] space will bring competition but that makes the business better,” said Walid Hajj, the executive chairman of Cravia Group. “With some brands we focus on delivery, others on the service provided. We have not seen the market cannibalised as more brands enter – the market is growing.”

The JLL report showed that food is a key ingredient in encouraging “dwell” time in shopping centres. Figures show that customers who eat during a shopping centre trip spend on average 27 minutes longer across the shopping centre and spend 18 per cent more in overall transactions.

“There are opportunities for F&B in a variety of malls across the UAE,” said Andrew Williamson, the head of retail at JLL Mena.

“The trend is changing from shopping to entertainment and lifestyle. The amount of space given over to food outlets will depend on the catchment area and the size of the mall. Meeting family and friends is a key component of the social fabric in the Middle East.”

Mr Williamson said that the UAE is expected to add more than 1,000 food and beverage outlets by 2018.

Nakheel, the owner of Ibn Battuta and Dragon Mart malls, which has plans to more than quadruple its leasable retail space, is supporting the trend.

“Our larger malls have between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of gross leasable area for F&B and the trend is increasing,” said Rebecca Rees, the spokeswoman for Nakheel.

“It is very dependent on the size and the placement of the mall. In Jumeirah Park Pavilion, a community mall, we have 10 F&B outlets compared to 18 general ones, which is more than 30 per cent.

“We are leasing a larger mall, Al Khail Avenue, as we speak, and working on the 10 per cent to 15 per cent model, but that may change. Nakheel Mall on the Palm will have its own dedicated fine dining area along with a host of other options.”

Food and beverage options are not only key to keeping customers in the mall, but also a factor in what mall they choose to visit in the first place.

“The UAE has a different relationship with malls than other parts of the globe,” said Nick Maclean, the managing director of CBRE. “Malls are more important socially here because of the climate and the demographics of the country.

“With the international brands becoming more and more available over two thirds of our respondents will choose a mall because of the specific F&B options they have on offer. We foresee a quarter of mall space being given to F&B in the future, which mall developers will have to plan for going forward.”

The UAE retail market is valued at US$53.7 billion this year, up by 7 per cent over last year, a lower rise compared with the 8 per cent that had been projected for last year, according to data from the consultancy Euromonitor International.

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Andrew Scott

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