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Selecting a restaurant or takeaway food in the Middle East changed during the pandemic

Borderless Access has done research into what factors people living in the Middle East, specifically the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, consider when deciding to go out for a meal or to order in

COVID-19 has obviously made gatherings of multi-generational families almost impossible In the Middle East, people report less enthusiasm about returning to their pre-pandemic eating habits Having takeaways for dinner is not seen as a treat in the Middle East

As vaccination rates rise people everywhere are keen to once again visit their favorite restaurants. Borderless Access has done research into what factors people living in the Middle East, specifically the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, consider when deciding to go out for a meal or to order one to be delivered.

Considering multi-generational families

Before the pandemic appeared, people in Saudi and the UAE chose to visit a restaurant for broadly similar reasons as did people living elsewhere in the world: To treat themselves, to enjoy a meal with friends or family, to celebrate a special occasion or simply because they did not feel like cooking on that day.

However, the main difference was that in the Middle East people were far more likely to enjoy a meal with a large group of people, with three out of four Saudis saying that normally a meal out was shared with extended family. COVID-19 has obviously made gatherings of multi-generational families almost impossible, posing a challenge to restaurants operating in this region.

Navigating how to eat out safely

As lockdowns ease around the world, people are keen to eat out once more, albeit more cautiously. We’ve noticed a heightened sense of apprehension among restaurant patrons in the Middle East, where people report less enthusiasm about returning to their pre-pandemic eating habits compared to other areas in the world. This can possibly be attributed to concern over elderly members of their families being exposed to the virus, although financial concerns play a role too, especially in the UAE.

Restaurant owners should pay heed to the fact that, globally, half of the potential customers’ research online is for a restaurant’s COVID safety protocols. In the Middle East, this number is even higher, as the graph below illustrates.

Respecting the cautious

In a world where there’s an increasing number of people receiving their vaccines, there is also an increasing amount of people eager to resume normal activities. Globally, we can see that having a vaccination and being able to visit a restaurant that has established COVID practices satisfies the majority of customers. Restaurants do, however, need to accept that a significant portion of their clientele will stay away until COVID has disappeared or their country has reached herd immunity. People in the Middle East appear to be more cautious than their global counterparts.

Ordering in is seen as a convenience rather than treat

In the Middle East, having takeaways for dinner is not seen as a treat. (Only 14% of Saudis consider it as such.) Instead, takeaways are seen as a convenient way to get a new type of food.

Like the rest of the world, people in the Middle East order food through delivery apps (such as Uber Eats). Three quarters of people in this region say they have downloaded a food delivery app since the onset of the pandemic, illustrating that having food delivered is a new habit here. In Saudi, 36% of people still prefer to collect food directly from the establishment. It is not clear whether this is a personal preference or whether not all restaurants offer an option for food to be delivered.

Have you downloaded/ made use of more ordering sites/ apps since Covid-19?

What can restaurants in the Middle East learn from this?

 Clearly, patrons in this region are still cautious about eating out, although they also wish to resume normal life again. As eating out was previously strongly linked to large-family gatherings, restaurants need to think creatively about ways to ensure and communicate safety for such groups, thereby re-establishing their previous attractiveness.

Given that financial concerns are an issue, especially in the UAE, restaurants could do well by offering promotions, discounts, and special offers that would help to entice customers back to them once more.

It goes without saying that communicating COVID-protocols and safety measures is key, especially in a region where there is still more caution around the return to eating out. Restaurants should continue to do this as a matter of course, rather than assuming that these cautions are dissipating.

Lastly, given the relative ease with which consumers order in, and the perceptions around it being more of a convenience than a treat, restaurants without delivery options could do well by considering adding those, thereby expanding their reach during this still-uncertain period.

For more information on how marketers and businesses can stay ahead of global and regional trends, you can visit Borderless Access.