Dubai: American restaurant chain Applebee’s is stepping up its presence in the Middle East with the launch of 21 to 26 new outlets across the region over the next three years.
By the end of the expansion period, the brand’s network will grow from 34 to between 55 and 60 outlets. The company aims to open at least seven new restaurants in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and recruit about 560 new employees this year.
Gary Moore, Applebee’s regional manager for Middle East and North Africa, said that with the increasing appetite for out-of-home dining and growing discretionary wealth in the Middle East, there is plenty of room for restaurant brands to expand their business.
Dining out is becoming a favourite activity for many UAE residents, who spend an average of Dh841 on restaurant meals per month, the highest in the Middle East market. Consumers in Qatar are the second-biggest diners, spending about Dh774, followed by Kuwait (Dh719) and Lebanon (Dh385).
Applebee’s has experienced double-digit growth over the last three years on the back of rising economic momentum in the region. “That means 10 per cent or more,” Moore said.
“We find that this is really a very good time for retail and for food and beverage to expand. The Gulf economies are becoming a lot more solid and there have been a lot of employment opportunities. The real estate business is starting to open up and new malls are being built,” Moore told Gulf News.
He said consumers in the region are also increasingly getting accustomed to a mobile lifestyle and this has given rise to the demand for more casual, fast casual and quick service food outlets. The Middle East’s dining market, however, is far from saturation point, unlike in the United States where half of the money spent on food goes to the restaurants.
“The region is still behind whenever you compare it to a market like the United States, which is close to saturation point. In the US, approximately 50 cents of every dollar spent on food is spent in a restaurant. I don’t believe we’re at that level yet,” Moore said.
But the market is definitely moving upward. “Eating out is very much common these days. The trend has to do with lifestyle changes and the amount of time people spend out of home,” Moore said.