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Episode 4
How To Build A Timeless Restaurant

With Ziad Kamel, CEO & Co-Founder of Rosy Hospitality

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About The Episode

Couqley is the 15 year old restaurant where all generations gather for great food at affordable prices and great service.


In this interview, Ziad Kamel, founder and CEO of Rosy Hospitality, discusses his journey and the strategies that have led to the success of his restaurant group, which includes Couqley. He emphasizes the importance of a strong value proposition and the critical role of customer service in the longevity of a restaurant. Ziad shares that Couqley, has been in business for 15 years, highlighting the need for consistency in quality and service. He advises that a restaurant is ready to expand after 2-3 years of profitable operation and cautions against expanding too quickly or assuming that a “copy-paste” approach will work for new locations. Ziad also stresses the importance of location, deal structure, and understanding the catchment area when considering expansion. 


Ziad underlines that the best marketing strategy is word-of-mouth, created by exceptional customer experiences that encourage patrons to talk about and return to the restaurant. He shares a story about addressing a negative review by personally engaging with the customer, which led to a positive turnaround and a business partnership. This story illustrates Ziad’s dedication to customer service and his hands-on approach to maintaining high standards. Ziad’s advice is to play long-term games with long-term people, focusing on retaining talent and implementing robust systems for consistent quality and service.


 

Watch Extracts

Couqley's Secret To Success

Couqley's Marketing Strategy

Signs A Restaurant Is Ready To Expand

The Interview

[00:00:00.210] – Jean-Philippe

Hi and welcome to the fourth episode of Supy Talks Podcast. Today we’re joined by Ziad Kamel. Ziad is the founder and CEO of Rosy Hospitality, which is an F&B group that includes the infamous Couqley, the premium casual restaurants that’s been in business for 15 years now. And who’s it’s I mean, it’s particularly known for the steak frites items. Couqley is not your first rodeo, Ziad. You built Go Brands, which were the one of the first delivery only virtual brands back in 2019, in Dubai. That was a time where the delivery business model wasn’t an obvious business model for the for the restaurant community. You started with 800 orders a month, and then three years later, you were at 30,000 orders a month before selling it to Kitopi. So, Ziad, welcome. I’m very excited to have you here. And we have a lot to talk about.

 

[00:00:55.710] – Ziad

Thank you so much for this wonderful introduction. It’s my pleasure to be here with you, JP, and with the team Supy.

 

[00:01:02.520] – Jean-Philippe

So I want to talk about some things Ziad. When I got on a phone call with you to tell you a little bit about the podcast and see if you’d be interested in joining. You asked me, have you been to Clay recently? And I said I haven’t recently, to which we said, well, you must go take a one and go experience the Couqley experience, which I did. And I want to say that I got a lot of answers to the question of how come Couqley has been in business for 15 years when Dubai sees a new concept going, coming up every other day and then closing down also every, every other day. Part of that is excellent food, obviously, but also great customer service. I’ll tell you a little bit of, uh, I mean, a couple of stories that, uh, that, uh, that happened during my experience. But, uh, I wanted to give you a shout out for that. It was a great experience and, uh, highly recommended.

 

[00:01:57.600] – Ziad

Thank you. Thank you for making it there. But, uh, really, uh, appreciated. Uh, more importantly, who was your plus one that you chose to take?

 

[00:02:07.200] – Jean-Philippe

It was a friend of mine, actually, who is very much a big foodie, and, uh, he’s the first person that I that I thought of whenever you told me that you invited me. I said, let’s go. It was very happy.

 

[00:02:18.570] – Ziad

Fantastic. Did you have the steak free?

 

[00:02:21.180] – Jean-Philippe

You know what? I’m actually ashamed to say that I’ve not chosen to take the steak frites. Even though it’s the iconic, uh, menu item. I went for the salmon tartare, which was delicious.

 

[00:02:32.040] – Ziad

Excellent choice.

 

[00:02:32.940] – Jean-Philippe

And then I went for the duck confit.

 

[00:02:35.460] – Ziad

Ooh, one of my favorites.

 

[00:02:37.170] – Jean-Philippe

It is one of my favorites. And, uh, to me, it’s, uh, it’s, you know, it’s a menu item that I would judge a restaurant by. And my friend, he took the Caesar salad as an entry, and then he took the chicken. Um, the chicken feet, I think it was. Yeah. That’s correct. And then we ended up with the chocolate, which was absolutely delicious.

 

[00:02:57.660] – Ziad

Excellent.

 

[00:02:58.290] – Jean-Philippe

So, yeah, we have a lot to talk about. You have a breadth of experience, from starting a restaurant to marketing your restaurants, um, to your obsession with customer service, uh, which you’ve told me about also, and that I’ve seen in your restaurant. Um, so let’s start with starting a restaurant in Dubai. A lot of our listeners are first time FNB, uh, FNB people, they want to launch their brand. They excited about a specific recipe that they want to market. Let’s talk about what you would have done differently if now was your first time launching a new restaurant in Dubai.

 

[00:03:31.520] – Ziad

Great question. First of all, I think we all know, and we have to realize that Dubai is an extremely competitive environment for hospitality and restaurants specifically. As you mentioned before, there are openings happening almost on a daily basis, and significant brands and chefs opening on at least a weekly basis. Everyone in the world who is something in hospitality or restaurant, whether you’re a chef or a group or an owner, sees Dubai now as a requirement for expansion. It’s no longer just Paris, New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, uh, Dubai is on the map there now. It is the dining and culinary map of the world. This means that opening a restaurant here can be extremely rewarding emotionally and financially or the complete opposite. It could be disastrous financially and also to your mental health if it doesn’t go well. Like any business. Um. Opening restaurants tend to be tend to have a lower barrier to entry than other industries. Because of the, uh, knowhow and the investment needed or the perception of those two things.

 

[00:05:04.600] – Ziad

And that’s why it also tends to be a very crowded space. The truth is only a very small minority of restaurants in any city and this also applies to Dubai end up being successful and how is success defined? This is also very important because. It’s one thing to have a restaurant that’s the talk of town for six months or a year, versus having a restaurant that’s been open for five, six, ten, 15 years. That continues to be relevant and successful financially. So when I talk about success, I talk about long term success, long term customer base, long term loyalty, and long term profitability. In the end, we’re a business. And if the business cannot remain to be profitable year after year, it will not survive. So that’s the definition of success. Um, now, going back to your question, what I wish I knew. When I moved here in 2014 before opening my first restaurant. Well, I think one of the. One of the learnings were. If you are successful in another country, with your brand, with your restaurant, and you’ve done this before and you know how to operate this kind of business and you do have a track record, this will only get you so far in Dubai.

 

[00:06:44.790] – Ziad

Uh, it the lessons learned and and the brand equity built. And your reputation that you may have built in another country does not automatically translate over to Dubai.

 

[00:07:01.980] – Jean-Philippe

Does this also apply to household names like La Petite Maison, for example?

 

[00:07:08.560] – Ziad

That’s right, it does. There are many cases of international chefs, superstar chefs that have opened restaurants here and the restaurants have failed.

 

[00:07:23.350] – Jean-Philippe

They have.

 

[00:07:24.790] – Ziad

Why? Because they I think, uh, had failed to. I think they maybe put too much weight on the name of the chef or the name of the brand. Um, and less focus on the value proposition, uh, that the customer receives. So a brand in a name can only get you so far can only get you through the honeymoon phase, which is six months to 12 months after opening. After that, the only thing that will get you through and continue to be successful is the value proposition that you provide your customers and that your customers. Understand and know. Uh, that’s the only way to remain successful in this industry. Um, could.

 

[00:08:18.270] – Jean-Philippe

You define what the value proposition mean? Yeah.

 

[00:08:21.510] – Ziad

So. And the only way to escape competition is through uniqueness. And I’ll say that again. The best way to escape competition is through uniqueness, which means that if you do not have a unique product or value proposition, then it would be very difficult. To. Have a loyal customer base and have an ever growing new flow of customers into your business. Um, with regards to our businesses and I, you know, I’ll talk about, uh, Coca-Cola now and the gold brands later. Um, we have a very customer centric approach. Our customer experience is. One thing that we spend the most amount of time. Understanding and solving for and. We have several key values that we stick to no matter what. And sometimes sticking to your values. It’s very difficult because stakeholders and the markets try to pull you in different directions. You have to be faithful to yourself and to your values and. You have to learn how to say no a lot more times than saying yes. Koukoulas values are the following.

 

[00:09:53.810] – Ziad

We have. Excellent. Quality food on par with the best fine dining establishments in the world. Right. This is due to sourcing noble ingredients and preparing the food in the highest quality kitchens with the best possible chefs and cooks. Second is we have personalized. Service. What I mean by personalized service is we. Ensure that our team members can be themselves with customers and don’t just read off or recite a training manual when they come to take the order. We train our team to become order makers and not order takers. It shouldn’t feel transactional. It should feel. True and real. So we want our servers to interact with customers to learn their names. We want our customers to know their waiters names, know their stories and where they’re from. And we want to ensure that our servers have the tools and the training to ensure that the customer is always well looked after. So great food, great personalized service, not just great transactional service. That’s number two. Number three a casual environment, right? Although we are.

 

[00:11:29.190] – Ziad

Offering. Extremely high quality cuisine with great personalized service. We want to do so and we aim to do so in a very casual environment. How does this casual environment value translate on the ground? First, it translates in dress code. We do not enforce any sort of dress code on our client base, as many other restaurants do in town. We believe that this is an integral part of of being casual. You want to show up in shorts and flip flops. You can do so. You know, it’s up to you to decide how you want to be perceived on that night. And for the past eight and a half years, this has worked very well, and customers tend to know when they can dress up and dress down without us having to, uh, you know, uh, wave that, uh, on their head when they make their reservation. Secondly, we never enforce a. Time limit on our reservations. So a lot of restaurants in our domain will give you a booking just for two hours.

 

[00:12:40.070] – Ziad

And then they say they need the table. And so you kind of feel like. Not very important, and you feel like you’re going to be kicked out. And this doesn’t feel like a casual experience. This feels like very constructed and transactional. We’ll never enforce that upon our customers. So, uh, and lastly, our pricing. Our pricing is extremely value driven, um, with the quality of the food. And the service. And in a beautifully designed restaurant. Um. Our average check price at Google, including. Alcoholic beverages is around 252g a person, and this is significantly lower than any other restaurant that serves the same sort of level as Couqley. And when you put all of these things together. We, uh. Our value proposition comes to life and all of these things firing at the same time. I think. Create the ingredients. And creates the recipe of success for clay. And I would like to add that. You know quickly, everything we do has to be timeless, right?

 

[00:14:08.930] – Ziad

And has to be an instant classic. We aren’t the trendiest restaurant in town, and we’re far from that. And that’s because we don’t want to be trendy. We want to be timeless. We want to be honest. And we want to be, uh, consistent. So that means in Couqley. On one table you will find three generations on the same table. You’ll find people our age with their children and their parents visiting from out of town, all enjoying the restaurant at the same time. I, you know, I. This may not be the same for other restaurants in our category where you can take your kids and your parents because. Fine dining. Maybe won’t allow the ambiance. Won’t allow. It’s not casual enough to bring. Your kids will make a mess and run around. Um. Or bring your parents. So that means that we have three generations in the restaurant at any given time. And that means that, uh, we are able to target you, the same person. And solve your different lifestyle problems when it comes to dining.

 

[00:15:31.510] – Ziad

So we’re a place that you can bring your kids on the weekend. Now have a glass of wine. Have a great meal. We have a kid’s area in JLT. We put on entertainment. Which is very different than other restaurants in our category. We work with the best of the best, like Magic Phil, who is the best known magician in town. Work with Mr. Addy as well. Um, who is an adult magician and also potential for kids. Um, at the same time. You and your plus one, or you and your partner who have brought your kids over on Sunday can also come for date night. Because the restaurant is romantic as well. You may. You may come for our steak treat Mondays, which is one of the best. Uh, nights in town with a great value proposition. I mean, where else can you get. For 349. A dinner for two that includes two steak frites, a whole bottle of wine, and a dessert. Right. Doesn’t exist that same.

 

[00:16:40.250] – Ziad

Those same couple. The woman may come out with her friends for ladies nights on Thursday. The man might come out with his. Work. Group. For lunch or dinner or an event. And the couple may also choose to celebrate birthdays and friends at Coachella, because we also have amazing group packages that are pocket friendly and that deliver value and great fun times. I think putting all of these things together and I know I’ve said a lot. Adds some of the personality of our brand and how it is perceived. And I’ve just been. Trying to break it down and articulate that it isn’t any one thing that we do. That makes us who we are. It’s firing all on all fronts and always remaining faithful to who we are. Great food, personalized service, affordable, casual and friendly. That’s who we are.

 

[00:17:49.700] – Jean-Philippe

So if I had to summarize that, Ziad, what you’re saying is if you want to survive in this business, you have to start with a strong value proposition and have values under that foundation to keep that value proposition alive. I have several questions related to this, which is one. The FNB business is a really tough business and the kind of people who get into it are perseverant, determined, strong. Does that mean that they they are coming with a value proposition, but it’s not the right one and that’s why it’s going down. Or do they not understand what the value proposition is? And they just take their favorite grandmother recipe and, and then think that everybody is going to love it because they love it. And it’s that’s how they launch their business.

 

[00:18:42.860] – Ziad

Good question. So let’s break it down into two. I think your question is, um.

 

[00:18:49.640] – Jean-Philippe

For the my question is how do you start a restaurant with a strong value proposition that what makes a good value proposition and how you keep it going? Well, first.

 

[00:19:00.230] – Ziad

You need to understand the market and you need to understand what makes who you are. I think I think that’s one of the hardest things to do, because coming up with an idea of opening a restaurant, I think almost every single person has thought about that because everyone eats and everyone likes specific dishes, and a lot of people travel, and a lot of people have ideas to open this kind of restaurant or that kind of restaurant. Now it’s very important to, uh, now let’s break it up into two. Someone who has opened a restaurant before, but not in Dubai, and is thinking of doing so, or the person who has never opened up a restaurant anywhere and is in Dubai and want to start here. Those are the two people. So in both. Categories. I would say understanding how your brand and your property and your and what your restaurant offers the market vis a vis what’s available is extremely important. So knowing is one thing. What differentiates you from the other? Mexican place or French place or sushi place, right.

 

[00:20:04.670] – Ziad

Why would someone come to your restaurant and not to, you know, the one that’s already been open for 3 or 4 years and has a head start? What? Would the customer. Why would the customer think about you when there’s thousands of other restaurants? So all of these questions are questions I would ask myself. And try to try to figure out how to differentiate. And how to leave a lasting impression. Um, it’s easier said than done. And I think that even once you figured it out, you always need to be able to pivot because no one gets it right the first time. And I certainly didn’t get it right the first time. It’s just about being open minded enough. Who keep trying to implement different things. And understanding that not everything is going to work, that there will be some failures. But being able to dust it off and quickly pivot and and continue to try new things until you have your, your, your basket of things that works for you. Now for the.

 

[00:21:17.580] – Ziad

Person who is thinking about opening their first restaurant ever.

 

[00:21:20.940] – Jean-Philippe

The unexperienced one?

 

[00:21:22.410] – Ziad

Yeah, the unexperienced one. Um, I would say it’s. It’s a very I would say it’s very challenging. And for those who are thinking of doing it as a side business, because some people may have jobs or other businesses they run, and they think that on the side they would open the restaurant and just hire a great chef or higher, great manager, and it should sort itself out. I would say, don’t do that. Save your money. Invest it anywhere else. Put it in crypto. You’re probably better off there. Really? Yeah. Put it in the stock market. Put it in, uh, anywhere else. But. Don’t open a restaurant as a side business here if you’ve never done it before. Oh, so.

 

[00:22:11.480] – Jean-Philippe

You have to go full on. Basically, if that’s what you want.

 

[00:22:13.790] – Ziad

That’s what you want. And you have 100% dedicated and committed. And I would say, don’t invest any money that you’re not willing or prepared to lose. And some because your restaurant isn’t going to be, uh, financially stable at the get go. I would say for those who are thinking of doing it, uh, it would be better to. Either find a restaurant group. That is. Raising capital for investors. Put some capital there. For example, we we raise. Capital from our network of investors for our growth and to open up new restaurants like we’re doing now for our new Central American restaurant, girl and the goose. So I would say find a group that takes on investors and make an investment. And this will give you a window into how. A restaurant is managed and run from marketing to finance and accounting to management, to lease, negotiations, to operations, procurement, everything. Understand it from that perspective first before you put your own money there. Um, or partner up with someone who has a track record credibility and is 100% dedicated on the ground to operating the restaurant.

 

[00:23:46.590] – Ziad

Invest with that person and work alongside them. Or put your money with them, rather than just doing it all on your own.

 

[00:23:59.060] – Jean-Philippe

When I talk to FNB professionals, a lot of them, just as you said, tell me that there are trendy places that open up and close down every other day. Is launching a trendy restaurant that dies early. A business model. Does. It may sound like a like a dumb question, but every other day you have a new coffee shop with a super Instagrammable interior. And do you know that this is just a trendy interior and that it might die afterwards? And then a new thing comes up and everybody goes to that new thing. Um, is that a business model, or do people want to create something that’s going to last for years but don’t succeed at it?

 

[00:24:43.710] – Ziad

Another good question. So I think, uh. Business strategy of opening trendy. Venues is not a sound business model. I’m not saying that there haven’t been success cases where trendy businesses end up becoming long term businesses. What I’m saying is that opening up. A restaurant or a cafe. With. Being trendy as one of your biggest competitive points? I don’t think that’s a good idea because. Some trends stick. Some trends don’t. Um. Competition can copy trends quite easily. And. Customers. Can see right through it. You go to the most beautifully designed cafe or restaurant that is super Instagrammable. But. And then you have a meal. And you. Nothing about the service experience or the meals stuck with you. I think you would have already just received gotten what you came for, which is that picture and that’s it. And I don’t think you’ll go back again. You’ll move on to the next trendy outlet and get that picture there, and so on and so forth. For a long term business needs to be a lot more than trend.

 

[00:26:21.540] – Ziad

There needs to be substance behind that trend.

 

[00:26:25.130] – Jean-Philippe

I agree. Um, I want to finish with this question when it comes to starting a restaurant in Dubai, to move on to another topic. How do you choose your interior and the look and feel? Is it based on personal taste? Is it research based? Is it, uh, did you seek out, uh, FNB consultants or interior designers for that? What was your process to build specifically?

 

[00:26:47.300] – Ziad

Uh, well, the process to to build Couqley and, uh, the same process that we are now using to build our new restaurant. Uh, girl and the goose is, you know, it’s all starts from the concept, right? What is the concept? What do we want people to feel when they enter the space? And how does that feeling or that design? Integrate and align with our concept, our DNA, our personality. And our strategy.

 

[00:27:26.890] – Jean-Philippe

So sorry to interrupt here, Z, but is this mindset applied to your first ever location for a new business, or are you talking about adapting a second location, uh, based on what you’ve already built elsewhere? Both.

 

[00:27:43.330] – Ziad

Because what? Yeah. A design that may work in one part of the city may not work in another part of the city. Right? Uh, it could be the same restaurant. But different. Design it all. You need to really know your customer and you need to solve for your customer. If that means adapting designs, then that’s what you have to do. As long as the DNA remains the same. I’ll give you a quick analogy. You are the same person, whether you’re dressed up in a suit and going to a formal event, or you’re dressed in a cool sup t shirt and talking to me here, your DNA is the same. Your values are the same. Your personality is the same. But your look is maybe different in these two different environments. The same thing goes when designing restaurants and. We need to make sure that the design of the restaurant, first of all, meets our operational requirements in order for us to be able to provide. A very consistent and solid service.

 

[00:28:59.080] – Jean-Philippe

So here we’re talking about what the bar is and how it works with the movement of the waitress and the and the customer.

 

[00:29:03.790] – Ziad

Not just the bar, the kitchen, how every restaurant starts with kitchen design. And then the front of house is designed after the kitchen.

 

[00:29:15.310] – Jean-Philippe

Hold on for the for the kitchen. We’re talking about specifically on operational design. Where does the oven go, where the table goes. When you talk about the front of house, are you talking about the the the color of the table, or are you talking about where the table goes? Both.

 

[00:29:31.000] – Ziad

Yeah. What materials are used, the lighting color and shape and size of the tables. Um, the quality of the tables.

 

[00:29:42.730] – Jean-Philippe

How do you choose that?

 

[00:29:44.900] – Ziad

We choose a. It’s a long process. It’s it’s a mix between art experience and science.

 

[00:29:53.480] – Jean-Philippe

To find that.

 

[00:29:54.650] – Ziad

For example, you go to one of our restaurants, you’ll never find a wobbly table. Uh, we know that wobbly tables are extremely annoying for the customer experience. Imagine you’re dining at a restaurant and you’re about to pay 5 or $600 per person, but your table has been wobbly the whole time. It really diminishes from that experience. So over the course of the years, we found a solution. We found a table based provider that has hydraulics built in. And this means that none of our tables will wobble. Right. So that’s where the science and the experience comes in. Now, um, where the tables are placed, what shape they are, what size they are. Uh, some restaurants have, you know, and people who know me and work with me, my team, they know this is my pet peeve. Small tables, I believe, are detrimental to a great customer experience in a full service restaurant.

 

[00:30:57.720] – Jean-Philippe

I don’t go to Paris.

 

[00:30:59.610] – Ziad

I just flew back from Paris this weekend, and I couldn’t tell you how claustrophobic I felt in the restaurant. And, you know, we we we we come from a culture of sharing dishes, right? We we want to order many things on the menu and share it with everyone on the table. And this is very challenging, or almost not possible to do with the small tables of Paris. Um, so again, if the concept is, is is built to be a social concept where you and your friends can come or we want you to try different items on the menu, then we need to ensure the table is big enough to hold, you know, uh, four dishes or two at the same time and a and a drink and your glassware and your salt shakers and your cutlery and crockery. And so then this becomes very scientific. How big is too big? Okay. The bigger the table, the less covers. But we need to. So now we have our exact dimensions that are ideal for our concepts.

 

[00:32:09.230] – Ziad

Or square or rectangular or round or over oval tables.

 

[00:32:14.030] – Jean-Philippe

Is that a intellectual property or is it based on best practices in the industry?

 

[00:32:19.220] – Ziad

Um, I would say it’s based on what we believe works best for the customer experience. And, um, there’s always a range and it’s always related to, uh, the restaurant itself. I would I would have to say, though, in Dubai, they. They pretty much value space. And they, they, they do provide, uh, larger tables. Um, which is a great thing for hospitality here. Um, yeah. So when it comes to design, this is how we do it. And then we work with a great designers. So we have great kitchen designers. Who are essential to ensure that the restaurant can. Pump out. Consistently high quality dishes. Whether we have 50 covers or 500 covers in the day. And this means that we look at all the details. Of where to place the equipment and how the flow in the back of house is, and where the storage is and where the pass is, and how many people are going to work there. So all of this is solved in the design stage.

 

[00:33:34.310] – Ziad

And then the front of house. We’ve been working with a an incredible artist and designer named Ana de Castro. She designed our our latest downtown restaurant that you visited, and we are working with her again to design Ground the Goose. And, you know, her incredible artistic flair and experience, um, can be seen and felt in the restaurant. So what we do is we, we kind of marry the artistic creativity. Um, with the science and experience. Uh, in order to create spaces that feel good and spaces that feel good to work in as well. Um, and and so yes, finding the right designer is very important, but more importantly is knowing what you want. Because if you let the designer choose everything, then. You might not. Get what you sought out to get in the first place.

 

[00:34:38.190] – Jean-Philippe

What is a feeling that you want to invoke? Uh, or have, you know, um. Sort of created and. I have to. Um. What’s a feeling that you insist on having your customers feel whenever they go into your restaurant? And how do you apply this as a design decision?

 

[00:34:59.630] – Ziad

So our mission is to make customers fall in love with us, make them happy.

 

[00:35:04.760] – Jean-Philippe

How do you do that with the design decision?

 

[00:35:08.080] – Ziad

When you come into one of our restaurants, we want you to feel happy and comfortable. So first of all. The seating needs to be comfortable. You need to be able to. Be able to sit there for several hours and enjoy yourself. Um. The restaurant needs to be esthetically designed. In a manner where. It’s visually pleasing wherever you sit. There’s always something new to look at. There’s always something great to admire, whether it’s the artwork. That we select piece by piece and hang in the restaurant. Whether it’s the big giant golden rooster that we have hung above the bar in cook downtown, or whether it’s the different colors and textures of the furniture off the floor. Um, it’s the lighting needs to be comfortable. Again, one of my pet peeves is lighting. I really don’t like sitting in a restaurant with spotlights shining in my eyes. I think it’s blinding and it takes away from the experience. I like indirect lighting, and I think that creating a warm environment requires a focus on lighting, on great acoustics.

 

[00:36:30.330] – Ziad

This is something we have struggled with. Our restaurants are very loud, um, but we learn as we go. So it’s. It’s all the senses, right? It’s the sound. It’s the feeling. It’s the seeing. Right. And then obviously the tasting, um, comes with it. So it’s making sure all of these things are checked off and. When you build a restaurant. Always. We always build samples of the different furniture and and items to test them out before actually pushing the button on them.

 

[00:37:08.750] – Jean-Philippe

We been in business for 15 years. That’s a dream come true for many restaurant owners. What has made you a success? What are the things that you do on a regular basis that other FMB owners miss out on or are not aware of?

 

[00:37:27.160] – Ziad

So I think success can be, uh. Defined as being consistent. Year after year after year. I think this is a comment we receive from longtime customers. People may, who may have not been to a restaurant for five years, would come back and say. Your steak food tastes exactly the same. This is amazing and I know it sounds easy to do the same thing over and over again, but it’s not. It’s one of the most challenging things to deliver the same quality. With the same. Service experience year after year after year. I think this is one of the most important. Variables or success factors.

 

[00:38:16.320] – Jean-Philippe

How do you solve insistently?

 

[00:38:18.090] – Ziad

We solve that. We say we play long term games with long term people. That applies to our staff. So. All of our key people in the business have been with me from day one. Hour since I moved to Dubai, and we opened the first restaurant in 2016. I think most of our team have been exactly the same people for eight and a half years, and retaining talent is extremely challenging. But in making sure you have the right people and then keeping them, I think that is what also. Ensures that we’re consistent and successful for a very long time. So our group executive chef, Fadi. As I’ve been working with them for more than 12 years, even before coming to Dubai. Our group business manager, who starts it off as a restaurant manager. Roxanne. She’s she was employee number 1 in 2016. And today she runs the business side of the restaurant.

 

[00:39:31.330] – Jean-Philippe

Told me about Andy’s story as well.

 

[00:39:33.580] – Ziad

Andy is now the restaurant manager of the JLT branch, and he started off as a server as a waiter. I was in the restaurant one day and and Andy was there as a customer and we got to talking and, uh, I was entertaining him as a customer. And the next day he reached out to me and said, I want to work in your restaurant. I’ve never worked in restaurant before, but I think I can do it. And he had the character for it, and he had the right, um. Uh, personality. And again, we hire for personality and brain for skills. So I said, fine. You want to start, you gotta start as a waiter. And he said, sure thing. And. You know, through his perseverance and dedication and love for the job. He managed to grow very quickly, and now he, uh, runs, uh, a restaurant that serves more than 10,000 people every single month in JLT. And it’s doing a great job.

 

[00:40:41.110] – Jean-Philippe

Hello to Andy.

 

[00:40:42.010] – Ziad

I’ll talk to Andy.

 

[00:40:42.850] – Jean-Philippe

Um, so basically, the secret to consistency is to keeping the right people for a long time. Is that the main reason why most businesses don’t make it to that number of years?

 

[00:40:53.830] – Ziad

So, yeah, it’s having the right people and then having the the correct systems in place as well. So these two things have to go hand in hand. What do you.

 

[00:41:01.810] – Jean-Philippe

Mean by systems.

 

[00:41:02.860] – Ziad

It means about your systems need for example supply is a system is our is our inventory management system right. It ensures that all of the knowledge that we have experienced is now documented and turned into our standard operating procedure. Uh, it means that. Not one piece of knowledge resides just with one person. So now, for example, our procurement and our inventory and our ingredients are documented and listed. Right? Um, pricing. Quality supplier, all of that. That’s a system now. So if whoever comes or goes or whoever, uh, you know, takes over in 20 years, we’ll have that all documented and systemized. And the same goes with our reservation management systems, with our training material. We work with a fantastic company called Dunfee that encapsulates all of our training and how to provide personalized, honest service to people. And we’ve converted those into modules and training programs, and we’ve put them up online with videos and documents. So it’s about taking what has worked and writing it down and putting it in a system and implementing it.

 

[00:42:39.830] – Ziad

For it to be used. So today, when we have to hire new people. Everything that has made us successful to date is documented and is available for them. To read and understand on a conceptual level. So that when they implement it practically on the job, there’s a link between two. So people and systems we say. Systems. Manage businesses and people manage the system. And I think that’s what is a a key factor for long term success.

 

[00:43:17.570] – Jean-Philippe

Your answers are spot on. One of the things that I said in the previous podcast is that the investment of software isn’t limited to just buying the subscription software without the involvement of your people is not going to say worthless, but doesn’t deliver as much value as it would if people are religious about it. And yet that’s a very difficult, uh, value in a culture to install amongst your people. How do you. Turn that into a culture. Documentation.

 

[00:43:51.240] – Ziad

Um, again, a great question. It’s and you’re spot on as well. You can have the best tools in your toolbox, but if you don’t use them, then they’re pointless having them. Just a badge. Um, and I think that any business needs to have heavy involvement from the key owners or the key drivers. I am heavily involved in all aspects of the business. I don’t think any job in my business is too small or big for me. Even like solving. Paper dispenser in toilets, right? I get involved in ensuring that. We’ve looked at every, every possible way and we pick the best one. And and culture starts from the top and goes down. So this attention to detail and and and this way of thinking of every aspect of the business then translates downwards. This is very important. You can’t delegate attention to detail. You have to. Show how it’s done. And then. Your team will follow. You can’t just say it and expect it to happen. And that’s the same with software and systems.

 

[00:45:11.600] – Ziad

Um, it’s very challenging and painful to implement a new system or software solution into the company, because that means. Extra work for everyone involved. That means replacing what the team are comfortable with and have been used to for many years, and telling them, nope, we’re going to scrap. That doesn’t work anymore. First, you have to sell it internally, and if you don’t sell it internally, it will never be used. So first, as a business owner, you have to. You have to understand why a new system is going to be. Of value added. Your first customers are your team. You have to be able to sell it to them and then you have to be on top of the implementation. And get through the first six months, I would say to a year of onboarding, which are the painful years. Until then, the software or the system becomes a standard operating procedure and then starts becoming of added value to the team. So it starts off with we’re spending more time than we should on this.

 

[00:46:25.310] – Ziad

Or then we used to on this particular task, and that will remain for 6 to 12 months. And the team might be frustrated and saying, why do we have to do this? Um, but then the magic happens after that, and the efficiencies happened afterwards, and the scalability happened afterwards. And I tell my team. Don’t just solve for one restaurant because a lot of the team members may work in one restaurant, not more. I say what this current system now solve for 5 or 10 restaurants? Would it work? After some thought, they look and say, no, it won’t. Right. They saw. This is very important now to.

 

[00:47:08.580] – Jean-Philippe

All right. Amazing. So if you basically want to be, uh, a long standing restaurant, you have to be consistent. Consistency is done by keeping the people that started with you and investing in your relationships, and to also have systems in place where you basically build a culture around the fact that you need to document everything on this system, and then you keep repeating that and you have a successful. I want to talk about one of the biggest challenges in the FNB business, which is expanding your restaurant business. Um, when is a restaurant ready to expand? And whenever you decide to expand? Do you just copy paste your concept to another location? Yes. No. Uh. And why?

 

[00:47:55.420] – Ziad

Uh, expansion in, uh, the restaurant business is very challenging. Specifically in the in our space. Full, full service restaurant. Which is licensed. So having said that, the first. And most important decision to make is location. Where are we going to open? Specifically, if we already have a restaurant open in the city. Do we open another one in the city? Do we go to another city? How many restaurants can this city hold? Will we be cannibalizing our existing restaurant? Or will it be adding more customers that we wouldn’t have reached? Previously. These are some of the questions that we ask ourselves. Finding the right location is very important. Then not only the right location, the deal structure. Or that location is equally as important. There may be a location that is absolutely fantastic. Geographically I would say, or catchment area wise, but the deal structure terrible. Maybe high rent. High turnover rent. Very restrictive clauses. Um, uh, very one sided terminations.

 

[00:49:19.280] – Ziad

And. A lot of. Operators sometimes fall into that trap. Or the developers or the landlords have extremely one sided, uh, agreements and and that. May. Be one of the prime factors of whether the restaurant succeeds or not, believe it or not. So location then deal structure is very important. Work with the landlord or the developers that you feel. Also value what you’re bringing to the table. And so it’s entered more as a collaborative partnership rather than just in one side. At least now I know that’s not always possible. But I would say. Don’t give up the search for a great location. And don’t settle for something that. Might be a bit. Not in your favor. So location deal structure. Now thirdly is obviously catchment area. Sorry. Catchment area.

 

[00:50:36.510] – Jean-Philippe

What does that.

 

[00:50:36.960] – Ziad

Mean? That means you put a pin on the location where you’re thinking of opening, and you look at a, let’s say, 15 minute to 20, 15 minute drive to a restaurant or a ten minute walk when the weather is good. And then you look at who is in that radius, what businesses are there, what maybe touristic? The um touristic attractions are there. Hotels. What other restaurants and competition is there? Um.

 

[00:51:13.690] – Jean-Philippe

You’re basically assessing your demographic, your demographic.

 

[00:51:16.750] – Ziad

Yeah. You assess it based on the catchment area. Dubai now is a big city and and there are many options. So there’s no need for a customer to drive across the city to a restaurant. Unless there’s a specific event going on there. They’ll tend to search what’s good and close. You have to understand who are your customers within that catchment area and will your product or brand. Be attractive to them. What is the footfall? What is the purchasing power? What is the demographic? What is the delivery zone? Because also delivery is important. Um. And how can our location. Also add to our competitive edge or our uniqueness. Does it have an outdoor terrace? Is it on a top floor? Is it on the ground floor? How was the access? Does it have parking? Does it have valet? So all of these things come into play when thinking about a location.

 

[00:52:22.570] – Jean-Philippe

So this is about finding location. But when do you think a restaurant is ready to expand? What are the signs that you’re looking for that say, you know what? Let’s go for another location and expand that business.

 

[00:52:35.290] – Ziad

I would say a minimum 2 or 3 years. Of a proven operation. And by proven operation, I mean. Profitable PNL, so the restaurant has to be profitable. For 2 or 3 years. It needs to have enough time to get over the honeymoon phase, which is the new trendy restaurant in town, or the new thing in town. It shouldn’t be new anymore. It should be. Oh, that place has been around for a while, but people still go there and it still has a waiting list, and there’s always busy and it become part of a community and it become top of mind for customers. So once you’ve achieved that for 2 or 3 years and the restaurant is profitable and customers do like it, and you have great rating and great team and a good infrastructure, that’s the right time to start thinking about a second branch.

 

[00:53:38.610] – Jean-Philippe

What’s a typical mistake that people make that make the second location crash? But they should have.

 

[00:53:46.050] – Ziad

I think, uh, expanding the second location too quickly after the first is maybe a mistake if they’re not ready, because operating two restaurant isn’t double the work. It’s like triple the work. Um, during consistency between two both restaurants is easier said than done. Um, you know, building the same value proposition and experience in two restaurants. Is also more difficult to implement than said. I think expanding too quickly is one and two. Assuming that a copy paste what works in the first one will work in the second. Also is is a big watch out, so you have to not assume that anything will be the same. Um, but you have to work to ensure it is all right.

 

[00:54:35.240] – Jean-Philippe

Amazing. Let’s try to because we don’t have a lot of time. So I’m going to move into something that I called fireside questions. And I’ll ask you questions. Just try to answer them as as fast as possible. Um, first of all, how do you market Couqley? What’s your marketing strategy if you’re able to define it in one minute?

 

[00:54:53.940] – Ziad

The best marketing strategy is word of mouth. Bar none. That is the marketing strategy. Create excellent experiences. To a point where our customers talk about our restaurant and think about their restaurant and bring their friends, family, colleagues or restaurant. Generating an experience that creates word of mouth is our marketing strategy.

 

[00:55:20.830] – Jean-Philippe

Amazing and offers. You also do the offers to the stack fleet Monday and then the Olalla Ladies Night.

 

[00:55:26.800] – Ziad

Those are tactical. They’re definitely add to our value proposition, you know, which is great food at affordable prices with great service. Um, but the city is filled with way better offers and discounts. We don’t discounts. We just do promo nights. You’ll never see a discount in color. And the reason you’ll never see a discount in Calais is that we don’t believe in discounts, because discounts are it can be replicated and it’s the surest way and fastest path to zero. We have to offer value every single time to every single customer without discounts. And that is what brings people back.

 

[00:56:06.970] – Jean-Philippe

Awesome stack fleet. How did it appear on your menu? What made it iconic?

 

[00:56:13.160] – Ziad

It appeared on our menu on our very first restaurant in 2009, and we were doing the tasting with the chef at the time, and it was one of the items that was presented to us. And, uh, we instantly felt that it would be a great hit because it addresses our primal needs. Uh, the excellent cut of steak tender, incredible sauce made with creme fresh. French fries and a salad. And. Sauce so delicious that you would want to wipe the slate clean with your bread. I think all of these elements that came together created this dish. And and you know that feeling I had eating my first steak free during the tasting in 2009, uh, is still with me today, and I’m very happy to see customers absolutely love this.

 

[00:57:12.400] – Jean-Philippe

I want you to tell me that story that Boulos, who is one of your staff member that works at Google. When I, uh, had lunch there, I asked him a couple of questions. Cook is obsessed with customer service. So are you, obviously. Can you tell me that story of that customer who one day left you a negative review and then you went after them? Uh, I’ll stop here. I want you to tell the story.

 

[00:57:40.320] – Ziad

Well, I I’m look, we’re, uh, Google is the number one ranked restaurant on TripAdvisor in Dubai. Of we usually between number one and two. I think we hit number one again, but we’ve been like that for quite a few years because we take a customer feedback very seriously. And I’ve been running since 2009 and to this day, in real time, every single review that’s posted online on TripAdvisor or Google I receive on my phone, and it’s the only notifications I got on my phone I don’t even have notifications on for WhatsApp. And this is very, very important to manage the reputation of the restaurant and to understand when a customer had a negative experience so that we can solve it immediately. And I can be, as the owner, aware of that negative experience and get involved if I need to. So one day in in Dubai, I think it was around 2018. I received a one star review on TripAdvisor. And I immediately read it, and the person went on to describe why it wasn’t a good lunch experience.

 

[00:59:09.400] – Ziad

Um, they were. I forget the content, but there were delays and a mistake. And, you know, mistakes happen and. He was very unsatisfied and, um, I think he took it out on TripAdvisor and, you know. I needed to take action really quick because sometimes mistakes happen, but it’s how you handle them that’s more important. So I found the person’s name. I got his contact details from the reservation team. All to myself. Explain to him who I am and how much I cared, and thanked him for his feedback and. I wanted to invite him back again. And he was, you know, he was a bit shocked about the approach, but thankful and said, yeah, he’ll be back. But. I wanted to meet him. I said, no, no, no, you need, you need. I don’t think I think you’re just trying to brush me off. Um, I want you to understand how much this means to me, and I want to meet up with you and apologize.

 

[01:00:18.070] – Ziad

In person, or maybe embarrassing you in front of the people you brought. Who? Clay. He said, fine, I’m going to be at this event tonight. It was during, um, the Gulf Food Week. Turns out he was a representative and a chef of a major cheese distributor, and he invited me to their event. And I went there, and I introduced myself to him, and, uh. And he was shocked. And he was with all the management. He was standing there and I walked up to him and I say, hey, I’m Ziad. He’s like. And he looked at me. He’s like, you actually came. I said, yeah, of course. And then he looked to his, you know, management in his team and said. This is the owner of cookies. He came because I left. A negative comment is like. Like, first of all, you don’t understand how much respect I have for you to do this. Second of all. Fine.

 

[01:01:15.130] – Ziad

I understand we make mistakes and I’ll definitely be back. And third of all. How about. We work together and you buy some cheese from our company and put it in clay. And that’s what ended up happening. Um, and, uh, and you know that I think that was a lesson to convert a negative review into, into a very loyal customer and also a key strategic partner. Um, we still buy many years later, parts of our cheeses from them still today. And they’ve hosted many corporate events and personal events in our restaurant. And this was actually most important thing was a demonstration to my team. About the lengths we should go to to ensure that no customer leaves unhappy. And we know that there will be mistakes, but we need to solve them.

 

[01:02:07.770] – Jean-Philippe

Such a good story and such a testament to the obsession that you guys have with with customer service, which I was lucky enough to experience myself. Yeah. Thank you so much for, uh, for your presence and for your time. Um, next time I go to Couqley, I’m taking the steak fritte.

 

[01:02:24.480] – Ziad

Thanks a lot. Thank you. Thanks a lot for having me here. Um, it was fantastic talking to you. And I look forward to sharing a meal with you at Couqley


Guest & Host

Jean-Philippe Serhal

Sr. Marketing Manager
Supy

Ziad Kamel Couqley

Ziad Kamel

CEO & Co-Founder
Rosy Hospitality

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