The concept of healthy eating sounds enticing. With the growing obesity and illness epidemic, more and more people are looking for healthier options when dining out that offer everything from organic vegan fair to locally sourced meats and produce. This has led to a rise of healthy restaurant concepts in Beirut as trends of the restaurant business are now going back to "Donna Reed Show," more of a home-style cooking, and everyone eating together.
But do healthy restaurant concepts really work in the Capital?
BIM POS sits down with Home Sweet Home restaurant owner Rayan Raad to find out more on this concept that nudges people toward healthy food, in line with how the business runs there.
So, tell us of the reasons you chose to include a healthy corner at Home Sweet Home?
Well, it is surely the demand and I would rather call it an alternative selection corner. But yes, I believe the idea of using food to manage health may, in part, help explain the demand for alternatives when it comes to eating nowadays. At home sweet home I made sure the guest’s interest in fresh, natural and organic products is met. Also, this variety has added an inevitable nutritious value and has created more options for one to indulge in and try; people get savvy now!
Who do you look to for guidance and mentor-ship in the business?
We spent a lot of time looking for a third party consultant that understood the business, the market we were going into and the concept we were buying.
Tell us more about it...
As a start, we looked for menu design, marketing validation, concept alignment, resources, and equipment analysis. Now we look for customers’ input and we have ears wide open to them and our employees. We take all of the input, good and bad, and filter and aggregate it to help guide us. Beyond that, we hire consultants like our in house Chef and our raw vegan specialist to help us meet our core concept at Home Sweet Home.
So how is your in-house Chef reflecting on the healthy concept?
Our in-house Chef Farid Chehab is very open actually. He is very mindful of home sweet home concept of serving flavourful food that falls into the better-for-you and home-made category; he plays very well with the plat de jour, “the mama’s corner” we call it here, as perfecting it to be of a vegetarian choice as in Pumpkin Kibbeh, vegetarian lasagne, and vegetarian Mehche. And off course he knows how to keep the set menu as contemporary classic harmonizing a great deal of freshness, tastiness, and health benefits like in the signature dishes Roast Leg of Lamb, Roast beef, and Seafood Paella.
We all know service is key; how do you motivate and train your staff?
Well, the training process is a critical part of running a successful restaurant and I also believe in training your guests, which happens when you train your staff. Interestingly, the restaurant has a way of behaving and your customers react accordingly.
And luckily, every individual of my team organically wants employment that makes a real difference for their community and the world at large. This is a major difference as when talking of the food alternative up selling if we want to say.
...but what does Rayan do to keep everyone an “eager beaver”?
Yeah; in my case, I opt to lead through positive reinforcement, encouragement, and continuous reminding. My staff is here for a variety of reasons but it boils down to enjoying the job and spreading awareness. As a manager, I make sure I lead by example and hold myself to the same standards I expect from my team.
One of the biggest findings is that people will buy healthier choices if they are presented in a certain way; do you believe in this?
I firmly believe in this. It is like food in general is a verbal stimulant, and it helps to create conversation. So, if we bring together kind of clued-up communication, valued product, and implementation - that would heat up sales for sure. And sometimes you have a niche but what is more challenging as when selling alternatives is creating one at some point.
How does the concept of eating organic affect the revenue?
Health in general is trending right now (think clean eating, gluten free, low carb, no carb, etc…), marketing a healthy restaurant concept has never been easier. Consumers want healthy food that tastes good and is affordable, but not necessarily cheap in price. I believe in the age of the health conscious consumer who wants to know where and how their food was grown; healthy restaurant concepts have the ability to reassure them that they are making a good choice for themselves and their environment. Does this answer your question?
It certainly does. Now how about the challenges you’ve had, and how did you beat them?
Challenges are inevitable; yet we are lucky to be in Beirut as it is a dynamic market when it comes to food and drink. It is never easy for sure - low margins for error in the restaurant business. We have overcome these challenges by having great employees, trying to be as transparent as possible, by addressing problems head on, and completely staying focused on our target; there is no other way of doing it!
...and relating to the famous saying “home wasn’t built in a day,” Rayan says:
It’s entirely possible to eat both nutritious and tasty restaurant meals, and because eating out is one of life’s great pleasures, it has to always be memorable.