International hospitality investors are widening their scope outside of London, and casting their eye over new European markets, the founder of the Global Restaurant Investment Forum has told MCA.

Jennifer Pettinger-Haines said while the UK remains a key focus for international investors, it was no longer the be all and end all market - despite keen interest from Chinese and Russian operators.

Speaking at the forum’s recent London event at Bala Baya, Pettinger-Haines also said the Middle East was no longer an easy cookie-cutter franchise market for UK operators, with increasingly sophisticated consumers in the region seeking homegrown concepts.

There is potential for trendy Middle Eastern coffee shop concepts, which act like nightclubs in the alcohol-free region, to be exported to the UK at some point in the future, as more and more people in the UK abstain from drinking, she said. 

“Previously everyone wanted to get into London, especially internationally. Now you’re seeing investors seeing how they can take brands into new markets,” Pettinger-Haines said. 

”People who were focused on the UK market are looking not just to the middle east, but to Europe as well.”

Meanwhile, she said the Middle East market was no longer a place where business could easily roll out brands under franchise and pick up royalties.

“We are now seeing a lot more sophistication from the market, and also from investors,” she said. ”A lot more homegrown concepts are coming through. It’s no longer a sure-fire success to take a concept from London and franchise it in the Middle East.

“There’s still opportunity but they have to be really good quality concepts, people are more choosy about what they’ll bring over and invest in.

“Investors are expecting a lot more from their franchise partners.”

While Dubai has taken time to mature its restaurant market, Saudi Arabia’s was becoming more sophisticated more quickly.

Trendy coffee shop concepts, some of which are like nightclubs in the alcohol-free region, are being developed and transported across the region – with the potential to be exported to the UK at some point in the future, she said.

“There’s stuff that’s going on in the Middle East that’s different and innovative enough that it could be interesting for the UK market.

“In the UK people are spending less on alcohol, and more on coffee – and that’s a market that’s been developed in the Middle East for quite some time. There’s a lot to offer. It might be a bit soon, but I think down the road we could see it.”