Are we ready for life after brunch?

Ever since The Fairmont hotel launched the Moet Chandon Champagne brunch on SZR in the early 2000’s, Dubai hotels have been climbing over themselves to find their own niche in the infamous Friday brunch market.  Bigger, better, more, more, more.

We have the uber expensive ones with free-flowing champagne and several hundred meters of gourmet food.  We have the debaucherous ones that lead to Daily Mail newspaper headlines, with Jägermeister and shawarma stations.  We have the family-friendly ones with ice creams, magicians and face painters that go someway to alleviating the guilt of the parents who still end up ordering watermelon cocktails with twenty straws.  There are discount books dedicated to this single event, and a whole black market exists on expat facebook pages of people swapping vouchers back and forth.  It is one of the must-do things for first-time visitors to Dubai.

The Dubai Brunch is an institution, a time-honoured celebration of the expat way of life.  Four intense hours on a Friday dedicated to celebrating the success of self and friends, a weekly pat on the back for our accomplishments and achievements.  For almost two decades, the brunch has been the go-to marketing activation for almost every licensed F&B operator in Dubai.  Brunch, Ladies Night and Entertainer Voucher.  The big three.

According to Zomato, there are 285 listed brunches in Dubai.  If each restaurant has, on average, 200 seats available, that’s 57,000 brunch seats available every Friday.  It’s actually more difficult to find a restaurant that doesn’t do brunch on a Friday.  It seems like brunch is a no-brainer – a sure-fire profit generator and a great way to fill your restaurant.

However, here’s the thing.  Restaurant operators need to be open to the fact that certain things are changing and there is a distinct possibility we’re going to wake up one day and find our brunches empty and irrelevant.  Perhaps it’s already happening – a few extra tables available, same loyal faces, but no new ones, a lethargic response to new brunch themes.  Are the signs already there?

Have you figured out who the typical brunch goer is?  Chances are they are Generation X and Millennials.  We’ve spent the last decade trying to understand, interpret and build restaurant products for the Millennial and Gen X, but there is a new group of consumers, who are self-empowered, determined and ambitious.

They are called Gen Z, and we need to be ready for them because they are sprinting into our workforce and economy faster than you can say VIP wrist band.  The oldest is already reaching 25 years of age, and here in Dubai, they potentially have more influence on the economy than the Dubai Millennials.  They make up almost 27% of the population, and in a few short years, they will be dictating what they want from restaurant operators.  Even today, they are hugely influential on where they eat as a family.

So my question is, will the Dubai Brunch, as we know it today, still be relevant in five years’ time as more and more Gen Z enter the economy with their disposable dirhams and the Millennials grow older, and their priorities change?

Despite Generation Z being our customers of tomorrow, we can’t afford to spend a decade trying to figure out what they want.

Gen Z grew up in a post 911 world, during the middle of a recession and don’t know life before the internet.  They have developed their personalities and life skills against a global backdrop of chaos, uncertainty, volatility, and complexity.  They worry about the economy, and their future and entrepreneurship is in their DNA.  They have always known how to pinch, zoom and swipe. 360-degree photography is their norm.  They communicate with speed and with a certain vagueness.

Gen Z might not want to spend an entire Friday dedicated to brunch – they are ambitious, and patience may not be an essential virtue for them.  They are drinking less, smoking less and are more in tune with their planet and environment than any other generation before them.  Gen Z like to snack and graze at their convenience throughout the day – they are not confined to traditional meal periods. Gluttonous over indulgence with narcissistic undertones might not do it for them.

Historically, across the globe, brunch popularity grew anywhere where there was disposable income or time according to Farha Ternikar, the author of Brunch: A History.  For the last two decades, the Dubai Millennial have had both of those in abundance. However, Gen Z put very different values on their time and income.

Restaurants need to start talking about these customers of tomorrow and develop experiences and products that appeal to them. The quote “change or die” seems a little overly dramatic for a brunch article, but Gen Z want individual, highly curated experiences – they don’t want to be herded in their hundreds into what is effectively an IKEA restaurant on steroids.

Will the Dubai brunch model get stuck in a no man’s land between an aging demographic that no longer wants to brunch and a new demographic that has never wanted to brunch in the first place?

Or maybe the brunch is here to stay, and it will simply evolve into something more mindful and captivating, finding appeal for both the Gen Z and the older generations.

Whatever the Dubai brunch of the future looks like, it better have personalised table top shawarma stations and vegan chocolate fountains.

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