The 2018 edition of GulfHost, the hospitality equipment sourcing Expo for the Middle East, Africa and Asia and co-located trade shows Speciality Food Festival, SEAFEX and yummex Middle East, was officially opened by HE Dawood Al Hajiri, Director General of Dubai Municipality.

Around 2,500 local, regional, and international brands are showcasing more than 8,000 products across six core sectors: Front of house, back of house, tableware, café & bar; gelato & bakery, and HORECA, at Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) until November 1, 2018.

A key highlight on day one was the opening of the GulfHost Restaurant Development Conference powered by the International Center for Culinary Arts in Dubai (ICCA) and the Middle East Food Forum (MEFF). Among the key regional industry thought leaders who are taking the stage on the opening day are Duncan Fraser-Smith, director, global food and beverage at the First Group, who delivered the opening keynote address, and Emma Banks, managing director, JRG Dubai. Day one of the conference, which runs for all three days, featured luminaries such as Akhilesh Bahl, founder & CEO, Malt & Salt Hospitality Management; George Kunnappally, managing director, Nando’s UAE LLC, and Moiza Saeed, regional director, Zomato Gold.

Headlining a panel discussion on retaining new consumers Malt & Salt Hospitality Management chief Bahl, who is also CEO of Chin Chin Group of Group of Restaurants, will discussed shifting consumer trends and the latest techniques of restaurant owners to attract and retain customers.

“It is imperative for all restaurant operators to focus on superior customer service, a great menu mix and responsible marketing in managing customer expectations thereby generating value and retaining precious customers.” Bahl said.

Panel member George Kunnappally, managing director, Nando’s UAE LLC, added: “In a highly competitive market like the UAE, with a discerning and demanding customer base, premium casual dining brands like Nando’s tap technology, be it Wi-Fi, mobile payment gateways, proximity marketing, partnerships with online delivery aggregators and more to stay ahead of the curve and offer personalised service and a consistently superior product across our restaurants.”

Meanwhile, Baasab Deyb, partner, assurance & advisory, RSM Dahman UAE put the spotlight on VAT in his session on Advent of VAT and its effect on F&B sales growth.

He said: “Food and beverage sales in UAE continue to grow and are seeing very marginal impact on growth rate following implementation of UAE VAT.”

Until Thursday, foodservice professionals can drop into the conference, at Trade Centre Arena, to hear more than 60 high-profile speakers sharing proven methods for navigating the latest industry shifts, with a host of sessions focussing on GCC-wide endeavours.