George Kunnappally knows a lot about food – how it’s cooked, how it looks, how it’s served and how it should taste. He also knows where you should be having dinner tonight.
Recently appointed to the role of Managing Director for Nando’s UAE, George is looking forward to bringing the company’s brand of PERi-PERi chicken dishes to diners’ tables, offices, and homes.
An experienced F&B professional, George has held senior management roles at national and international brands, including Johnny Rockets, Charley’s Philly Steaks and Subway.
George’s role is to oversee the company’s expansive plans to open more restaurants, become a mainstay on online food delivery platforms, to tap into the growing youth market and maintain its standing as a favourite dining destination for families.
The huge growth in delivery services has presented Nando’s with a new way to reach customers outside of its chain of restaurants, or ‘casas’.
The company, which already offers home delivery through its inhouse call centre and fleet of around 90 drivers, recently announced a tie-up with Deliveroo. The app now accounts for around 20% of Nando’s delivery sales.
“On the whole, delivery revenues are about 20% of our total revenue and we intend to grow this to 30% in the next 6 months by focussing on increasing our fleet in Sharjah, Al Ain and the Northern Emirates where we believe there is still untapped potential,” said George, who graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Hotel Management and holds a Post Graduate Degree in Tourism Management.
“We are also exploring setting up delivery-only kitchens in certain strategic areas in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi to offer a speedier service to our customers. Target areas are Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai Design District, Sharjah University City and Khalifa City A.”
While expanding sales through new business is a priority for Nando’s new MD, George explained that overcoming more traditional hurdles related to a difficult economic environment, essential restaurant renovations, rising rents and the need to build relationships and develop partnerships with landlords are high on his to-do list.
“As a business we face one major challenge and that is occupancy costs that are commercially unreasonable in some cases,” said George.
“Landlords who charge increasing base rentals year on year and have turn over rent and net effective rent to benefit them when the tenant does exceptionally well are not very supportive when it comes to revising and reducing rents when the same business starts to generate lower revenues for reasons beyond their control.
“If we are to be true partners, landlords have to share the ups and downs of the business with us. Any rent to sales ratio above 15% is unsustainable for our sector,” said George.
“Shopping centre managements by and large refuse to accept the ground reality and tend to blame the tenants for reducing footfalls and the quality of the footfall in most malls,” explained George, adding that Nando’s best performing restaurants are not located in major malls.
“We strongly hope that landlords will take a cue from the government and regulatory bodies who have overwhelmingly and graciously reduced and/or waived off fees and tariffs to support local businesses to grow and prosper in challenging times.”
With high rental costs in mind, George believes F&B chains will actively look to downsize to smaller, more cost-effective sites in the future.
“The 3,000 to 5,000 sqft outlets are slowly becoming a thing of the past,” said George. “We believe smaller, cosier casas of about 1,800 to 2,000 sqft will be more commercially viable going forward.”
To maintain Nando’s appeal to customers as a vibrant, friendly and welcoming place to dine, George will oversee an extensive programme of renovations across its casas.
“We are constantly improving the look and layout of our restaurants not just because it is mandated by the brand standards worldwide, but also to present our best selves to our discerning clientele,” he said.
“This year we are upgrading casas at Al Ain Mall and Al Barsha in Dubai. Next year, we have lined up the outlets at The Greens, City Centre Deira and City Centre Mirdif. In 2020, we are upgrading 10 of our casas and in 2021, possibly, another 4 casas. We normally undertake them during the summer months when business is slower with most of our customers on holiday, which is an industry trend.”
Catering to the UAE’s youth market is essential for the future success of any F&B chain. These customers, who have access to disposable incomes, are attracted to venues that offer great food, a fun atmosphere and openly embrace new technologies – all of which can be found at Nando’s.
“Nando’s has a very vibrant persona,” explained George. “Our sunny Afro-Portuguese roots are steeped in pride, passion, integrity, courage, family, diversity, foot-tapping music, earthy textures and colours, universal acceptance and friendly service.
“Our casas have embraced technology –Wi-Fi, multiple modes of electronic payment including Apple and Samsung Pay – you name it, we have always been onboard. We are extensively patronised by the 18 to 35-year-old segment of the population and we keep that in mind when designing our casas and formulating our menus and promotions.”
With a focus on families, young customers and deliveries, George is confident that Nando’s can continue to be one of the leading casual F&B brands in the UAE for years to come.
“We believe Nando’s will continue to play a significant role in building the casual dining scene in the UAE. Ever since our Chairman and CEO, Mr Suhail Gidwani, brought Nando’s to Dubai in 2001 we have been setting the eating experience on fire in the UAE,” said George.
“With 22 casas across the UAE the populace has warmly accepted us and we are here to stay and grow. While we would love to be among the top brands when diners think of eating out or taking away or even ordering from the comfort of their homes or offices. When it comes to flame grilled PERi-PERi chicken, we wish to be the undisputed number one choice.”
The first Nando’s restaurant opened its doors in 1987 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since then, the Nando’s flame has spread to 1,200 restaurants in 23 countries on five continents. Nando’s is known worldwide for its succulent PERi-PERi chicken, marinated for 24 hours, flame-grilled to perfection, and basted to the customer’s preferred flavor and spice. It’s equally renowned for its spicy PERi-PERi, the Bird’s Eye chili pepper that indigenous Africans introduced to the Portuguese centuries ago.