Dubai’s reputation as a foodies’ paradise is going from strength to strength with businesses opening in the city at the rate of almost four a day.
Figures from Dubai Municipality show that 2,074 restaurants opened in the emirate in the last 18 months, and the number of openings rocketed over the past two years.
“There were 1,540 restaurant openings in 2015 compared with about 500 in 2014,” said Sultan Ali Tahir, head of the Food Inspection Section.
The emirate is now home to more than 16,000 food outlets, including international chains as well as locally-owned restaurants, cafeterias and coffee shops.
“This is the highest increase in recent years,” said Mr Tahir, who added that about 40 per cent of the new restaurants are in Dubai’s newer neighbourhoods.
Mr Tahir attributed the increase to a change in the way people view food and the culture surrounding it, especially on social media.
“The culture has changed. There is a greater number of people visiting restaurants and cafes to experience new things. This has encouraged people to explore new varieties of food and consequently has encouraged investors to open new branches and new restaurants in Dubai.”
Such is the influence of social media on customers that restaurant staff have said it was increasingly common for people to order dishes after seeing photos of them on apps such as Instagram.
“Every day people would come and show me a dessert that they’ve seen on Instagram and ask for it,” said a waitress at Dubai’s Home Bakery in Galleria Mall, which also has more than 100,000 followers on the photo sharing app.
“It seems like everyone is snapping pictures of their food and posting it. This is impacting traffic to restaurants,” said Sultana Shafi, a food blogger in Dubai.
“People are more likely to go to a place that they’ve heard about and researched. There’s nothing like word of mouth when it comes to creating a buzz and in this day and age, social media channels reach wide and far. This culture didn’t exist a decade ago.”
Rohin Thampi, regional director of restaurant review website Zomato, said he has seen a huge surge in number of eateries.
“When we launched in Dubai in 2012 we had 3,500 restaurants listed. Today, the number stands at more than 8,000. Over the last one year we have seen over 1,750 new listings in Dubai.”
Mr Thampi believed social media is fuelling people’s willingness to try restaurants, which is spurring the boom in businesses.
“Users upload 25,000 reviews and 60,000 pictures every month and we get over 1.1 million unique visitors looking for new restaurants every month. That strongly suggest that Dubai is indeed a foodie city.”
With an eye on trends abroad, Dubai has sought to diversify the range and location of restaurants on offer. The popularity of food lorries serving unusual cuisines in places like London and Los Angeles spurred pop-up events in the Al Quoz’s Al Serkal Avenue art zone as well as in parks and beaches.
However, although the restaurant scene is experiencing a boom, with so much competition for customers many businesses struggle to remain open for long.
“The competition is fierce and no one can predict the success of a restaurant” said Mohamed Saleem, a business owner who had to close shop after two years.
“You can have five food trucks in one location and only one is doing well while the others are empty. New trends emerge all the time. There is no secret formula to success,” said Mr Saleem.
Figures on restaurant closures were not available from the Department of Economic Development.