There was a time when eating out in Kenya was limited to the local nyama choma joint or for those who could afford more, a buffet meal at one of the local five star hotels.
That was back then. Today, one is simply spoilt for choice when it comes to fine dining – what with fancy restaurants opening every other month and offering all kind of international dishes.
Kenyans are demanding for this choice in dining out with increased discretionary spending, sophisticated taste and a changing social scene, where people eat out more compared to a few years back.
“There is no doubt that with more disposable income, people are spending more on entertainment in the form of dining out. The new themed restaurants that have come up have also helped to broaden the dining out experience,” says Paul Norman, Southern Sun’s General Manager.
Shailender Singh of Sarova Hotels attributes the trend to social change where the middle class dining out more than was the case a few years back.
The increased number of expatriates in the country, Kenyans returning from the west and locals who can afford to travel around the world and experience different tastes out there - are also major drivers to the growth in this segment of the hospitality industry.
“New-found affluence and a rise in earnings are making people more willing to try out new flavours,” he says. “This has seen more choices come into the markets.”
Because of this growing need for fine dining, new restaurants catering to this growing market, are fast coming up and offering good service are thriving and expanding in the market.
One such restaurant is Sevens Seafood & Grill, at ABC Place on Waiyaki Way, which is already rolling out its expansion plan with a second restaurant expected to open its doors at the Village Market by this December.
The proprietors, Nawaaz Meghji and Kiran Jethwa, who is also the head chef, say they saw a gap in the market for a proper a seafood restaurant, that offered great food, good service, accessibility and a whole new dining experience.
This informed their decision to make the multi-million shilling investment which they say has been worth it.
Kiran says since opening their doors, the restaurant, which can sit 80 people, has been busy with a mix of locals and expatriates, with the average spend of Sh4,000 a head, which included dinner and a drink.
“The goal was to raise the bar,” says Kiran.
The second restaurant is expected to serve more steaks than sea food. The pair is however being very cautious with their expansion plans to ensure that each restaurant is tailor made for the area and is meeting a need.
Brew Bistro & Lounge, which opened its doors to an incomplete building on Ngong Road four years ago, are scouting for premises to open other outlets in the country and beyond, with the second expected in the city towards the end of 2013.
Since opening its doors, Brew Bistro was an instant hit with middle to high income young Kenyan professionals. The restaurant brews its own beers, a niche premium product that is quickly becoming readily available in several restaurants in the city.
Tables here are booked in advance and even if going out for a beer, be ready to stand, if you do not have an advance table booking.
“The trend is definitely evolving and people are looking for something different which is what we try to provide - an experience combined with good quality food, service and beverage,” said the managing director and master brewer, Alem Ladak.
Middle range restaurants are also moving towards exotic offerings such tapas menus, a wider range of wines and whiskies and themed nights to attract clients.
One such restaurants is Slims, on Lenana Road, a formerly laid back restaurant and pub which is now offering a tapas menu and wide range of spirits and wines to match its recently renovated interiors.
“We felt that we needed a fresh look in keeping up with the needs of our discerning clientele . We also wanted to expand our wine offerings in a more private, relaxed setting and thus configured additional space now known as The Tasting Room” said Kabuu Muriithi.
“We wanted to position ourselves to grow with our ever more sophisticated guests who want good food and great entertainment as part of their dining experience.”
Hotels are also major players in driving this trend. Currently, Ole Sereni is putting the final touches to its fine dining restaurant, Eagle, on the fourth floor overlooking the Nairobi National Park which is sue to be opened this December.
The restaurant will only offer fine dining, a whisky and wine bar, a cigar bar and a view of the park.
“ We are looking to sell an experience, a show stopper, for people who are looking for exclusivity,” said the hotel’s general manager Ghulam Samdani, in an interview.
The restaurant, which can accommodate 50 people, will not cater for walk-ins.
Sarova Stanley has its Thai-Chi, the chains high-end restaurant offering Thai influenced food.
The average spend at the restaurant has increased to about Sh3,000 per person with dinners opting to start with a cocktail or soft drink, have wine with their meal and sometimes finish with a single malt, says Sheally.
“Wine drinking is becoming more prevalent in this market with the usual whiskies being replaced by single malt ones,” said Sheally.
Kiran says Kenyans are drinking more fine liquor from wine to single malt whiskies, high-end vodkas to champagne.
It is this trend that led to Sankara Hotel, in Westlands, to open a Champagne Bar on the top floor.
Rohan Patel of Sankara says they recognised the need to create a social space that would cater for in-house guests and Nairobi residents, seeking upscale experiences that have not traditionally been found here.
“The Champagne Bar serves both needs very well,” he said. It has become popular with Nairobians having a social or business meeting after work.