As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to confine the world to their homes, food and beverage establishments are adopting stricter guidelines to continue to serve its communities in a safe and controlled manner.
In Dubai, UAE, restaurants such as Mantoushe have adapted their operations to cater to the ‘new normal’ — taking the focus away from dine-in and takeaway and placing it on online delivery. Affectionately called “The Home of the Steakmous”, Mantoushe is a fusion concept known for its unique blend of Lebanese and global flavours.
We connected with its Founder and CEO, Sophia Sleiman, to discuss Mantoushe’s humble beginnings, how she and her team are overcoming the current business challenges, and how Sapaad helps them drive down costs and effectively manage orders from third-party platforms.
Tell us about Mantoushe and how did it get started?
Mantoushe is a home-grown concept that was founded right here in Dubai — one of its first Build-Your-Own Lebanese restaurants. It’s focused on two main pillars that help it stand out. The first is that we offer Lebanese fusion and the second is that we serve real food.
I was born and raised in the UAE. After finishing my studies in Beirut, I returned to Dubai and worked for the family business. I’d order lunch and usually feel lethargic after eating. There weren’t many options available that left me feeling good after a meal.
“I wanted to serve real food that didn’t leave you in a food coma but gave you the nutrients and energy you needed to go about your day.”
Given my academic background in food science, I know that the way the food is cooked — the method, temperature, and preparation — is a factor in how you feel after eating it. This was what gave me the idea to set up Mantoushe. I wanted to serve real food that didn’t leave you in a food coma but gave you the nutrients and energy you needed to go about your day.
Mantoushe blends traditional Lebanese flavours with different cuisines — both global and within its own— in a way that has never been done before. A perfect example is our Falafa-guac wrap which is a mix of falafel and guacamole; two ingredients you’d never think to put together but, once you do, you understand that it works.
We serve our dishes fresh-to-order in an open kitchen. We make everything that we can in-house and use premium ingredients. When you walk into the restaurant, you can see us chop, bake, grill, and cook your order.
Our beef and chicken are cooked sous vide, which is a slow process that results in something tender, juicy, and very nutritious. This is the ‘real food’ element of what makes us special. The store is, wherever possible, built with sustainable materials, from recycled steel to salvaged wood.
Following the effects of COVID-19, what have been your challenges?
COVID-19 brought a lot of challenges to the restaurant industry. If I could summarize the challenges we’re facing, it’d be split into two points: the dip in revenue and the new ways of working.
The biggest challenge we’re facing — which is probably the same challenge for anyone in the hospitality industry — is the major dip in revenue. Since people are advised to stay at home, we’ve completely lost all dine-in and takeaway customers. And since people are now opting to cook rather than order food, we’ve had to rely a little less on deliveries. It was just not enough to compensate for the losses.
The other challenge is the changes in our operations due to the newly-imposed guidelines. Restaurants have always been places that adhered to very strict hygiene protocols. Those protocols, understandably, are now much stricter and we’ve had to implement a completely new way of working. We’re doing things we never did before, like taking the temperature of every staff member and customer before they enter the restaurant and offering contactless deliveries.
How have you adapted to the sudden shift in your operations?
For the dip in revenue, we’ve been managing our costs as much as possible, particularly staff, rent, utilities, and supplies. We approached everyone — from our staff to anyone we had to pay — to have an open discussion with them. They’ve all been very understanding of the current global effects and we found solutions that were mutually beneficial to compensate for the revenue loss.
Since it’s not necessary to have a full team on site right now, we’ve encouraged the bulk of our staff to use up their leaves. We’ve spoken to landlords and government entities to try to reduce our overhead expenses and we’ve worked out new terms with our suppliers to see what we can do in terms of cash payments.
As for the newly-implemented guidelines, we conducted a lot of training to ensure that every team member understood and was convinced of why we were doing this. I took the time to thoroughly explain COVID-19 to my staff; how it’s transferred, how to protect yourself and our customers, how to look for signs and symptoms, and so forth.
Thankfully, we were able to adapt and I think we’ve done a great job of ensuring that the new guidelines have been met.
How have you been using Sapaad in your operations during this time?
Sapaad is our main POS system and we use it along with the Inventory and CRM module. During this period, Sapaad Connect — which integrates Sapaad with major ordering platforms — has been incredibly valuable. The integration with Zomato and Deliveroo — which drive a large majority of our orders — helped us reduce our need for staff on site.
“The manual reentry of every transaction is labour-intensive and comes with plenty of issues from errors to missed items. But Sapaad Connect solves all of these and is a cost-effective and fool-proof way of operating.”
The manual reentry of every transaction is labour-intensive and comes with plenty of issues from errors to missed items. But Sapaad Connect solves all of these and is a cost-effective and fool-proof way of operating.
‘The ability to see what’s going on at any given time [with Sapaad’s Dashboard] is a great added value for an owner.”
Another feature worth mentioning is the Dashboard which is a constant favourite. The ability to see what’s going on at any given time is a great added value for an owner. The fact that it’s mobile-friendly helps me keep track of my operations even when I’m on the go.
Modules aside, Sapaad waived all ‘Account Freeze’ charges for restaurants that had to pause their operations. Unfortunately, we had to temporarily shut down one of our branches that was heavily reliant on dine-in and takeaway and freezing its subscription helped lower our costs.
Where do you see Mantoushe in the future?
If you asked me this question three months ago, I would have told you, “Expand, expand, expand”. Now, it’s turned into, “Survive, survive, survive”.
From a company’s perspective, we’re focused on ensuring that our revenue levels get back to how they once were before the pandemic. We try to retain many of our customers and ensure that everybody who loves Mantoushe keeps coming back.
But in the future, we definitely plan to expand the brand. Mantoushe is a fantastic brand that deserves to be at every corner and that’s a point I hope to reach either through franchising or partnerships.
What is your advice to fellow restaurateurs going through a similar situation?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to give anyone advice. But if I were to have a conversation with any restaurant today, the first — well, the only thing I’d say is to plan. We need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
“[Once you’re done with the planning stage], you’ll feel a lot of comfort knowing that even in the worst-case scenario, you’ll be okay. That assurance will help you stay positive and keep going.”
For us, we sat down and thought, “Worst-case scenario: If, from now until the end of the year, dine-in and takeaway never bounce back to the levels they once were, how do we adapt?” So, take the time to really plan for these situations.
I know in that hour or two that you’re planning, you’ll be at your most negative. But once that’s over, you’ll feel a lot of comfort knowing that even in the worst-case scenario, you’ll be okay. That assurance will help you stay positive and keep going.
How can diners help their favourite restaurants during this period?
I would love to share a couple of things that diners should keep in mind. First, ordering directly from a restaurant instead of through an aggregator is the best way to support your favourite places.
“If you have a restaurant that you love, go directly to their website or social media platforms to place an order. We make the most of our revenue this way.”
If you’re not just exploring options and you have a restaurant that you love — especially if it’s local and needs your support — go directly to their website or social media platforms to place an order. We make the most of our revenue this way and I urge all our loyal customers to do this.
Second, I’d remind customers that restaurants have always had to adhere to very strict hygiene protocols. If you had trust in a restaurant’s hygienic capabilities back then, there’s no reason not to trust them now. We’ve always operated — and will continue to operate — in a way that is intended to keep food safe to eat.
For our last question, what are the must-haves at Mantoushe?
Our diverse menu caters to various preferences. Whether you want something filling, light, vegan, keto, there’s something you will find and love.
The Steakmous is one of our top sellers. It’s one of the first menu items we created. It’s slow-cooked steak, homemade hummus, roasted pine nuts, spicy potatoes, fresh tomatoes, and homemade garlic sauce in a wrap that’s baked to order and it’s fantastic.
If you want something that highlights Lebanese fusion cuisine, our Falafa-guac wrap is a great choice. Plus, it’s vegan. We also have the Mexi Khalo which is our spin on a burrito bowl that blends Lebanese and Mexican flavours. ‘Khalo’ means ‘uncle’ so the literal translation is “Mexi Uncle”.
If you want something classically Lebanese and like cheese sandwiches, you will fall in love with our Akkawi which is a cheese man’oushe. Our number one top seller, shockingly, is our sweet potato fries and that’s because it’s tossed in a secret blend of spices that you won’t find anywhere else.
The global COVID-19 crisis brought on many challenges to businesses worldwide. With the F&B sector among the hardest hit, it left several restaurants scrambling to adapt.
We connected with our global Sapaad community to share the innovative ways they’ve ensured business continuity in the time of a pandemic. By pivoting their restaurant operations, they continue to stay resilient and serve their local communities.