25-27 February 2019

NH Collection Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky welcomed more than 350 investors, owners, operators and consultants to Amsterdam for the sixth edition of the Global Restaurant Investment Forum (GRIF) organised by Bench Events, which this year focused on the three pillars of evolution, disruption and invention. Delegates from 43 countries descended on the Dutch capital to network, discover innovative dining concepts and hear a stellar line-up of close to 90 speakers share their thoughts on hot topics like evaluating scalability, managing international rollouts and implementing the latest foodtech.

The opening day began with practical workshops exploring franchising, restaurant marketing and sustainability, before delegates were treated to a delicious lunch at Pesca, a nearby fish restaurant making waves thanks to its crowdfunding successes, profit-sharing model and dynamic-pricing policy. Attendees were then split into two culinary tours visiting some of Amsterdam’s finest eateries, before reconvening at The Butcher Social Club for an evening networking reception against a stunning backdrop, namely the IJ River and the city’s bustling waterfront.

Day two featured a packed programme of guest speakers in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, interspersed with further networking opportunities in its spectacular 19th-century Winter Garden. One of the highlights was a session looking at the revival of hotel dining, in which Michelin-starred chefs Jacob Jan Boerma and Chris Naylor discussed their respective experiences working with NH Hotel Group; the former stressed the importance of focusing on diners rather than trying to impress Michelin inspectors at The White Room, while the latter emphasised the benefits of being able to run Restaurant Vermeer as a standalone business within NH Collection Barbizon Palace, although he did acknowledge that “there’s a certain safety net to being part of a hotel” when it comes to tapping into the property’s HR, maintenance and marketing expertise.

For many, however, the day’s most eagerly awaited session was a chance to hear from outspoken culinary legend Marco Pierre White, in conversation with Supper Consulting Editor Heleri Rande. He spoke candidly about everything from realising the dream of countless chefs (“winning three Michelin stars was the most exciting journey of my life, retaining them was the most boring”) and hanging up his apron in 1999 to overseeing brands like Wheeler’s of St. James’s and Bardolino, and opening his new restaurant-with-rooms The English House in Singapore (“she’s like the most expensive mistress I’ve ever had”). With White’s reflections fresh in the memory, delegates then caught a special GRIF tram over to an evening reception hosted by H Hospitality at the new Neni Amsterdam, followed by a lively afterparty at Club NL.

The third and final day provided lots more opportunities to hear from influential figures in the restaurant world, including Big Mamma Group co-founder Victor Lugger, Drake & Morgan Managing Director Jillian MacLean and Ginza Project CEO Maxim Polzikov. Among the speakers was Yossi Eliyahoo, founder of The Entourage Group, the high-end hospitality company behind hotel restaurants in major European destinations like Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, Ibiza and Munich; he discussed the importance of putting a structure in place behind the scenes to ensure the guest experience at venues like Momo, Izakaya and Mr Porter never disappoints, saying: “One of the most difficult things to achieve in the restaurant industry is consistency, but it’s also the most important.”

Meanwhile, Raymond Blanc, Chef-Patron of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, delivered an impassioned speech calling on restaurateurs to embrace sustainable working practices. Blanc, who has served as President of the Sustainable Restaurant Association since 2012, argued that taking simple steps such as reducing water consumption, minimising waste, sourcing local produce, adding meat-free options and upgrading kitchen equipment can reap huge rewards both financially and environmentally. To rousing applause, he urged those present to go green, concluding: “Collectively and individually, we can change the restaurant industry for the better.”

The next edition of the flagship GRIF conference will take place in the Italian city of Parma in May 2020. In the meantime, GRIF Society members can stay ahead of the game by attending a series of targeted industry briefings and networking opportunities in key markets like Ras Al Khaimah, Bangkok, London, Dubai and Riyadh.

Words: Richard Frost
Photography: © Twelve Photographic Services
Magazine: Supper 14