Nicolas Budzynski is Global Operations Director for LPM Restaurant & Bar which is a Riviera-inspired restaurant and bar, based in Dubai. He overlooks the restaurant operations and brand development for LPM globally. Nicolas graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality Management from the Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France. Since then his graduation, he has gained experience across various markets and regions (including the Middle East, Turkey, Asia, Europe, and the USA) with an array of well-known restaurant groups, including Zuma (Turkey and Asia), International Hotels Establishment in Bahrain (Bushido and Trader Vic’s), Fauchon and the Jumeirah Group, including restaurants and the iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel.
In Conversation with Nicolas Budzynski, Global Operations Director, LPM Restaurant & Bar
In an exclusive conversation with The Restaurant Times, Nicolas Budzynski, Director of LPM Restaurant & Bar talks about the history of the restaurant, branding, industry exposure, expansion to different countries, and more.
This is the fourth in a series of interviews hosted by our guest host, Peggy Li, Managing Partner at SPS Affinity Consultancy, who has 18 years of experience working with Michelin-starred fine-dining brands across the UK and the Far East. Peggy has worked with some of the greatest chefs, including Joël Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay, and Atul Kochhar.
Peggy Lee – Walk us through a brief history of the LPM Restaurant & Bar, its global expansion, and the industry that you are in.
Nicolas – On our side, for our company, everything started in 2007 in London, in a small corner of the Mews in Mayfair behind Claridge’s Hotel. Our founders are Arjun Waney (Zuma, Coya, and The Arts Club co-founder), Raphael Duntoye (Chef Patron), and Bob Ramchand. Our concept got inspiration from the south of France, and since the launch of the brand in 2007, it has been a huge success in the market because of an approach that is different from any other French concept. It gradually became an international dining destination. Since the launch of the brand in 2007, it has been a huge success in the market because of an approach that is different from any other French concept.
We feel that the sharing concept is very important because it’s not only about sharing the food, but also sharing a moment, sharing memories, and sharing drinks and a happy life.
After the success of London, it was decided to enter the Dubai market. LPM Dubai opened in 2010 and because it was providing something different and something new, it met with success. There is a lot of effort that we put into keeping the consistency in what we do, and we had to maintain that. We opened in Miami, Abu Dhabi, and Hong Kong in 2017, and 2018 which proved to be an intense period for us, but it was also exciting. Eventually, we had the opportunity to sign a deal in Saudi Arabia and we opened the LPM Restaurant & Bar in Riyadh in March this year, and at the moment, we have several leads for the future. As I mentioned, we want to properly take care of our existing restaurants, while taking care of a new addition to the family, which is to react and do it well, before we enter into a new opening.
Peggy Lee – Now, as you said, Dubai was opened in 2010, which means there must have been another opportunity, before picking Dubai. Why was your first global expansion to Dubai first and not another location?
Nicolas – I think the reason is very simple. We are lucky to be a sister company of a beautiful brand like Zuma. So, Zuma in Dubai has been doing very well from the very beginning which showed our shareholders that Dubai was a territory of choice for LPM. One thing you need to understand is once LPM London was open, there was no clear plan of development at the time, it’s been a very organic growth but thanks to opportunities we could open in more places. We’re thankful enough to our territories, and potential partners are contacting us directly.
Peggy Lee – So LPM Zuma is a legend within our industry, globally. How do you stay profitable, and yet serve folk cuisine?
Nicolas – I don’t think it’s a secret formula. I think it is the positioning of our concepts, what I call a sweet spot. We are offering a high-quality environment and high-quality food consistently. We are here to make people happy. We are not here to provide the most amazing dining experience that one will remember the entire life. Rather, we want to make sure that when people come and dine with us, they feel they are at home. We give them a reason to come back and explore more. I think the sweet spot we have is being able to provide these high-quality environments, this consistency in quality. I think that’s what I would say, finding that sweet spot.
The average spend is high because we’re using high-quality products, not because we have much higher margins than any of the other restaurants. I think we are reasonable and fair in our approaches; we may not be using the same quality as other restaurants. That’s why the price tag may be a little bit higher, but people do recognize the quality when they taste it.
Peggy Lee- What is the USP that keeps the customers returning to LPM Restaurant & Bar?
Nicolas – I think the most obvious one is the food; that’s without a doubt. The food is the number one USP of LPM. I think we have a unique profile of cuisine. I don’t think any of the LPM dishes can be pasted elsewhere. It’s fresh and radiant, very colorful, and very seasonal. It brings this element of simplicity, when you look at the plate, there’s nothing fancy in the way that the plates are being organized. But the surprise comes when you taste the food. I think that the profile of each dish that LPM has is essential and simple at first. You could call it comfort food, but comfort in the experience. So, food is the number one USP.
I think the second element is our people and the attention to detail that they have, again in making the customer happy, the LPM way. We also take care of your workers and they come first before our customers in the sense that if they feel happy coming to work, and they feel happy to work at LPM and to welcome our guests, then they will put all this positivity towards the guests and they will not be the fear factor.
Our people are making a difference from the time you enter the restaurant to the time you sit at the table; your waiter will come and explain to you the concept and give you personalized recommendations, ensuring that you are well taken care of. I believe the locations that we’ve opened as well, are another key point of the success of LPM Restaurant & Bar. And the fact that we haven’t opened too many outlets and lost control. We’ve chosen the cities carefully and we’ve chosen the location of the restaurants carefully.
To ensure that we would get a good mix of customers, it would make, I would say, 50% residents and 50% travelers, extremely important to us. I think, again, a good mix of consistency in what the brand stands for and evolution in what the brand needs to become for future customers, has also been an important factor in our success. The ambiance and the atmosphere are very unique to us. The ambiance, the contrast between daytime and evening time is very different, the dimming of the lighting, the style of music when you enter LPM.
Peggy Lee- Walk us through this sense of hospitality and how you make your customers feel so comfortable at your restaurant?
Nicolas – The true sense of hospitality needs to be looked into and I believe that our industry has been led by stumbles and by rules. People who have grown over the last 20 years within this industry or even before maybe are now in leading positions. This issue of recruitment and retaining the staff is what I think, we leaders can question, how can we treat our customers and our staff differently? Now more than ever, especially after this COVID crisis, we have to be true to what we do. We must be honest, and we must be authentic. If you’re not happy at work, because you’re not your true self while you’re just going to find a job somewhere else. It’s not all about salary. It’s also about what we can do for them as leaders and how to make them feel better.
Peggy Lee- How do you see the differentiation between the dining habit and spending?
Nicolas – The main thing would be the positioning of the brand, understanding the positioning of the brand. In places such as Hong Kong, many people don’t drink alcohol and instead want lemon water. So, our challenge is, how do we make them try something different and something new because they come for the food. For us to understand that, we have to be adaptable to each of the situations and each of the guests is a part of understanding the brand. Similarly in Miami, people are outgoing and relaxed. In Dubai, we deal with different types of customers. We have the residents, Emiratis. They don’t want to be disturbed, they still want interaction but the first time they come, they will be very discreet, and they don’t want to be bothered. I think the cultural aspect of each territory is also very important to understand.
Peggy Lee– What are the challenges that come with opening a restaurant in Riyadh?
Nicolas – We’ve been lucky enough to have the chance to open and face the reality in Al Diriyah (Riyadh, KSA) season in December 2019. So, we’ve had our taste of Saudi before opening the big restaurant. Despite the restriction of accessibility, there were traffic issues and parking issues, and access issues to the site. Despite all these hassles, we were fully booked for 30 days. It took one and a half days to fully book the restaurant for 30 days. Reservations were completely packed for the whole month from which we understood how much demand there was. We realized how much love there was for the brand in that market.
Peggy Lee- How do you see the future of the fine-dining market?
Nicolas – Fine dining in the Middle East does not have the same meaning as fine dining in Asia or Europe. We provide the same fine dining experience in the Middle East as in Europe and anywhere else as our standards are high. Whenever people go out as a traveler or as locals, they look for experience with good food. As a restaurant owner, you have to maintain consistency no matter which place you are at. People come to our restaurants for the consistency of the food that we maintain, whether that is in the Middle East, Asia, or the United States. As an international brand, you have to adjust your concept to different places.
The near future of the restaurant is all about being in Saudi, how can we take the country and elevate it to higher standards. Finding a balance between creativity and what we already have is what we are focusing on right now. With the new developments in Saudi, we have a larger audience to cater to. As we know, F1 is coming to Saudi which will bring popularity to restaurants and also international crowds. It is definitely not an easy market, there are ups and downs, but in the end, it comes down to finding a perfect balance and implementing it in your business. People appreciate the quality and then the quantity of the food as well as the experience that they are getting.
Peggy Lee– Give us some words of wisdom for the people that are new to the F&B industry.
Nicolas– Be honest and stay true to yourself. Be happy at work and be happy for the company that you are working for. Whatever you are doing in the industry, have your heart invested in it and that will reflect in your customer service.