It is so exciting!  Hard Rock has chosen Lagos as its second city in sub-Saharan Africa to open one of its iconic Hard Rock Cafes! OK, so Johannesburg beat us to it, but that’s a long way away, and this is right here, in Victoria Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  I went to the opening party of the Café on Friday night, and the place was buzzing, just like any other Hard Rock Café anywhere in the world.  I don’t mean to sound surprised, honest, but to see an investor taking the plunge into this market at a time when the economy ain’t what it used to be, is a really welcome surprise!

There’s a couple of small “tweaks” to the operation, to take into account the local environment – the menu has some Nigerian dishes on it, and the music is more hip-hop than New Orleans blues (available by request!), but all in all it is the real deal.

Lagos is a massive city, 20 million people some estimate, but the restaurant scene isn’t that,well, exciting.  Take just 1 per cent of the total population as your target market, and that’s a lot of people, who like to eat out.  Granted, Lagos has come a long way since I first arrived here25 years ago, when the only “international” restaurants outside of hotels were Chinese or Lebanese.  Today, most cuisines can be found in town, many more (good) Chinese restaurants, which the local market really likes, as well as Indian, Japanese, Mexican, steak, fish and the rest.  Fast food joints, or in the industry’s jargon quick service restaurants (QSR) abound, with international brands such as KFC, Johnny Rockets, Barcelos, Steers, Spur, Dominos and others competing with local (and well-established) brands such as Mr Biggs, Sweet Sensation, Chicken Republic and Kilimanjaro.

And there are several home delivery services, such as HelloFood.com and NaijaEats.com, which enable us to avoid the traffic!  They get pretty good reviews on line, and the delivery charges are typically minimal (1 or 2 dollars on average).

Hard Rock Café is the first global chain to enter the Lagos full-service restaurant market, but we’ve had Rhapsody’s, a South African chain, for some time (they also have a restaurant in Accra).  Many independent restaurants come and go, sometimes because the rent shoots up on renewal, and sometimes because they’re not very, well, exciting!  I’ve noticed that the menus can be pretty similar, and the prices charged are over the top for what you received, both the food and the experience.

It’s not easy operating in Nigeria, a lot of the food of the quality you need to operate a high-end restaurant cannot be imported, and many items are not made/grown locally.  Most are available, at a price, but it is a moot point as to which side of the law you are on if you buy and sell banned imports.Trained staff are hard to find, and tend to be transient, just passing through the industry, constantly on the lookout for a cushy 9 to 5 job.  Taxes are high, and there are numerous licences.  There is even a Merriment Tax levied by local government’s on anyone holding a party in Lagos State, of about US$50 a time.  This is truly a case of “If it moves, tax it.  If it doesn’t move, tax it.  Otherwise, you’re exempt!”.

But Hard Rock Café have cracked it (gosh, I hope they paid their MT!), with a product quite different from anywhere else, as have all the other international brands mentioned above.  Let’s hope for more, we’re ready and waiting for you!

Trevor Ward

W Hospitality Group, Lagos           

trevor.ward@w-hospitalitygroup.com