Saudi segregation law: “Time for rapid renovation”

CallisonRTKL talks about the impact that Saudi Arabia’s segregation law will have on F&B construction in the kingdom

“Smaller facilities with less costs are more favourable to investors,” Paul Firth says [Image courtesy: Shutterstock]
“Smaller facilities with less costs are more favourable to investors,” Paul Firth says [Image courtesy: Shutterstock]
Paul Firth senior associate director, retail & entertainment, CallisonRTKL
Paul Firth senior associate director, retail & entertainment, CallisonRTKL

Saudi Arabia has welcomed a slew of social reforms in recent years. In 2018, the kingdom permitted female drivers behind the wheel, putting an end to a decade-long ban.

In December 2019, Saudi Arabia amended its segregation law, eliminating the need for females to enter and exit restaurants and cafés using separate entrances for women.

The law also changed the requirement for partitioned areas and rooms that separate families, including women, from male patrons dining at outlets in the kingdom.

The senior associate director of the retail and entertainment division at the architecture, planning, and interior design consultancy firm CallisonRTKL, Paul Firth, spoke to Construction Week about the impact of the law on the construction sector.

“The law will allow for an overall reduction in space as the food and beverages (F&B) facilities will be able to create smaller units to accommodate families, women, and men, who can now be seated without being restrained to confined spaces,” Firth says.

Prior to the amended law, the average minimum size of a dining facility was between 200m2 to 300m2.

With the elimination of designated spaces and entrances for different groups, F&B outlets can now take shape within as little as 50m2, allowing for 30% to 40% reduction in space.

This space reduction also corresponds with lower capital and operational costs.

“To service the shifting seating demands, operational costs will also be reduced as less staff will be required to manage the now combined spaces. Machinery, lighting, and other electrical equipment will also operate at a reduced rate, cutting down on energy costs within the F&B outlets,” Firth explains.

In addition, lower operating costs will help owners to reallocate resources to other areas, which will bring developers and restaurant owners one step closer to a more efficient and sustainable future.

“The implementation of smaller, more compact facilities will also cut down construction time and simplify the design processes, which will in turn allow for the faster delivery of projects,” Firth adds.

This will help property owners and developers in Saudi Arabia overcome ongoing construction challenges such as late deliveries.

Moreover, the implementation of the restaurant segregation law will also help to counter oversupply risks.

Firth says: “Smaller facilities with less costs are more favourable to investors. Driven by a strong demand for restaurants in the kingdom, investors will have access to finished facilities that are ready for operation and come with higher success rates and affordability.”

Previously, thoughtful interior design that took into consideration the cultural and social needs in the kingdom led to a requirement for separate spaces for male and female diners.

This had a significant impact on the design and architecture of restaurants and cafes.

Due to the shift in local preference, architects are now able to move away from creating segregated spaces to exploring other design elements.

“Be it fine dining restaurants, casual dining eateries, or fast food chains, each F&B outlet will witness increased flexibility in concept design.

“Designers will be able to integrate more units and experiment with spaces to deliver more holistic, suitable and cohesive dining spaces.” Firth explains.

Increased flexibility in the architecture, design and décor of restaurants and cafés in Saudi Arabia will also give designers the ability to do more with less, thus, giving consumers a wider array of choices.

“The time has come for F&B outlets in the kingdom to take up rapid refurbishments and renovations,” Firth adds, “Developers of restaurants and dining establishments will need to move quickly in order to mirror the social and economic development in the country.”

Firth concludes: “Restaurants in Saudi Arabia are the most highly visited places for socialising, celebrating, and entertainment amongst friends, families, and business partners.

“To continue appealing to consumers, establishments will be required to implement more creative and innovative designs. They will need to incorporate social, leisure, and entertainment aspects into spaces that were previously built on the basis of segregation. Inclusion and connectivity will now become the focus of construction.”

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