Food for Thought: A complex but rewarding endeavour
2023/12/19 | By Richard Morris | Photo by Dion Doornik
Beyond its iconic landscapes and cultural wonders, the Netherlands boasts an ever-evolving culinary scene that has captured the hearts and palates of food enthusiasts worldwide.
For foreign entrepreneurs with dreams of opening a restaurant in the Netherlands, the journey is a fascinating and intricate one, filled with challenges and opportunities.
Before delving into the intricacies of opening a restaurant in the Netherlands, it’s essential to grasp the dynamic culinary landscape that awaits. The Dutch have evolved from their humble traditions of stamppot and haring to embrace international cuisines with open arms.
Understanding the cultural nuances of the Dutch people is a crucial first step. The Dutch value authenticity, sustainability, and quality. As a foreign entrepreneur, aligning your restaurant concept with these values can set you on the right path. Additionally, the Dutch appreciate directness and honesty in business dealings, so transparent communication is key.
Antonio Torres, a Venezuelan chef who opened his eatery, Señor Torres in The Hague following the COVID-19 pandemic, found that while attracting Latin Americans familiar with his cuisine fairly straightforward, the secret to enticing Dutch diners to sample his fare required a little more finesse. “The key to success when offering international cuisine is keeping it authentic”, says Torres. “Dutch restaurant-goers demand quality products, and the meat we use is a cut not many people outside of Latin America are familiar with. We need to educate our diners by telling them about the products and ingredients we use so they know we’re using traditional recipes with locally sourced products. Customers appreciate transparency and hearing the stories about how our food is unique and what makes Venezuelan cooking such a vital part of the rich cultural heritage of my country”.
Opening a restaurant in the Netherlands requires navigating a labyrinth of legal requirements and permits. Foreign entrepreneurs must be prepared to wade through the bureaucratic waters. To start, you’ll need to register your business with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel), obtain a food establishment permit, and ensure compliance with health and safety regulations.
One of the most challenging aspects is acquiring a liquor license, which is heavily regulated. The Netherlands’ stringent alcohol laws require potential restauranteurs to adhere to specific criteria and undergo thorough background checks. This process can be time-consuming and may delay your restaurant’s opening.
Selecting the right location for your restaurant is critical. Dutch cities, especially Amsterdam, are known for their high rental prices. Still, a prime location can make or break your establishment. Balancing affordability with visibility and accessibility is a challenge many foreign entrepreneurs face. The Dutch culinary scene’s emphasis on quality extends to its ingredients. Local, fresh, and sustainably sourced products are highly regarded. Building relationships with local suppliers and farmers is essential. While this can be a daunting task for a newcomer, it’s an investment that pays off in the long run.
The Netherlands has strict labour laws designed to protect employees’ rights. This includes minimum wage, working hour restrictions, and regulations concerning vacation days and sick leave. As an employer, you must adhere to these laws. Additionally, the Dutch value a healthy work-life balance, which may require adjustments to your management style.
Edouard Gaudin, is the French-born co-owner of The Hague’s newly-opened Frenchie’s Burgers (he also serves as the managing director of the upscale Villa Coucou, also located in The Hague). With a degree in hotel management from the renowned Hotelschool The Hague, Gaudin places a strong emphasis on human resources as being a cornerstone to the success of his restaurants. “For Frenchie’s, hiring staff is a bit more straightforward as it’s casual, homemade fast food”, says Gaudin. “At Villa Coucou, on the other hand, there is a certain standard, and eye for detail that’s required of both our kitchen and front of the house staff alike”. According to Gaudin, “the Dutch don’t approach fine dining as a career opportunity the same way the French and Italians do, which explains why Villa Coucou has a mostly French staff. But for Frenchie’s, it’s basically plug and play; anyone with the right mindset—and their papers in order—works just fine for us”.
Understanding Dutch dining preferences is crucial to tailoring your restaurant experience. The Dutch often enjoy meals with family and friends in a relaxed setting. Speedy service may not be as appreciated as it is in other cultures. Furthermore, the Dutch have a unique approach to tipping; it is customary but typically less than in many other countries. Therefore, training your staff to adapt to these preferences is vital for customer satisfaction.
Crafting a successful marketing strategy is an art. Balancing your restaurant’s unique identity with an appeal to local tastes can be challenging. While the Dutch enjoy international cuisines, incorporating local elements into your menu or decor can create a special connection with your customers. Embracing social media and digital marketing is essential, as the Dutch are active online consumers.
Joshua Allenbrand’s father started his eponymous Allenbrand’s American Popcorn in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1995. In 2017, Joshua moved to the Netherlands bringing his family’s secret recipe and now pops about 30 kilos of popcorn a week at their warehouse in Heinenoord, for their online customers and additional quantities for their B2B customers, which include supermarkets and entertainment venues in the Netherlands and Belgium.
“We make everything by hand”, says Allenbrand. “We’re a small, family-run business; my wife Mirjam and I are the only two full-time employees, though we do hire seasonal help as our volume increases”. Allenbrand has found success in an online-based business as it brings him closer to his customers. “We get direct feedback about our products; we listen to what they have to say and make changes if needed. For example, we modified our stroopwafel recipe after receiving some insightful feedback from a customer. It’s not always pleasant to get criticism, but it’s important to have checks and balances and loyal customers who care enough to voice their opinions, good or bad”.
In the end, opening a restaurant in the Netherlands as a foreign entrepreneur is a complex journey filled with challenges and opportunities. From understanding cultural nuances to navigating legal requirements, sourcing ingredients, hiring staff, and marketing effectively, each step is essential for success. While the path may be intricate, the rewards of introducing your unique culinary vision to the Dutch market are well worth the effort. By embracing the culture, meeting expectations, and building relationships, you can carve out a niche in this thriving culinary landscape and become a part of the rich tapestry of Dutch gastronomy.
About the author
Richard Morris has been writing and editing for magazines and newspapers since 1988. A native of Chicago, Illinois, he has spent the last thirty years living in the EU (Spain, England and, since 2010, the Netherlands). An author, playwright, composer and serial entrepreneur, Richard was appointed editor of ACCESS Magazine in July 2023.