Middle East Restaurant Association Continues Support of F&B Industry with Expert-Led ‘MERA Powered by GRIF’ Webinar



  • The latest MERA powered by GRIF webinar was hosted by Samantha Wood (FooDiva) and focused on crisis communications during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Expert advice, opinions and insights were provided by Claudia De Brito, Stasha Toncev, Nicola Walsh and Georgie Woollams.
  • The weekly webinar series is back on Wednesday, 22nd of April at 10am, and will focus on the impact of COVID-19 on business & industry. Register HERE!


Dubai, UAE –: In its continued and collective efforts to provide an inclusive support system for both the restaurant industry and wider F&B community, the recently launched Middle East Restaurant Association (MERA) teamed up with the Global Restaurant Investment Forum (GRIF) for another successful ‘MERA powered by GRIF’ webinar. The third instalment of the weekly webinar series, which was hosted by renowned Publisher, Writer and F&B/PR Consultant Samantha Wood of FooDiva, focused on restaurants’ use of effective crisis communications during the COVID-19 crisis.

The enlightening hour-long session, which took place over Zoom, provided intriguing insights, practical advice and expert opinions from leaders in the fields of marketing, PR, communications, and hospitality, on the importance of effective communications during the current pandemic, and the strategies that can make or break a restaurant. The all-female panel of special guests included:


  • Samantha Wood, Founder, FooDiva (*Host)
  • Claudia De Brito, Editor, Hotelier Middle East
  • Stasha Toncev, Chief Soulkitchen Officer, 21Grams & Urban Balkan Bistro
  • Nicola Walsh, Director of Marketing & Communications, Sarood Hospitality & Dubai Retail
  • Georgie Woollams, Founder & Managing Director, Katch International


A common thread that emerged throughout the discussion was how hugely important it is to keep communicating with customers, instead of going dark, during the lockdown, regardless of whether a business is open or closed. The panel all agreed with Samantha Wood’s initial assertion that by injecting creativity, transparency, compassion and honesty into their messaging and marketing content, businesses will engage more effectively with their audiences, generate increased brand loyalty and strengthen their chances of coming out the other side of this crisis.

The value of CSR and building community spirit among all stakeholders was highlighted too, with Nicola Walsh pointing to the need for an industry-wide shift towards a ‘Buy One GIVE One Free’ mentality, instead of a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ approach. Claudia De Brito echoed those sentiments and stressed the importance of reaching out to the community and, in turn, giving the media, both traditional and online, positive and uplifting stories to tell.

Stasha Toncev was keen to underline the value of reaching out to customers for support and feedback, as well as being transparent with them and asking what opening hours and dishes suit their needs best. Additionally, the power of social media as a marketing tool at a time like this was a big talking point during the discussion. Aside from big players like Facebook Live and Instagram Live, the recent surge in popularity of Tik Tok was of particular interest, and Georgie Woollams pointed out its relatively untapped potential as a communications tool for restaurants and F&B businesses.

She also emphasised the significance of recent statistics, which revealed a 27% increase in downloads of the video-sharing app in March, as well as the fact that 80% of Tik Tok’s 3.7 million monthly active users in the UAE are aged between 18 and 34 – key target demographics for many local restaurants and F&B businesses.

If you wish to join the next ‘MERA powered by GRIF’ Zoom webinar on Wednesday, 22nd of April, please email jennifer@themera.org, with “I’m in”, and your name will be added to MERA’s list of supporters to ensure you’re always kept in the loop. You’re also encouraged to visit the Zoom Website and register HERE for the online session. The webinar’s focus will be the results of Mingora’s UAE Restaurant Leaders Survey on the impact of COVID-19 on business and industry. The panel of experts, who will discuss the steps they are taking to move forward during this time of crisis, will include:

  • Simon Ritchie, Editor, Caterer Middle East (*Host)
  • Muhammad Ali Syed, CEO, Mingora
  • Andy Holman, CEO, Eathos
  • Tapan Vaidya, CEO, PJP Investments Group
  • Mert Askin, F&B President, Azadea Group

A platform for collaboration, innovation and education – MERA advocates for sustainability, responsibility and food safety, securing longevity and, ultimately, a better future for the industry.



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