An Eye on West Africa


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. Okay, so Johannesburg beat us to it, but that restaurant is a long way away, and this one is right here, in Victoria Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I went to the opening party of the Café recently, and the place was buzzing, just like any other Hard Rock Café anywhere in the world. I don’t mean to sound surprised, but to see an investor taking the plunge into this market at a time when the economy isn’t as strong as it has been is a welcome surprise.

In 1971, two Americans living in London, who wanted to enjoy a good hamburger, opened the first Hard Rock Café, an American-style diner, in an old Rolls Royce dealership in Piccadilly. The chain began its worldwide expansion in 1982, with locations in Canada, America, France and Germany. It has since opened franchises in Central and Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, the Far East, and the Caribbean.

There are a couple of small tweaks from the original operation, to take the local environment into account; the menu does offer up a few Nigerian dishes, and the music is more hip-hop than New Orleans blues. 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 exciting. Even if just 1% of the total population is your target market, that’s a lot of people who like to eat out. But as puts it, “Lagos’ least strong point is its restaurant scene – it would seem that all the best cooking in town is taking place at home!” That’s a bit extreme and don’t let my (Nigerian) wife hear you say that. Lagos has come a long way since I first arrived here 25 years ago, when the only international restaurants outside of hotels were Chinese or Lebanese. Today, most cuisines can be found in town, many more 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 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 and, which enable people to avoid the traffic. They get pretty good reviews online, and the delivery charges are typically minimal ($1 or $2 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 supported by customers. I have noticed that their menus can be pretty similar, and the prices charged are over the top for what you receive, for both the food and the experience.

At the other end of the spectrum, Lagos is famous for its street food, found on every corner, with impromptu fires and barbecue set-ups serving big helpings of hot and spicy food for a dollar or two. Suya is one of the staples, strips of beef or chunks of chicken, with a special spice from the North, plus rocket-fuel strength ‘pepe’ on the side. Then there’s fried yam, plantain and cow hide (recipe – boil for hours and hours, and serve with pepe), all heavily spiced and filling. Now, a chef from Senegal has opened a restaurant, Nok by Alara, presenting street food as fine dining, appealing to the growing middle class who are seeking something better-presented, and are prepared to pay for it.

It’s not easy operating in Nigeria. Much of the food of the quality you need to operate a high-end restaurant cannot be imported, and many items are not made or 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 is hard to find, and tend to be transient, just passing through the industry, constantly on the lookout for a cushy nine-to-five job. Taxes are high, and there are numerous licenses required to operate an establishment within the law. There is even a Merriment Tax levied by local governments on anyone holding a party in Lagos State, of about $50 for each gathering. 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 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
MD: W Hospitality Group