Why is service in many Dubai restaurants the weaker link?
I’ve had a couple of dining experiences in new Dubai restaurants and cafés recently, where whilst the food was in the first case excellent, and the second a little hit and miss, the service was atrocious in both, a comedy of errors to the point of Fawlty-esque. Here’s what transpired:
An imported café and shop concept in Downtown Dubai:
- The waiter spills a fizzy soft drink on the table and leaves without wiping it clean. We have to ask him to wipe it up.
- A jug of rather nice freshly squeezed lemonade is removed from the table before we finish drinking it.
- A pot of tea arrives only half-full.
- A brand renowned for premium tea serves it in coffee cups. I point to another type of coffee cup on an uncleared table that would make a better tea vessel. The waiter brings the dirty cup over (complete with froth spilt down the side and lipstick stains on the rim) and hands it to me. Yes unbelievable. I have to explain that perhaps he can bring me a clean cup, which he does.
- Despite ordering a selection of savoury dishes to share (the Welsh rarebit in particular is exceptional), instead of plates we are presented with coffee saucers to eat off. There is no cutlery on the table, so we end up stealing some from the neighbouring empty table.
- I share my feedback the following day on my social media channels tagging the establishment. No response.
A licensed restaurant and bar in Dubai Marina:
- After being seated and provided with menus, no one comes to take our order. Twenty minutes later, I have to walk inside and ask for service. Still no one comes and ten minutes later I manage to grab a waiter’s attention.
- When we place our order, I specifically ask for the cocktails and edamame first. They get one of the two cocktail orders wrong so they have to go and mix the correct drink leaving one of us without a tipple. The edamame is late and only arrives with the two starters.
- A waitress tries to talk me out of ordering a particular starter – scotch quails eggs to be precise. She says she does not like them and they’re too dry…well of course they are, that’s the nature of the dish. And suggests some yakitori instead. I trust my instinct and order them anyway – they are very good.
- I share my feedback on my social media channels, and in this case it is picked up and I have an email within a few hours from the manager apologising and asking for some more information. They proceed to invite me back but naturally I decline. Well handled.
Now these two cases are not isolated incidents. On many occasions service is an ongoing challenge in Dubai with a severe lack in the fundamentals of service etiquette, menu ignorance, inconsistency and constant upselling. I am just back from a few days in London, where on the contrary service, I always find there, is super slick – attentive without being obtrusive and knowledgeable. A few other pet peeves:
- Waiters remove diners’ plates before all guests at the table have finished. So rude!
- A glass of wine or cocktail is taken away before it’s finished – and then the waiter asks if you’d like another one.
- Repeating the table’s order. Boring and a time-waster. Get it right the first time, we don’t pay good money to help you confirm our order.
So why is service so weak?
- The majority of hotels and restaurants invest in the chef and kitchen team (and the interior design), but less so in maître d’s and service staff. It’s all about a big name chef and the brand above the nicely designed door. Waiters are poorly paid, expected to make ends meet from tips – which unless you’re working for the likes of Zuma and La Petite Maison that turn over tables as fast as you can gulp down ice cold water in the desert, amounts to peanuts. So why should they care about customer service, when ultimately their employer has no care for them? You pay for what you get.
- We often see inexperienced staff hired front of house, which you can argue is fine, everyone needs to start somewhere. But then there is either zero training or very limited training. Or when there is, it’s on the job AFTER the establishment has opened. Hence why I always say here in Dubai, let a place settle in first for a few weeks before venturing there (in my two cases above both establishments had been open a month – the latter even longer). This is a perennial problem caused by owners wanting to see revenue being generated as soon as possible, and not thinking long term. The operators must be strong enough to demand a four week lead-in time for testing, simulations and training. Furthermore, in the transient society we live in, staff come and go so quickly, jumping ship for a few extra dirhams with regular training sessions not slotted in – and hence why inconsistency in service is also prevalent.
- Perhaps a waiter is trained to understand and explain the dishes on a menu – but what if they never eat those dishes – because their employer does not offer it or they much prefer food from their home country? Well there’s only so much explaining they can do when they’re not speaking from the heart or tummy rather.
- The upselling issue is one dictated by the operators of many restaurants and there are only a handful of establishments here with a zero upselling policy. When will restaurants wake up and realise the consumer has smartened up and no longer likes to smell the sell? When you walk into a shop and the assistant trails behind you all the time, you’re just gonna walk out. Well restaurants, wake up, the same applies to you – the more you try to upsell that caviar topped linguine, the less likely we are to order it.
What do you reckon? Do you think service is the weaker link here in Dubai restaurants? And if so, any other reasons?
P.S – these two examples are by no means isolated incidents and hence why I have chosen not to name the establishments in this particular post.