Why is service in many Dubai restaurants the weaker link?

Fawlty Towers

Photo credit to the BBC

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

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.

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64 Responses to “Why is service in many Dubai restaurants the weaker link?”

  1. Johann Z June 4, 2014 at 10:01 am

    You have hit the nail on the head …… So much is invested in the ‘Name’ (Chef or Brand) but very little in the service delivery and this often spoils (if not ruins) the whole dining experience. As Dubai strives to prepare for the Expo hopefully restaurant operators will realise the ‘folly of their ways’ and take the necessary action to raise the standards of service.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 6:35 pm

      Thanks Johann. I think it’s more really because of the lack of a service culture here given the primarily expat population unlike European countries. You would have thought by now these issues would have been addressed, so am not sure the appeal of Expo2020 will have any effect, but we can live in hope.

  2. Mark June 4, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Couldn’t agree more, unfortunately it won’t change as long as you have people coming here and looking for the short term buck, it all boils down to one word “Greed”.
    Someone should create a governing body for these types of establishments to make sure that the staff are trained before they can be employed, we pay 5* prices for less than 2* service in most restaurants, I believe one of the key metrics to fixing this issue is to allow the staff to earn their money from tips and not to include it on the bill, not to share it among their colleagues and not for the managers to take, they will soon learn that providing an exceptional service will provide them with a decent livable wage and they would be proud of it, they would also serve you with a smile.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      A governing body with strict service standards is a good idea Mark. As for the tips, that could be a service standard metric. Even when it is added on the bill, many establishments, hotel chains in particular do not pass the service charge onto the employee, reserving it for ‘team building activities’ – very naughty and unethical frankly!

      • Mark June 5, 2014 at 9:38 am

        This is where the problem is, the staff doing all the work don’t get rewarded directly in their pockets, if they did and there was a lower base salary with the risk factor “tips” to consider we could see a far better service been offered by individuals. It’s a real shame that you do have a great waiter/waitress and you want to reward them that it doesn’t go to them or is shared with other non performing individuals.
        The real problem here is how to change this behavior…

  3. Sarah Walton June 4, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Totally agree with every point, but have another perspective on one of the final ones.
    One of my pet peeves is when an imported venue goes gangbusters at opening, shipping in staff from the original venue to make it all ‘authentic’. Then a month after opening, they all go home and you are left with an untrained local workforce who were probably sitting in the shadows watching for a month but not allowed to touch anything. They have already forgotten all the efficient systems the original staff put in place, don’t have a clue what’s on the menu, and sometimes can’t even speak English properly (Yes, I know we’re not in England, but English is the first language here, and they can’t speak Arabic regardless). Together with that, they are scared stiff of management who will probably dock their pay if they admit to making a mistake, meaning that problems never get resolved.
    Happens at all levels, from places like Toko (went back last week and it took 35 minutes for them to get a drink to my table so didn’t even bother to eat) to Cheesecake factory. Sometimes it’s better to go in early before they have time to fluff it up.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      Good point Sarah. In fact there are many cases in particular with imported brands, where service staff are shipped in for a year’s contract on good packages, nice accommodation etc and then a year later they are replaced with cheaper local hire staff. No surprise it all goes down hill. Whether for a month or a year, neither are acceptable.

  4. Susan June 4, 2014 at 11:56 am

    My pet peeve is waiting staff removing plates before everyone is finished. It drives me crazy, it’s so rude and completely unnecessary so why do they all do it? I’ve been known to have a tug of war with a waiter over an empty plate! And I totally agree, they are so baldly paid why should they care? It’s the old thing about training – if you don’t do it your best people will leave, because there’s always a demand for good people. And your bad people will stay, and now they don’t even have any good role models!

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      True Susan and on your last point – the lack of good role models is not helped by a country with a zero service culture (unlike European countries) making the industry non-aspirational.

  5. Sandmama June 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    My pet peeve is removing plates or glasses without asking. There is nothing so annoying as trying to savor a drink or the last bit of your meal only to have it whipped out from under your hand. Why ‘may I clear that for you?’ is so impossible here, I have no clue, but it is such a nuisance!

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      Seems to be everyone’s pet peeve Sandmama! You’d think restaurants would rectify it by now…

  6. Kristyna June 4, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Service in Dubai…never ending story… I can’t wait when great service will be the norm and the opposite will shock us! I believe that what would really help will be the change of the employement structure/visa system for FOH staff.
    When you are in Europe, most of the staff is paid per hour – if you are good you make decent living and working extra hours or during holidays is well compensated.
    Alowing people to work part time while studying or have other jobs would mix up the staff demographic. Changing the visa policy, so you can have young people from abroad coming for a gap year…however if it means they will be cramped into small room with 3 other strangers, not being able to see and enjoy Dubai as they are living far away from the centre and can’t afford taxi it would be hard to get “volunteers”.
    Saying that, the managment would still have to make time and be dedicated to training the staff. It is so common that trainings get cancelled because of meetings or simply the manager is not able to train well.
    Most of the front staff hardly ever go and eat in a restaurant – either good or bad – to experience how service can make such a difference.
    I could be going on about it forever (which I already had – sorry), but that’s why is important to continue with the reviews and giving constructive feedback – such as yours Foodiva. Not just like been there, ate this or that and did not like the service.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 7:03 pm

      You should have written this post Kristyna or I should have interviewed you! Completely agree, a more flexible visa policy to allow part-time/ holiday work would help raise standards. Terrible about cancelling training sessions – that’s the equivalent of running out of potatoes for instance! Well I think the more we all talk/ write/ comment can only help…it can’t get any worse can it?!

      • Kristyna June 5, 2014 at 10:52 am

        Thank you Foodiva for your trust and you are right – more we talk about the issues in the service sector better it will become.
        I agree with Rob that customers can be very difficult and many times come with the expectations of bad service. In general during your shift as a waiter you come across different types of customers and it is not just the quiet one, talkative or the one in bad mood. You have to be pretty flexible in your approach and at times bite your tongue and hold the tears when customers are angry or rude. However more confident you are in your job, easier it becomes to deal with all types of guests. But confidence is gained only through training when you know, you have the knowledge about your menu, you practice your skills and played enough scenarios out. That needs time and cost money and if the restaurants are looking to stay around for a while will do best to follow that.

  7. Kelly June 4, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    It is so annoying to pay exhorbitant prices on a meal and the service is bad.
    When one goes to a restaurant, one ecpects the perfect experience: good meal, efficient friendly service and of course the perfect ambiance.
    Restaurants spend so much money on deco and they forget the training of staff.
    And I do hate it when waiters remove plates before everybody is finished.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm

      It all comes down to the price of your meal….if it’s expensive then the experience has to tick all boxes service included as you said Kelly. But if I go to a little joint or beach shack, am going for the good food so am not that bothered if the service isn’t top notch as long as it’s friendly.

  8. Julia June 4, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    The customer experience has to be fantastic end to end! It’s the same everywhere in the world. We had water spilled on one of our guests at a very famous high profile restaurant in the West End, London, frequented by celebs. The difference is do they know how to recover when something goes wrong? In the case of the London experience, absolutely! Dubai still has some maturing to do in understanding the science of Customer Experience Management! In summary, get it right in the first place by mapping out the experience and understanding the process/ behaviour required and when something does go wrong….over delight the customer! This is my passion!

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      Very true Julia – customer service handling is crucial in turning a negative experience into a good one. In my case, example number 2 was well handled. But that’s no excuse for not getting it right in the first place. Agh we have a long way to go…perhaps you should offer your training services 😉

  9. The Man in the White Hat June 4, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    A recent favourite on the language front… Not so long ago I went to one of top new(ish) Spanish restaurants in Dubai, which had imported all-Spanish staff, and after three failed attempts to ask where the toilets were in English, I switched to “donde esta el bano” and only then was finally understood.

    I largely agree with all points – and with Sarah’s additional point about staff turnover after the first month or so after opening. But the main complaint, as raised by so many people here, is staff taking food or drink away before you’ve finished. Another one not raised here so far (or maybe I just missed it) is super-attentive service that suddenly vanishes when it comes time to pay.

    I can’t, alas, go into the details, but my inside source tells me that training is a problem in the hospitality industry across the UAE. Even where highly qualified trainers are on the support staff, clients don’t always make the best use of them.

    Of the Dubai restaurants I’ve eaten at so far this year, only Izel seemed to get service right across the board; friendly but not too friendly, effective and efficient, knowledgeable about both the food and drinks menu, and all excellent English speakers despite largely being imported from Latin America. While we’re all having a (justified) whinge, I did think it worth mentioning one institution that can get it right!

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      Your Spanish lingo tale is comical Mr White Hat…must be Manuel from Fawlty Tours! Good additional points. You’re right about Izel – I will add a few more who are consistently good in my opinion: Zuma and LPM who I mentioned, Rivington Grill, The Ivy (both from the same Caprice/ Jumeirah stable), La Serre, Tomo, Q’bara, Reflets, Prime 68 and Elia…in no particular order!

  10. Dave Reeder June 4, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Hit the nail on tne head here. I think the real issue is low pay – there is little loyalty amongst service staff because many of them will be prepared to jump jobs for another Dhs 200 a month. That seems a petty sum to us but when you’re remitting money home, it all makes a difference. I believe Kristyna is absolutely right when she points to the fact that service staff don’t eat out in the kinds of places they work in, so their frame of reference is a canteen.

    Some places are excellent, however – Reflets is exemplary, for example. My worst experience has to be the bar at Dubai Airport – uncleared tables and a large pile of sick on the floor. There is no excuse for unclean and unwelcoming surroundings.

    One suggestion: when you have bad or good experiences, tell the management about it! I remember being very impressed with a waiter at Al Hambra – sorry, hate the word ‘server’ – and making it a point to let the head of F&B at Jumeirah about it. He said it was great to get feedback so they could identify future management potential…

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 7:29 pm

      Yep agree with Reflets Dave and see my response to Mr White Hat above with some other goodies. That’s awful about Dubai airport…think am gonna be sick now! If I am dining at leisure and not reviewing then yes I will complain and will praise where credit is due – but otherwise I am trying to be as discrete as possible. And anyhow they will read about it…good or bad!

      • Dave Reeder June 4, 2014 at 7:44 pm

        Interesting that in this month’s What’s On, Marco PW rates service above food as making a dining experience great.

        Our problem here in Dubai seems to translate to this: there’s either over-attentive service or non-existent service. One of the greatest joys for me in eating out in Paris – apart from the food and the wine! – is the professionalism, the attention to detail and the almost balletic approach to service. In the most crowded bistro, everything works like a well-oiled machine. That lays the solid foundation for the meal in my view.

        As an aside, a round table that we held last year for The Pro Chef ME revealed that some large hotel chains go on fishing trips to Asia to hire large numbers of staff, but critically don’t include chefs or F&B professionals in the hiring process. So from the start you get a mismatch between HR’s priorities and those of F&B.

        And my number one pet hate, slightly ahead of a wine cooler just out of reach, is the mechanical instruction to ‘Enjoy!’…

        • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 11:44 am

          Well MPW does have a point Dave! You know how I feel about service and atmosphere versus food. When you’re paying top whack, they are all equally important – and hence why I wanted to get this post out.

          • Dave Reeder June 5, 2014 at 2:01 pm

            I’m sure you remember the meal we had last year as part of a restaurant award judging? More staff than diners and one of the best examples of poor service in a 5-star I can recall!

  11. Neelu June 4, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Spot on!

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Thanks Neelu!

  12. Rob June 4, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    While all of this points are correct they might not be the main reasons for it. First of all most of the restaurants especially does licensed ones charge you a 10% service charge. This service charge should go to staff working there right? Wrong, most hotels and restaurants do not pay the full 10% to their staff they pay even less than 3% of it! the rest they keep it as revenue. In hotels that 3% gets splitted among all the hotel staff making them earn a small quantity of what you they should get which translates into small salary, small tips, small service charge. You cannot attract talent like that. Second a lack of tipping culture from the clients. If you walk to any restaurant for example in New York you have to tip at least 15%, if you don’t you probably get denied the entrance next time or won’t be served. In Dubai it’s rare whoever gives a tip, they see it as a reward for the service that they give which shouldn’t, since the service was provided and even when the service is appropriate they still don’t tip. Just take a brunch for example, huge tables of drunk British which the servers have to attend for hours and in the end they get 100 dhs if they are lucky at the end. You can’t get professionals to serve you this way. Finally the client itself. While the service in Dubai it’s inconsistent and sometimes bad, the clients being serve are no better. For some reason most of the clientele going to nice restaurants and bars feels superior to the staff serving them, especially when they come from certain Asian countries. The staff is constantly mistreated, disrespect, abused verbally, etc. as a result you get servers that are scared, defensive and unwilling to accept feedback and responsibility. They are so scared to say no to a guest that just don’t do it even when it can be done. If you combine all of this factors you get that the few professional servers that are around leave because they won’t tolerate being lied by their employer, paid what they serve and get the treat they demand. It’s not only the restaurants responsibility but also the clientele to educate themselves and invest more on their dinners by tipping accordingly and being polite to the staff.

    • FooDiva June 4, 2014 at 7:46 pm

      Valid points Rob. I just responded to Mark’s comment which reflects a little of what you are saying too: ‘Even when service is added on the bill, many establishments, hotel chains in particular do not pass the service charge onto the employee, reserving it for ‘team building activities’ – very naughty and unethical frankly!’

      I am not sure I agree with the US tipping culture – I agree we should tip if service is excellent but in the US it’s expected when it’s dire which is unacceptable. I will always tip here (and in other countries) if the service impresses…obviously can’t speak for everyone else.

      As for the superiority point, yes I see that regularly – but it’s brought on by bad customer service across the board (not just restaurants – banks, telecom operators are guilty too). It’s a chicken and egg situation I agree. But shouldn’t staff be trained to handle customers like that especially in this country? Food for thought 🙂 Thanks so much for raising some good points.

  13. Garry W June 5, 2014 at 9:35 am

    It seems that what you have written is what so many people are thinking. Yes there are some very good restaurants with excellent service but they seem to be in the minority.
    One thing that really annoys me is waiters continuously filling up wine glasses when there is no need and then asking the whole table (and not the person who ordered and tasted the wine) if they want another bottle.
    It would be great if some of the Restaurant operators would post comments from their perspective. They probably will not as they may well agree with what has been written – the question is will they take corrective action and tell the world???

    • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 11:49 am

      Well they either as you said Garry top up the vino when it’s not necessary or are not around when your glass is empty. So frustrating! Some of the comments here are from front of house operators, but I’d like to see more…and yes some action taken.

  14. Mark June 5, 2014 at 9:53 am

    As nearly all have pointed out that the #1 peeve is the removal of plates or glasses is what I believe stems from this melting pot of cultures here. When we grew up as kids and what we pass on to our kids was a strict rule to put your knife and fork together on your plate to show that you have had enough or finished.
    What I see here is that many nationalities do not do this and what I have witnessed many times is patrons being very loud and rude to staff to take their plates when their plates are not empty (very common here to see such wasted food, especially during buffets, brunches and iftahs but that’s another discussion and peeve) “how are they to know?”, so sometimes you have to believe that they take the plate out of fear of been treated like dirt, embarrassment and depending on the establishment even their job.

    • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm

      Fair point about cultural differences when it comes to table manners Mark. But irrelevant of that, staff should be trained on correct service etiquette and if they can see the WHOLE table has finished and is no longer eating (despite the knife/ fork not being placed together) then that’s when they should remove. It all boils down to empowering staff with confidence – a point Kristyna raised too. Loving the discussion on this post!

  15. Elena June 5, 2014 at 10:08 am

    So many good points. I am also annoyed with what Garry W mentioned about filling up of the wine glasses.
    I wish that restaurant operators read this post and all comments raised here for the improvement of their establishments.

    • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Some are commenting Elena, let’s hope more do 🙂

  16. Melissa June 5, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I often experience going out and feeling that while the food was more than excellent I still feel like I had a bad experience because of the service. I work in an office for a furniture store now, but know the sales staff well and I know why they don’t give excellent service, but that’s a long talk, but I try to remind myself of these things when I’m out.

    One restaurant where I received nice service was in Cajun Restaurant, Novotel. Our waiter was very kind, knowledgeable about the wine menu and the different kind of meats and dishes. He spoke English well and only removed our dishes when we were actually finished. He came to the table a little too much maybe, to ask about the food, about the wine, maybe he came 5 times. But I could look past that 😉 I would go there again anytime.

    • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      I’ve only tried Cajun for a tasting so I still need to get there Melissa. You’re not the first to mention the good service there either. Over-attentiveness is an issue here, but I agree you can overlook the odd discrepancy if everything else is wow.

  17. Emma June 5, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Having eaten all over the world at all levels of dining experience from street food to 7 star, I have to sadly conclude that the UAE has some of the worst service I have come across. Now I love this city that I call home but, service is far from it’s strong suit. Styles of service vary from place to place understanably if your having a business lunch in Zuma you want it fast but not rushed if you having a romantic meal at Peirchic your happy to wait take your time and enjoy the view, but the major consistant problem I keep finding here is a lack of knowledge and even worse a lack of care, wait staff just don’t give a darn it would appear, about the menu, about the ingredients, cooking method ect ect. One example i’ll give, and this took place in a “international, high end” resturant is when my husband ordered a steak that came with a mushroom sauce, not being a big fan of mushroom sauce he asked if the chef could do him a peppercorn sauce as he had on previous visits, the waiter looked perplexed, walked off and came back with a jar of whole grain mustard, we explained again and instead of even asking the chef he just shock his head and said no. At this point I lost patience went to the kitchen window and ask the chef myself, who said that it was no problem,had the waiter been new to the establishment I could maybe have understood the confusion a little, but he had been there at least a year he had served us on a number of other occassions and the husband had ordered the same thing, the waiter just seemed like he didn’t care at all anymore, surfice to say we did not tip that guy.
    What a shame that staff are not looked after enough by there employers that they stop caring about what they do.

    • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      OMG what a terrible incident Emma – quite unbelievable to the point of comical! That really boils down to lack of training and bad pay probably hence the careless attitude – that ‘waiter’ should have been in a back office shuffling papers not front of house.

  18. Rachel June 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    As always spot on with your observations and restaurant reviews, keep up the good work Foodiva.

    Recently I was in a deli, one of those where you pay a lot more because they claim to have organic food etc.
    But when asked what the main dish of today was, the lady in the deli couldn’t tell me and had to ask the chef, he was also not entirely sure.
    I told her then that I needed to know what was in the dish because what if I am allergic to something in it ? (not that I am but I was trying to proof a point) still no answer.
    Then another colleague was staring at his laptop while other people were waiting to be served, the girl who helped me started doing the work of her colleague who was still staring at his laptop, while the place wasn’t full.
    I come from a hospitality management background so I couldn’t help but saying something to the guy behind his laptop and asking him to come and help the customers, basically I started doing the work of a manager as clearly no manager was around.
    But I felt bad as I was a customer after all.
    I did write to the owner of this deli, a lady who claims she is the best this and best that, but of course no answer as either they are too proud and don’t want to hear any comments or they simply don’t care as they think the business will run on its own in any case.
    After this I seriously thought about setting up a company who trains staff in F&B outlets, hotels etc. but then thought that they are just not interested in paying for having their staff properly trained.
    I think that is the whole problem here is that they don’t want to invest in quality staff, only invest in a Michelin star chef, maybe because it is still a new thing and it will get more awareness once the market is more mature.

    • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Thanks so much Rachel. I have a feeling I know which deli-cum-cafe you are referring to, and if so that does surprise me – but as we know consistency is an issue here in particular with service. You bring up a valid point – the lack of managerial presence and action in establishments here. There’s one restaurant review I posted about earlier this year, where plenty of management were running round, but when we’re ready to take our order, the manager passes the buck to a waiter. Why can’t he take it himself? Why is he there?! Onwards and upwards 🙂 Thanks for sharing your example.

  19. Sheikha June 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I think this is a disgrace what you have written. Yes we all know that service here isn’t so great all the time but compared to most countries we have a life of luxury here with every need catered to.
    These people work long hours for a very small salary..
    you should think on before you write such vile articles.

    • FooDiva June 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      I am sad to read that you feel that way Sheikha, but am glad you’ve shared your opinion here. It’s because of the point you yourself make, “These people work long hours for a very small salary..” that I have written this post, which I should clarify has been in the making for over a month, so I can assure you it’s well thought through. But I digress, service staff should be better compensated whether through a basic salary or a balanced tip structure as mentioned throughout various comments here – and coupled with regular training and good management we would see an improvement in service which would positively impact their lifestyle. Now wouldn’t that be ideal? Thanks for dropping by with a comment – I appreciate each and every one.

  20. Tina June 5, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Restaurants can’t charge the prices they are charging for the service they are providing. It makes me not even want to try new places. My pet peeves are not bringing drinks right away (what places charge here for water could be a subject for one of your articles?), and “auctioning off”the food. I mean when the server comes up with the dishes and starts asking who ordered what.
    I am glad you wrote this piece and I hope managers in hospitality read it.

    • FooDiva June 6, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Thanks Tina – yes some operators are reading and commenting. Let’s hope more do! That’s the issue Tina – when you go to a high-end licensed restaurant here and pay top whack (more so than in Europe because of the inflated alcohol costs) you expect service to be slick. Now the latter can be excused slightly at a cheap and cheerful joint. I get annoyed when there’s no local water on the menu…and you’re right a good topic for a future post 🙂

  21. liljuma (Lina Juma) June 5, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Wow, so many comments! I do think you were spot-on on a lot of points in your post. In fact, I have to share a story that happened to me a few months ago. I went to a cafe one morning, and ordered their version of the Eggs Benedict for the first time. Being the skeptic that I am, I asked them to keep the hollandaise on the side (just to play it safe, I’ve had horrible hollandaise sauce before). Anyway, the waitress eventually turns up with my poached eggs drowning with hollandaise sauce. I obviously pointed out that I had specifically requested the sauce on the side, the response I got was ‘the chef said the eggs wont taste good if the sauce is not on top’… Needless to say, I haven’t been back there since. Gestures like this tend to leave a lasting impression on me, I’d rather go some place where I can actually get what I’m asking/ paying for.

    I suppose we can point a million fingers as to why the service we receive at restaurants is the way it is, but we cant deny that some restaurants somehow have gotten it right. Perhaps it boils down to providing the right training and the right incentives to help prevent high turnover, who knows!

    Unfortunately, rude customers do exist, and the fact of the matter is, you don’t have to be a waiter/waitress to encounter rude clientele, they’re all over the place and service providers (which probably makes up a large portion of the expats here in Dubai) are compelled to just put up with them. I’m not saying its ok, but perhaps the right training can go a long way in handling such customers.

    • FooDiva June 6, 2014 at 10:32 am

      The old adage ‘customer is king’ clearly didn’t apply to your experience Lina. How hard is it to put the hollandaise on the side…in fact many cafes do that and it looks better too. Many have got it right – I reeled off some restaurants in an earlier response to Mr White Hat. And when you look at their front of house staff, they are experienced, well trained, better paid and its clear they love their job. But sadly those restaurants are the minority. Good, sustained training and empowering staff with confidence would help to manage rude customers which as you said applies to any industry.

  22. Marta June 6, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Could not agree more!!!
    Especially the “removing plates before everyone at the table has finished eating” is something that really annoys me!

    I think in many cases restaurants’ management don’t even know some of these basic rules so it is impossible for them to train the staff…. Otherwise it is just pure laziness….so i prefer to think it is a lack of knowledge…which is a shame as well, and should certainly be fixed.

    a bad service can ruin even the best dining experience!

    • FooDiva June 6, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      Goes back to not investing in a decent, experienced restaurant manager – all efforts into the chef and kitchen team. I so agree Marta, service is as important as food especially when paying top whack. At least in you’re case you’re in control of the front of house too 🙂

  23. IshitaUnblogged June 8, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Removing plates before the guest is finished eating – the *pettest* peeve of all! All points raised are so valid. Also, the explanations offered as to why the service could be like that. Plus, every restaurateur conplains that the turn over for the staff is very fast… so there’s no loyalty towards the restaurant philosophy that each can internalise and convince customers accordingly. I still haven’t written about The Farm – and I have to say that had been my worst experience ever. No apologies,no replies on Twitter.

    • FooDiva June 11, 2014 at 9:14 am

      I must admit I’ve returned to the Farm since my review and the service there is shockingly bad Ishita. A classic example of not investing in staff/ training past the opening period.

  24. Ed July 10, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    This post with the comments make an excellent vacation read! Much appreciate points raised for both industry and customers alike to learn to pay attention to in order to further develop the f&b scene! Would very much appreciate more of your insight on the point you made on upselling. There is certainly two sides to that coin and others opinions always make for an interesting reflection. Thoughts?

  25. Matt August 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    In my experience (nine years of eating in the city) there seems to be a pattern that follows with many restaurants.

    1) They open well, the staff have been brought in from overseas and you find that your waiter is Scottish, your sommelier is German, your hostess is American, etc and it’s obvious they’ve all been well trained.

    2) After about a year, sometimes less, those staff no longer work they and they’ve been replaced with Filipino or Indian staff who have not been trained very well. I know it’s almost a Dubai cliche to pick those two nationalities, but I know for a fact that staff from those countries are in plentiful supply here and will do the job for less. Hence why they’re hired.

    3) Suddenly the staff can’t answer your questions about dishes on the menu and all the other issues people have mentioned on here.

    The question is why do restaurants do this?

    Sure they’re saving money, but they are lowing quality. And they’re certainly not lowering prices at the same time. So that place we used to love is not as good and so we stop going.

    Of course it’s not all restaurants that do this but I’ve noticed that Jumeirah restaurants tend to do this quite a lot. Open strongly, get the decent reviews in the press, then cut costs and let quality drop.

    • FooDiva August 26, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      All valid points Matt. Interesting one about Jumeirah though as I tend to find their standards of service are usually higher and more consistent long term. Now that they have launched the Restaurant Group, it will be interesting to see how those restaurants differentiate from the hotel-operated bunch. Thanks for dropping in with a comment 🙂

  26. Marlena February 5, 2015 at 8:41 am

    I am normally quite patient and understanding. Last time we wanted to go for a special meal we went to Prime 68.
    Greeted nicely by the the hostess and taken to the table. The good service ended there, just to mention a few issues, also with the kitchen.
    We got a free sample starter that was a carrot soup with a hint of curry. I never ever want to eat curry in a high end steak house. After that we got another freebie, as our food would take a bit longer than expected. It was a small duck dish that also tasted of curry…
    Main course the steak and sides were beautiful and that’s what we came for and the view was there.
    For desert I opted for the selection of cheese. When I asked what cheese was on the cheese trolley. The waiter said he couldn’t pronounce them. He was totally clueless and pointed at three he thought I should try.
    Every time we wanted a top up we had to wave and get the waiters attention.
    Red wine was served to warm.
    Beautiful restaurant with tasty steak, but poor service will not make us return. Paying + 500 dhs per person there has to be some standards.

    • FooDiva February 7, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks Marlena. That does surprise me with Prime 68 as I’ve always had excellent service there but I will pass your feedback onto JW Marriott Marquis. Lack of menu knowledge is an ongoing challenge here.

  27. Angry_Avocado March 26, 2016 at 11:52 am

    Interesting post. The service in Dubai is atrocious. From hotels, to bars and even restaurants as it has been mentioned here. It is not possible to mimic the west because there are laws here that do not allow it. Implementing a tipping culture is not viable because once again it is a cultural thing and to be honest it is not a solution for all since it works mainly for anglo-saxons.

    The main issue with Dubai is the fact that this city has become a huge franchise. There is very little original bars and restaurants that bring something new or original. A franchise is a proven formula but it might not work everywhere.

    The low pay is an issue that should be solved by management and not by the customer. In most latin cultures for example service is impeccable and tipping only happens when the person serving the customer went the extra mile. When I mean “the extra mile” I mean serving perfection!

    The bar scene is another problem since most people working behind the counter are not qualified to do so. They lack the soft skills for it and they lack the cocktail making knowledge . The people at the door behave like they are making us a favour letting us in and everyone in general judges what a customer orders and how much it is being spent. Compare this with other bar scenes in Europe, South America or Asia where price/quality is incommensurably better and service is there to actually help you have fun instead of annoying you.

    Lack of vision is the main issue here and this, of course, is motivated by greed.

    When customers splurge their money on leisure and food they expect to be provided with an experience. An experience that matches the franchise’s fancy name. Instead we get serviced by singing pinoy, angry eastern-europeans, aggressive balkan, distracted nepalese and clumsy indian, which end up ruining our leisurely experience around bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels. I mentioned nationalities because as we all know there are specific stereotypical roles for certain nationalities around here.

    The only solution is to train staff and pay it accordingly in order to retain it. It is important to make sure that you understand your staff’s cultural background before you decide where he/she should be working. I don’t eat at restaurants for the fancy chef or the amazing lobster or the decor. I eat at a restaurant for the holistic experience specially when Im getting overpriced alcohol and overpriced food. It is important to remember that Dubai does not have a single restaurant on the michelin guide and importing award whining chefs is definitely not good enough.

  28. Dominik MJ January 29, 2017 at 4:55 am

    Hm… the article states valid points… but there is also one more thing, what wasn’t taken into consideration: there are a lot of restaurants in other cities, other countries, other continents, which have exactly the same issues.

    Well – not necessary – in the US, you are usually pressurize to have your dinner in a record time, because the waiter wants to turn around the table, because he gets (a lot) more tips.

    In France, a lot of waiters are snotty and arrogant… or in the province, they might add red wine to white wine if you ask for a rosé (true story).

    In Germany, you won’t get a smile of the waiter, even if your life would depend on it.

    …and so on.

    I just see it as Dubai symptom that we all want to have everything perfect. But things are expensive in Dubai – and (like everywhere), the customer isn’t really willing to spend more (if you compare the prices e.g. 20 years ago and today, prices in hospitality grew of all industry the least).

  29. Tim August 25, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    I’ve traveled the world, and will say that the service in Dubai is the absolute worst that I’ve experienced across Europe, to Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East, and North America. Abu Dhabi is also slow, but they’re at least courteous and attentive. In Dubai, it’s like the staff is walking around as zombies with no ability to see the people at the tables. For example, I’m sitting at a cafe now and two waiters are staring at a chalkboard for the past 5 minutes, have yet to write anything on it, and have tables full of customers looking their way. This adds on to that I just walked out of a restaurant after waiting over 45 minutes without the waiter speaking to me (this is after I even attempted to wave him down).

    It’s honestly so bad that it impacts my desire to return to Dubai when in UAE on business. The dining is too expensive to deal with such a horrible service.

    Training is a must!

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