Managers of stand-alone bars and restaurants in Dubai are concerned that laws banning the display of alcohol may lead to a slump in business.
Outlets which are licensed to serve alcohol but located outside hotel buildings were recently notified that it was against the law to display liquor behind the bar.
Staff have since had to tint glass doors on fridges, move entire displays and even re-design whole bar areas, though some bars are still waiting on formal notification from Dubai Police before they take action.
Managers say the rules are destroying the atmosphere of bars and restaurants and could cause a dip in profits.
“Our customers don’t just come here to dine, they come here to socialise,” said Hari Haran, the manager of expat drinking hotspot Dubai Marina Yacht Club.
“The alcohol display creates an ambience in the restaurant. Nowadays most guests don’t like to sit at the table and order they like to come to the bar. People like to see the bottles, it gives a good look to the bar and restaurant.
He added that people would still be able to go to the bar to order drinks, but without a display, it would look bare.
“The whole area will look empty, and it won’t look like a bar, it will look like an empty room, it won’t be the same. There might be a bit of a slump in business.”
The sale of alcohol is strictly monitored in a number of Middle Eastern countries including Algeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Rules in the UAE, which allow alcohol to be served in hotel bars and other licensed establishments, are among the most lenient, helping the Gulf state to retain a large expatriate community.
The recent clamp down is part of the ongoing government agenda to restrict alcohol consumption out of respect for Islamic culture.
But as the summer months close in and Ramadan looms, restaurateurs are already battling to make a profit - expats fleeing for their home countries and tourism levels falling.
Bar and restaurant managers fear the laws could exaggerate the problem, making it difficult for them to sell expensive drinks.
“In a popular bar you have over 100 products. It’s hard to sell things you can’t see and the list is too long for somebody to go through every time,” says Gaurav Bhosle, manager of Apres in the Mall of the Emirates.
“There will be a slight decrease [in business] because now you can’t display the premium or high end bottles. If the customers can’t see these, they will just order whatever is on the first or second page of the menu.”
He adds that the bar feels different now that alcohol is not in view.
“We have had to pull out the whole display and put in bottles of sparkling water, glassware, energy drinks, red bull a few non-alcoholic cordials, to make the bar counter look more fancy.
“But everyone finds it strange.”
Analysts say the laws could indeed reduce the amount of impulse buying and potentially take some business away from the stand alone outlets, though the changes are no surprise for the industry.
“It doesn’t really surprise me that Dubai is becoming more sensitive to Islamic culture,” said Guy Wilkinson, partner and general manager at the Dubai-based hospitality consultancy Viability.
“Regional tourism (from the GCC) is a very important source of income for Dubai, it could be to do with that.
“I suspect that there will be a lobbying group who might ask for a repeal of the law or some half measure.”
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