Food and faith

Ramadan poses unique operational challenges for F&B outlets in Dubai.
Food and faith
By Administrator
Fri 05 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

Ramadan poses unique operational challenges for F&B outlets in Dubai.

What changes will you be making to the standard operating procedures of your outlets during the Holy Month?

Robin Thornton:

Very little will actually change, other than the obvious - screening restaurant areas from public view and removing all alcohol - it's actually a very busy time of year for us as we normally conduct refurbishments as well.

Wally Jubran:

Our operating procedures will be as normal. Only non-alcoholic beverages will be served prior to 8pm and the entrance to Spikes will be cloaked from sunrise to sunset.

Till Martin:

The Market Café will operate as usual during Ramadan this year.

All other outlets remain closed during the day and open for dinner only.

Marcus Gregs:

A great deal of changes are to be made.

Our all-day-dining restaurant, Fountain, is to be totally closed for the duration of Ramadan.

La Veranda will open in the evening as usual but will be closed for lunch.

Somerset is open in the day as the designated smoking area, but it will only serve tea, coffee and soft drinks.

Iftar will be in the Layali tent daily at sunset.

Khaldoun Shindi:

All public areas will be free from F&B and there will be no alcoholic beverages on display - these will only be served after sunset.

Also, there will be no live entertainment in any of Raffles Dubai's outlets.

Carlo Cirone:

Spirits and hard beverages will only be served from 7pm onwards in Flavours on Two, Teatro, Long's Bar and Wraps Lobby café. The operation will start after the breaking of the fast.

How do guests react to the limited F&B offerings during Ramadan?

Thornton

:

I think guests react favourably. We have a large choice and therefore get no negative feedback.

In fact, with the opportunity to take Iftar, I think it adds to the theatre of Arabia.

Jubran:

We find that regular and first time guests to the club during the Holy Month, are extremely understanding and respectful of the beliefs and tradition of Ramadan.

We find that, on the whole, our guests genuinely enjoy the opportunity to experience this time and gain an insight into another culture.

Martin:

Our guests usually know that there is a limited food and beverage offer during Ramadan throughout the day and respect local customs.

International visitors are well-informed by our employees and all our guests appreciate the additional F&B offers like the Iftar buffet and the Laylati tent, which allow them to experience the Ramadan atmosphere and a real taste of Arabia.

Gregs:

From my experience, most are understanding and respectful of the Holy Month and, as we have alternative places for people to eat, they will not really be affected.


Most want to try Iftar, and it a great way to introduce tourists to the local culture.

With international visitors we have to be vigilant in public areas as they often want to smoke or drink water.

Shindi:

The international guests in Dubai already have a very respectful understanding for the traditions of the month, and they do actually enjoy the atmosphere as Ramadan gives a touch of tradition to the whole ambiance.

Chris Glaessel:

We face very few challenges with international visitors during the Holy Month. There might be a short adjustment phase for our guests in the first few days, where they have to be more thoughtful about their behaviour in public.

In general, however, there is a widespread understanding amongst our guests, which sometimes even increases to a level of excitement about all of the novelties of the Dubai lifestyle during this period.

What special activities are you offering during Ramadan?

Thornton

:

This year we will be offering a full Iftar buffet in our main all-day-dining restaurant, Al Dana. This targets in-house guests and Dubai residents.

We have four menus available in the ballroom for larger groups, which our sales team are actively promoting to local companies.

Martin:

This year, Grand Hyatt Dubai's ever-popular Laylati Café will again be the highlight of our Ramadan promotion, with a beautifully ornate Ramadan tent on our events lawn.

Guests can choose to sit at a table or recline in a lounge area while enjoying an à la carte menu and, of course, a wide selection of shisha. We offer traditional Arabic cuisine, snacks, special Arabic sweets, fresh juices and Ramadan drinks all within the air-conditioned tent.

In addition, Grand Iftar will be hosted in the Baniyas Ballroom, with a huge menu selection, including a host of pan-Arabic Ramadan cuisine.

Gregs:

Our large ballroom is converted into a traditional Arabic tent called the Layali Tent. It plays host to an authentic Iftar feast, complete with live shawarma stations, ouzi serving and Arabian Peninsula dates.

Oud players provide music, adding to the complete Arabic experience we are trying to create.

We have a real mix of guests during this period but it does tend to be more westerners and Asians that frequent the tent.

Corporate parties are also popular during this period.

Shindi:

We have arranged a very nice selection of Iftar menus, available in our ballroom, and we have created a selected Sohour menu that can be ordered through in-room dining.

We will also create a Ramadan atmosphere outside, overlooking Raffles' Botanical Garden on the terrace, with a cooled area where guests can enjoy all the authentic Ramadan food and beverages, and flavoured shisha.

Azur all-day-dining restaurant will be offering an authentic Ramadan Iftar buffet throughout the whole month, too.

Glaessel:

We offer Iftar in two of our restaurants, as well as in our various function spaces for our corporate clients.


Dunes Café has an Iftar buffet with a wide selection of traditional Middle Eastern food and beverages. This is designed to appeal to individuals, families, small groups and hotel guests.

Meanwhile, Marrakech serves a traditional Moroccan Iftar in the form of a set menu. This approach to breaking the fast is a novelty that we introduced during Ramadan last year. It is considered a healthier option to the Iftar buffets.

Cirone:

Flavours on Two will be serving an Iftar buffet that includes an extensive range of mezzeh, traditional favourites, Ramadan beverages and a dessert selection. Special discounts will be offered for groups and we target families and corporate accounts.

How important are Iftars and other Ramadan activities in terms of generating revenue?

Thornton

:

It's not so much the extra revenue but more the promotion of the destination that is important.

Every major hotel does Iftar - it's important to us to support the city and the culture we live in.

This year we will be asking our guest to donate AED 5 (US $1.36) to support the Dubai Centre for Special Needs as part of our hotel's plan to raise funds to purchase the charity a new bus.

Gregs:

Iftar is important because if we don't capitalise on it we will be at a loss due to the lack of other revenue coming in during Ramadan from other business streams that are usually strong.

Jubran:

As a team, we focus on the guests who are breaking their fast as well as all those who just wish to experience this tradition.

Shindi:

Iftars are important to generate extra revenue, but the aim of having these activities here at Raffles Dubai is mainly to provide the service for our guests.

The guests are expecting a lot from us as this is the first Ramadan since Raffles opened.

Glaessel:

A large number of our guests at Shangri-la Hotel, Dubai are local Arabs or guests from other GCC countries. We want to ensure that we provide adequate opportunities for our guests to break their fast in our restaurants or in their hotel rooms.

At the same time, Iftars and other festive activities offer a great revenue stream. Since dining opportunities are limited and business levels drop during the day, any activities with the right flair, quality of service and F&B after sunset are likely to be very busy.

Cirone:

Our main purpose is to serve the community. We do not focus on generating revenue and profit at this time of year.

What arrangements do you make in advance to ensure everything runs smoothly during Ramadan?

Thornton

:

The Crowne Plaza Dubai runs like a well-oiled machine. We used our experience from last year to improve this year.

We actually start to plan in February each year.

Jubran:

Planning, planning and more planning - from menu creation to liaising with our décor and food and beverage suppliers.

We have regular information sessions with our team, well in advance and during the Holy Month.

Martin:

It's all a question of good organisation prior to Ramadan. For instance, we have to change the rosters and train our staff.


However, we can benefit from five years of experience operating during the Holy Month.

Gregs:

Ramadan meetings start as early as May. What the hotel decides to do affects all departments, from housekeeping to the kitchen, sales to stewarding, so it is crucial we are all on the same page.

Once the general concept for the month is decided, we work on the details of our marketing campaign.

From a kitchen point of view, we start to source the different products and ingredients we need to create an authentic Arabic feast.

The operations start creating the look of the Iftar tent ahead of time, even flying in traditional uniforms from Tunisia.

The sales team helps promote our efforts, while reservations staff take the bookings. It is a real team effort.

Shindi:

We have been preparing for this month for a long time, since you need to look into the sufficient manning of the outlets.

You also need to find suppliers for your food and beverage, sourcing all the Ramadan-specific food items.

We have also put a marketing plan in place that will help us promote the festivities.

Glaessel:

We plan our staffing to ensure that sufficient care is taken of all venues. We also want to ensure that we have employees who are fluent in Arabic available in most of the areas of the hotel.

Since the breaking of the fast commences at the same time for all of our guests, an increase in staffing levels is necessary at this time.

Since there are a number of food and beverage items that are only popular in the Holy Month, slight adjustments need to be made to the ordering process and the set-up of the dining venues.

All other areas of the hotel, such as valet parking and housekeeping, also need to adjust to the change in operations, especially as employees that are fasting during Ramadan normally work six hours a day, instead of the usual eight.

Cirone:

Our preparations include pre-ordering local fresh ouzi, local Halal meat, and a variety of dates from different Arabic countries.

Our team helps to prepare all kinds of traditional Ramadan juices in advance too, such as jallab and kamareddin.

How does Ramadan impact the delivery of F&B supplies?

Thornton

:

We see a change in the patterns of deliveries - the reduced working hours and, this year, the summer heat generally mean early deliveries.

If the morning delivery is incomplete it's sometimes difficult to get suppliers to make an additional afternoon delivery.

Martin:

One small challenge is the limited working hours of suppliers, but we benefit from our good relationships with our suppliers and we don't face any issues - it is all just a question of planning and organisation.

Gregs:

It doesn't impact delivery of F&B supplies here in the UAE; maybe it does in other countries, but not here.

Glaessel:

There are only minor adjustments to the process, which are mainly due to the short working hours.

How does Ramadan impact the profitability of your outlets?

Thornton

:

Generally profitability is reduced, mainly because of the restricted working hours.


However, in the outlets that do have reduced opening hours, it's a great time to get people away on vacation or allow them to use up any hours in lieu that they might have.

Jubran:

The impact is positive. It is a two-fold opportunity - hosting Iftar and Sohour allows clients who may not have visited the club to enjoy the special events, as well as to see the club's other outlets, which they might come back to dine in at a later date.

Martin:

Our outlets are closed during the day but the general profitability is not affected. We are generating additional revenue with Grand Iftar and our Laylati tent.

Gregs:

The impact on the figures is negligible - we are still offering food and services in other areas. Although the Fountain restaurant is closed, for example, all the revenue generated by serving breakfast and lunch in the ballroom will be posted to this outlet.

Also, by closing outlets we reduce costs and wages, which helps with profitably.

Shindi:

We have a plan for the month, so the financial part is always taken into consideration.

It is true that we have fewer food and beverage service hours, however, this still doesn't effect our annual results as it is always taken into account.

Glaessel:

If planned properly, there is no major difference in the profitability of our outlets.

The market in Dubai is diverse enough to sustain any type of operation, even if Ramadan is perceived as a weak business period. However, there are certainly busier periods throughout the year that are more profitable.

Cirone:

During the month of Ramadan we are not really concerned about profit as our aim is simply to share Ramadan good will.


What other challenges does Ramadan entail for food and beverage operations?

Martin:

The limited working hours of our employees have to be considered as the rosters have to be modified. This can be a challenge.

Gregs:

Arranging a roster that enables fasting staff to work can be a challenge.

We have to ensure that there is an even spread of Muslim and non-Muslim staff on duty during the day.

Shindi:

I would prefer to call them specialities of the month, rather than challenges.

It is very interesting to brief guests and employees who are visiting this part of the world for the first time about the month and its practices.

It is also very nice to see that there is a respect and understanding from those employees that are not fasting for their fasting colleagues - they do not eat, drink or even smoke in front of them.

Glaessel:

The greatest challenges arise during the first few days. This is where fasting and non-fasting guests and employees have to adjust to each others' changes in habits.

There have been one or two incidents in the past where guests who were new to the concept of fasting have accidentally acted inappropriately. Our staffs had to politely point out to them that they needed to modify their behaviour.

Luckily, Dubai is very aware of its cultural diversity and, therefore, unintentional offences are mostly forgiven.

Taking part in this roundtable

Till Martin, executive assistant manager in charge of F&B, Grand Hyatt Dubai.

Wally Jubran, club F&B manager, Four Seasons Golf Club Dubai.

Marcus Gregs, executive chef, Mövenpick Bur Dubai.

Khaldoun A. Shindi, assistant director of food and beverage, Raffles Dubai.

Carlo Cirone, executive chef, Towers Rotana Dubai.

Chris Glaessel, director of food and beverage, Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai.

Robin Thornton, food and beverage director, Crowne Plaza Dubai.

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Ramadan Kareem

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