Friday, September 29, 2006

A gripe about dining out in Dubai

As I've mentioned before, Dubai is a restaurant-goer's paradise. There's no shortage of dining options and cuisines in this city, and if you're like me and enjoy eating out, that's a good thing.

But there's one thing that really bugs me about restaurants here: the inattentive waitstaff. It seems like this is a problem at virtually every restaurant I've been to; they don't pay much attention to you once you've received your food.

This isn't to say that the waitstaff is rude; I've never been poorly treated at any restaurant here. Nor is this to say that the meal service is slow; I've never had to wait an inordinately long amount of time between placing my order and having my meal brought to me. It's just that, once you get seated, order your food and have your food brought to you, the waitstaff generally leaves you completely alone. They move on to other customers and they seem to forget that you even exist.

You want your drink refilled? Good luck flagging down a waiter. You want your empty dishes cleared? Be prepared to wait a while. You want your check at the end of the meal? You practically have to set fire to your table in order for the waiter to notice you and bring your bill to you! I personally find it rather annoying.

It might be a cultural thing; here, meals are expected to be leisurely and people are expected to linger after a nice meal, so the waitstaff doesn't expect you to be in a hurry to finish your food and leave. It also might be because tipping is neither customary nor expected here, so the waitstaff doesn't see any value in paying closer attention to you. And, to be honest, it's nice that, unlike in so many American restaurants, you don't have the waitstaff hovering over you all the time, trying to pressure you into buying dessert or hurrying you to finish your meal so they can turn over the table to another paying guest.

However, if you're like me, and expect somebody to at least check to make sure you have enough water or tea from time to time, or see no point in sitting at an empty table after your meal is done, it is a bit frustrating. Especially when, as is so often the case, the entire waitstaff at a given restaurant completely disappears into the kitchen for several minutes at a time. On one occasion, I even had to get out of my seat and walk up to the host at the front of the restaurant to ask for my check, because no waiter or waitress was anywhere to be seen and I was tired of waiting any longer.

At the very least, I've learned to be a bit more agressive in getting the waitstaffs' attention when I eat out. I've learned that passively sitting at a table waiting for somebody to come check up on me is pointless, so now I call out any waiters or waitresses if they pass near my table, even if they're taking care of somebody else and even if they're not the person actually assigned to my table. I personally don't like doing so - I feel it's a bit boorish - but oftentimes it's the only way to get another bottle of water or my check.

If you ever visit Dubai, be prepared to do the same when dining out. Don't let that stop you from trying the many restaurants, however: Dubai is a great place to eat.


John Whiteside said...

I doubt it's the tipping customs; I find that most everywhere in Europe I've had good service, despite the lack of tipping. You have to be slightly more aggressive than in the US to flag people down, but not terribly so, and the lack of "Hi, I'm Francois, and I will be taking care of you tonight (but probably not well!)" faux chipperness is really nice. So I'd guess it's other cultural factors. Or maybe they just don't hire enough people!

Thomas said...

Good point. I even seem to remember from my trip to Japan last year that the restaurant service was uniformly excellent, even though tipping is not customary there, either.