This month MMI brought together Dubai’s top female tastemakers at the Shangri-La Dubai’s stunning iKandy rooftop bar where they sipped Moët & Chandon and Belvedere cocktails and discussed the influence today’s women exert upon the cocktail industry.
What has been the most difficult event you’ve dealt with during your time in the Middle East, and why?
Christina Bowen: That would have to be the dry docking of the Dhow — our signature sushi and seafood restaurant — this past summer. Due to some factors beyond our control, I needed to get this boat over to Jedef and out of the water within just a few days. I had to empty the boat, arrange a skipper, crew, diesel and make a works list of all the maintenance required.
After a few stressful days, we ferried the Dhow across the Jumeirah coastline and into the creek. I never would have thought that being in the Dhow’s crawl spaces and ferrying her through locks and bridges would be part of my job description!
Cristina Piereck: The most difficult time for me was when I’d just arrived and was sorting the hotel’s pre-opening. Coming from Brazil, and being a woman in what is traditionally a man’s position (sommelier), I couldn’t afford to make mistakes.
During our training, a manager that was hired to train us for this event, who had a great deal of experience in the Middle East, was picking out every tiny detail that was wrong with my presentation. He was pulling me down for it, making fun of me and doubting my capabilities.
It was really stressful. Luckily, I have a great manager that helped me to train, so we chatted about this market and how challenging it is, being a woman, and he helped me recover.
Following that, I’ve become strong enough to not be pulled down by men anymore — and also my guests respect me, because everything depends on your professionalism, posture and confidence.
Erin O’Neill: I find it difficult to single out one event, as with each comes various challenges that you did not envisage unfolding.
In a destination where everything seems to be last minute, it‘s rare that things run according to your deadlines. I find this helps you develop a skill whereby you consider all possible outcomes and always have a ‘plan B’ up your sleeve.
Those last minute surprises I find are usually due to two main reasons, logistics and licensing.
The most difficult event would probably be due to the latter. I admire the municipality for putting in place restrictions with regards to entertainment, to control noise pollution and more, but when their vision is to develop one of the world’s top class destinations for entertainment, these should prove more user-friendly.
The most difficult event for me was not an operational challenge, but an emotional roller coaster. My organiser learnt that we had to turn her outdoor dinner for 200 people to an indoor venue one hour prior to her guest’s arrival, due to a last-minute licensing challenge.
She was actually unable to breathe, as her lungs were committed solely to screaming down the phone to tell me that I was going to make a fool of her in front of her entire management team and that she would never ever again have an event with us again!
Thankfully operationally we managed to deliver and the following day she called to say how much everyone had enjoyed the event and she looked forward to next year.
Nicola Holmes: My most challenging event experience would have to be a remote event in the desert or on an island, where the menu had to be carefully thought through to allow for all the facilities to be shipped out and all preparation done on-site.
Becky Craig: Generally I find getting confirmed RSVPs to events to be the hardest challenge.
What do you think is the single biggest challenge facing the beverage industry at the moment?
Bowen: I think that the rising costs of transportation and taxes on alcohol both pose a challenge, with regards to competitive pricing. Secondly, I believe that a lot of market leaders whose brands enjoyed a strong market share for many years are now being challenged by new competitors.
O’Neill: It’s definitely tough staying ahead of the competition, in terms of being the ‘hot spot’ where people hang out. While the drinks are certainly a key component, especially with people becoming more health conscious in their choices, the top hot spot needs to get more than its drinks right.
Holmes: I’d add that the pricing strategy is an issue; when the market is monopolised by distributors, drinks prices seem to be ever increasing.
Vidal: And from a worldwide perspective, the beverage industry certainly has to pay attention to its consumers’ behaviour changes caused by the economic crisis.
From now on the consumer will be looking for value for money. Only the brands strongly built on actual content and history will survive. Brands positioned as premium but based only on good marketing will no longer lure increasingly sceptical consumers.
Liza Underwood: I’d agree that rising prices are an issue. I’d also say the range of products can be a challenge — you are limited with what you can get here. We’re a bit behind compared to other places; although more suppliers are starting to make their products available in this region, it’s a slow process.
What is your favourite outlet in the UAE and why?
Bowen: None other than Barasti — there is no other outlet in Dubai that it closer to my heart. Re-opening its doors in 2006 and watching it grow into what it is now has been the single most gratifying thing I have ever done in my professional career.
Piereck: I’ve only been here three months, but definitely the place where I’ve had the best time was in Barasti, in the relaxed informal environment, having a wonderful shisha watching the sunset. I also loved the Board Walk at the Creek, because of the amazing views.
O’Neill: Well I’m biased, but I have to admit that Barasti is probably a favourite for me too. I think you can be of any age, of any nationality and still feel relaxed and at home there. It just works.
Holmes: It’s Barasti for me as well — I love the location and the vibrant atmosphere. Plus it’s walking distance from my apartment!
Vidal: I like the rooftop bar in Royal Mirage One&Only, since it is one of the rare places in the Gulf where I can drink Veuve Clicquot Rosé.
Underwood: I’d have to say The Address, in Downtown Burj Dubai. The staff are all so friendly and helpful — it creates a really comfortable atmosphere.
Hit American TV show Sex And The City spurred the rise of the Cosmopolitan; what do you think will be the next hot cocktail for independent female influencers?
Kate Barry: The Cosmo is a cocktail that is very popular with women, but there are so many others. Obviously champagne is a major market, but cocktails have a lot of fun intricacies that female consumers are looking for.
Cristina Piereck: I think it would be difficult for a TV show to popularise a drink again in the same way. I think the brands are in charge of creating the next hot drink. But it will depend on the brand’s standing, whether they can create such a cult drink. I personally think women in this industry are strong and courageous — so for me, the next big cocktail would be the perfect Dry Martini. It’s a classic, it has character and it’s strong.
Adeline Vidal: Having said that, maybe those of us in the industry do not represent the average woman. So I think we need to consider not what we like, but what the average female consumer would want. For example, a lot of female consumers will watch the calories in what they drink.
Cristina Piereck: That may be true, but in my opinion I think it is the minority that is the opinion-maker.
Adeline Vidal: Another big trend here is South American cocktails.
Nicola Holmes: I think that this trend is very lifestyle-associated; when people drank Cosmopolitans it was because they wanted to be in New York and I must admit, when I drink Mojitos they make me feel like I’m on holiday somewhere exotic. It’s a lifestyle thing.
Liza Underwood: I’d agree with the Mojito as well. If you think of all the cocktails people know and drink, that has got to be one of the biggest.
Becky Craig: Going back to what we were saying about people being conscious of their weight, I think that going forward, with the amount of brands and choices that we have in the market, there won’t be a cocktail list. It will be more about the way the cocktail is made. I would choose a bar based on the fact that they muddle fresh fruit as opposed to using syrups. And I think this fresh, organic slant is already a big influence.
Taking part this month
Christina Bowen, assistant food and beverage manager, Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina
Cristina Piereck, sommelier, The Address, Downtown Burj Dubai
Erin O’Neill, bar assistant director of sales, Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina and the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina
Nicola Holmes, event director, Dubai Event Management Corporation
Adeline Vidal, key account manager duty free — Gulf countries, Moët Hennessy
Liza Underwood, head sommelier, Capital Club Festival City
Becky Craig, brand manager — Brown-Forman, MMI
Kate Barry, marketing manager — Moët Hennessy, MMI