The Food Fight

    Our anonymous F&B expert doesn't pull any punches
    The Food Fight: this month, our anonymous expert battles with 'SirMa'am' service.
    The Food Fight: this month, our anonymous expert battles with 'SirMa'am' service.

    Our anonymous expert doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the standard of the region's F&B offerings. 

    This month: "SirMa'am" service.


    I was having a business meeting the other day with a colleague and we got onto the topic of staffing, which is topic as hotly debated as the validity of certain Dubai-based award ceremonies.

    Service staff are the lifeblood of any restaurant or hotel.

    Service staff alone can differentiate the exceptional restaurant from the mundane, the very best hotel from the very worst.

    On the other hand, they also have the ability to instantly negate an interior design and fit-out that cost the same as the GDP of a small developing country, or turn a Dubai Michelin-starred restaurant (whatever that means) into a culinary war zone.

    We all know this is true — so why is it that most companies have the recruitment standards of say, Newcastle United (i.e. if you have your own pair of shoes, you’re hired)?

    I’m a big believer in the concept of “like attracts like”, so if, as a company, you’re willing to bunk six staff into a single room, work them 80 plus hours per week, pay them a salary worthy of a Chinese sweat shop, keep their hard earned tips from them and make sure they only see their passports once every two years then, I’m afraid, you’re going to attract a certain type of individual.

    Typically, individuals that are possibly wanted criminals back in their own country, individuals who speak as much English as a child raised by wolves or individuals who show the initiative skills of a dead rat.

    I was in Ireland a few years back, on business, in another faceless branded hotel all-day diner, having breakfast with a colleague.

    A young Irish waiter approached the table and asked us, in a fairly bored voice, what we wanted.

    My colleague said that we were looking for a great breakfast and what could he recommend.

    Without missing a beat, he fired back his response: “I recommend the restaurant down the street.”

    So we left and went down the street and found out he was absolutely right.

    But that’s not the point; the point is it makes for a great story.

    And I’ve been telling that story for years and more importantly, I would hire that kid without a second thought.

    He showed attitude, humour and a genuine honesty and charisma that is often lacking in most Gulf establishments — and under the right guidance and leadership, that young Irish waiter could be deadly at the dinner table. (Deadly like Roger Federer on the tennis courts, not deadly like swine flu.)

    Because isn’t that what Dubai is really craving?

    A service level that lives up to the multi-million dollar fit out, the Michelin-rated menu and all the hype associated with it?

    Otherwise, let’s be honest: it’s a bit like buying Buckingham Palace and filling it with furniture from IKEA.

    Surely Dubai has had enough of the “SirMa’am” school of service?

    The kind of service where your waitress is too scared to look you in the eye in case you try to engage her in multi-syllabic conversation?

    The type of service where your bartender thinks a 12-year-old Macallan is a Scottish school boy?

    The type of service style that leaves you as socially numb as a shot of novocaine to the cerebral cortex?

    If this article gives the impression that the staff are to blame for their overall behaviour, then I must apologise.

    A large part of the blame must lie with the policy-makers, the F&B managers and the direct supervisors responsible for the team.

    And no, sending memos full of corporate jargon that no one really understands in a futile attempt to “cascade information to the troops” probably won’t cut it for much longer.

    I think UAE is more than capable of attracting the bright young staff of the future — and I’m happy to say that a few restaurants are managing this.

    And as time marches on, the restaurants that will truly deliver the results are the ones that manage to create a workforce of independent thinkers that can do more than monotonously re-enact the mandatory basic service training that is the scourge of the industry.

    Every city has a culture, a personality and the soul of every city is largely determined by the variety and quality of social activities that throb within its veins.

    The Middle East has changed and needs to move away from old habits.

    The recession will eventually come to an end and the region that emerges from the dust needs a service industry filled with inspired and well-guided individuals that, combined, will force people across the globe to look beyond the glitz, the glam and really start to take notice at what’s happening over here.

    And if that doesn’t happen, at least it will make for a good story.

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