x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ask Ali: On the hospitality industry

Ali responds to a Muslim seeking an internship in a hotel's food and beverage sector.

Dear Ali: I have read that you used to be in the hotel industry and as I am a hotel management student I was wondering if you could confirm my suspicions. I wear the hijab and I have been rejected by many hotels in my search for an internship in their food and beverage department. I am curious as to whether it is my hijab that could be stopping me from getting these opportunities. I don't think I have seen many women on staff wearing the hijab in hotels here. AL, Dubai

Dear AL: The hospitality industry is tough, and not so sensitive to certain areas such as religion. I guess this is one of the main reasons why it's been hard to attract Emiratis, as some of the work could involve serving or cooking with alcohol or pork products. Despite our openness we are still Muslims, and such a situation can be problematic. Additionally, our market is still not mature enough to have many good internship platforms and programmes, although I believe your hotel school should be able to help you secure you an internship.

Here are three factors you need to be aware of and that might be in the minds of those in hotel human resources departments who resist accepting you for an internship:

- In food and beverage outlets the service staff wear uniforms - a practice that is in place all over the world - and in many cases so do restaurant managers who in any way have direct contact with guests. At some hotels the waitresses's uniforms may even be a bit immodest. So if you want to join such frontline staff, uniforms are a given. You must decide for yourself if you can accept this.

If you are more interested in exploring a role in the background, such as in the kitchen, the outfit you would wear for work would have to fulfil food safety and hygiene standards. It is not possible to compromise on this.

- Dealing with alcohol and pork products might be a second concern. Like it or not, most of our hotels serve alcohol and pork as a gesture of acceptance, respect and hospitality towards our non-Muslim guests. And the food and beverage department is the one that deals with this in the most direct way. Will you be ready to deal with this and work in an environment where these items are ordered, served and consumed? As perhaps you know, while being around alcohol or pork is haram, Islamic clerics note that Allah is merciful and that his people may not have other options in the workplace.

- Since hotels are highly effective commercial establishments, long and often irregular working hours are normal. Staff needs to be flexible with this and willing to commit to their jobs. Working in a hotel's food and beverage department means you need to be there when your guests want to eat and drink - and this might be on weekends as well as early morning or late at night.

If you are fine with all I have explained and you are sure about your goal, then I recommend that when you talk to someone in a hotel's human resources department you bring up the above subjects yourself. The people who decide whether to grant you an internship might have exactly these concerns on their minds, but they might hesitate to address them for fear of embarrassing or even intimidating you. So your best strategy is to broach these sensitive topics yourself and let them understand that you are really up to the job with all the challenges involved and without expecting to receive special treatment.


Language lesson

Arabic: Hadiya

English: Gift

To say "I want to buy a gift in Arabic," say "Aba ashtiree hadiya" for both men and women.