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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

10 things that irk us most about dining out in the UAE

From shouting to smoking to social media, we discover what stirs up UAE residents when eating out

Taking photos of your food to show off on social media is an annoying habit. Getty Images
Taking photos of your food to show off on social media is an annoying habit. Getty Images

Dining out, for UAE residents, is a big deal. In Dubai alone there are more restaurants per citizen than in New York – we are spoiled for choice and, whether your penchant is for real Indian food in a backstreet Satwa cafe or five-star themed dining courtesy of a celebrity chef in an Abu Dhabi hotel, there is something for every palate, nationality and budget.

But one thing unites them all – unless we’ve organised a private function, we have to spend time eating in a room or outdoor area with a selection of complete strangers.

For anyone who has ever attended a Friday brunch – even in the most luxurious hotel restaurants – witnessing questionable manners at the hands of other patrons is practically assured, especially towards the end of a long meal.

There’s something about restaurant dining that can bring out the worst in people and, during August this year, a hospitality management company out of the United Kingdom called Fourth published the results of a survey it had carried out regarding the worst restaurant faux pas. The results – 35 things that got on most people’s nerves about other diners – will undoubtedly resonate with anyone here, too. The number one pet hate for diners in the UK was seeing someone clicking their fingers to get the attention of the waiters.

Talking when your mouth is full came in at number two, while the third spot was taken by “loud and raucous behaviour”.

Other peeves mentioned in the faux pas hit list were people making a ‘signing’ gesture when asking for the bill, mispronouncing the names of dishes (surely everyone has done that at some stage?), texting at the table, taking photos of every course, holding knives as though they’re pencils, licking the knife and blowing noses into napkins.

Does any of this start giving you indigestion? These annoying – and sometimes unruly – habits of diners are hardly unique to Great Britain but we felt it was high time we examined what irks UAE restaurant-goers.

What are some of the worst aspects of human behaviour that have been witnessed right here, where there are more dining options than we know what to do with?

Unsurprisingly, many respondents to our ‘survey’ mentioned things that appeared on Fourth’s list.

Social media features highly in the irksome stakes, yet those who said that Instagramming your dinner was rude and pointless, also, without exception, admitted to committing that very crime themselves at some time or another.

Rather than produce an exhaustive list of 35 objections, let’s instead consider the UAE’s top 10 as discovered during our far-from-scientific research, involving 42 respondents:

1. Being rude to waiters and other restaurant staff

2. Talking on mobile phones during dinner

3. Using social media (especially to show off your food)

4. Asking for cutlery instead of chopsticks

5. Unruly children

6. Loud conversation and shouting

7. Being overly fussy about food and sending it back

8. Using the wrong cutlery

9. Smoking while eating

10. Wearing inappropriate clothing

To be fair, not everyone knows how to use chopsticks so we could probably give offenders a free pass for asking to use cutlery for their oriental dishes. But being rude to waitstaff is inexcusable and, it would seem, horribly commonplace in the UAE.

“It’s disgusting,” says Gemma Williams, a 35-year-old British mother of two, “how some people think they can berate and talk down to waiters and waitresses here. I’ve seen this behaviour from all manner of nationalities and it angers me enough to get involved sometimes, to stick up for the people being shouted at. These are hardworking people who don’t get paid much and are bound to make the occasional mistake – everyone needs to chill out more, rather than overreact when there’s a problem. For me it’s the one thing that is guaranteed to spoil a night out or a family meal.”

Smoking while eating grinds the gears of Malcolm Purvis, a fitness-obsessed American dad.

“I know we shouldn’t compare the UAE with our home countries, but in some instances we can’t help it. I’m from New York and smoking there has become practically unheard-of in indoor areas, yet here, in some cafes and restaurants, you can barely see or taste your food and drink due to the thick fog of tobacco smoke. The ban on smoking in public spaces can’t come soon enough if you ask me, and I won’t spend my money in establishments where my health and my children’s health is put at risk.”

Tough talk but entirely understandable if you’re a non-smoker. Yet even some respondents who do smoke said they’d prefer not to be surrounded by people lighting up while eating.

Smoking while eating is also an irritant. Eye Ubiquitous / UIG via Getty Images
Smoking while eating is also an irritant. Eye Ubiquitous / UIG via Getty Images

“Shisha is just as bad,” Purvis continues. “It doesn’t smell as rank as cigarettes, but seriously, I’m fed up with the scent of grapes and strawberries wafting over from those bubbling contraptions while I’m trying to enjoy a meal out, or even when I’m walking along the beach sometimes.”

Returning to the findings of Fourth for a moment, the researchers involved in the UK survey discovered that 60 per cent of those questioned for the study, “have been left disgusted by a date, work colleague or family member’s lack of table manners when dining out”.

Singled out for criticism were, as noted earlier, speaking with your mouth full, mispronouncing the names of dishes and holding your knife like a pencil, as well as spending too long posting to social media and wiping your hands on the otherwise clean tablecloth.

Communications director at Fourth, Catherine Marshall, was quoted as saying: “Proper manners and a love of eating out are two things the British are well-known for, but the lines between acceptable and unacceptable manners when eating out are blurring. Once frowned upon, getting your phone out to check texts and emails at the table or to snap pictures has become common as people embrace technology into their eating out experience.

“Just be careful you’re not with your grandparents when you do it.”

We live in a multicultural society so we’re bound to see others do things that we might have been taught not to by our parents.

Elbows on the table, putting down cutlery in a haphazard fashion, leaving the table before everyone else has finished their food – these are the kinds of things that, a couple of generations ago, were viewed as the height of bad manners.

Now, though, those unwritten rules are evolving and becoming less stringent. But what about being “inappropriately dressed”, which occupies 10th place on our homegrown list?

Let’s get some feedback from an actual waitress, who claims there is nothing she hasn’t seen while working in one of Dubai’s many ‘gastropubs’.

Unruly children are also another thing that irk diners. Mark Peterson / Corbis via Getty Images
Unruly children are also another thing that irk diners. Mark Peterson / Corbis via Getty Images

Siobhan Hogan is 23 and has lived and worked here for 18 months, after having left her home in County Galway, Ireland.

“I’ve waited on all over the place after finishing university,” she says. “I’m seeing the world as much as I can before settling down and, while the money I earn isn’t great, it’s enough. What I find difficult in my line of work is a lot of unwanted attention from men and general rudeness when some people aren’t served with lightning speed. I have to bite my tongue a lot.

“And I’m constantly amazed at what people think is acceptable to wear,” she adds. “I like to get dressed up on the rare occasion I get the chance to go out for dinner, but where I work [she says there’s a dress code that’s widely ignored by diners and management alike] men have taken their seats while wearing just shorts and flip flops – bare-chested, which other people have been known to complain about. And women leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination, too.

“I just think that in a Muslim country such as this, you should show a bit more respect than that.”

What about people not leaving tips, though? That was number 15 on Fourth’s list but nobody here seemed to think it was an issue. “That’s how I afford to stay here,” adds Hogan.

“Some people don’t tip at all and that’s fine because it’s an issue that divides opinion. But others do and some of them more than make up for those that don’t. A few people have given me Dh1,000 notes and a waitress friend of mine was given the keys to a new car!”

What’s obvious after talking to diners and restaurant staff in the UAE, is that everyone has a pet peeve – some admittedly trivial but some that cause genuine concern and sometimes even anger.

And the number one faux pas here – being rude to staff – really is an awful social ill. Let’s all just try to be nicer to those who serve us, shall we? They deserve better.

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Read more:

New restaurants, deals and menus: your guide to summer dining in the UAE

A different dining experience: 8 cooking classes to try in the UAE

Acropolis now: the rise of Greek food in the UAE

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