Unlike in most other countries around the world, winter in the UAE heralds the arrival of al fresco dining. Whereas most other countries are packing up their outdoor seating areas and storing away cushions lest they get rained or snowed on, venues across the country have been dusting off their outdoor furniture and getting their terraces spick and span throughout October, ready for several months of gorgeous dining weather in the fresh outdoors.
Should they open in October or November?
In fact, this year, the UAE’s restaurants and cafes - whether beach bars, shisha lounges, rooftop locations or any place with an outdoor terrace to call their own - have prepared their outdoor venues even earlier than in years past. “This year, we opened the outdoor area to customers on October 8,” says Chris Dalala, founder and managing partner at popular cafe The Media Lounge in Dubai Media City.
Getting the outdoors ready involves re-polishing all the outdoor furniture, checking on the health of the sound system and the lighting, replacing any faulty umbrellas and placing orders for new ones, says Dalala, as well as adding a few new touches to keep things interesting. “We try to add more greenery and a few trendy lighting designs such as table-top flaky candles, and hanging garden lights,” he adds.
Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque in JBR didn’t open up its terrace until the first week of October, which they say is much later than usual. The aim is usually mid-September for outdoor venues, explains manager Goce Stevanoski.
At Italian restaurant Cafe Milano in Abu Dhabi’s Four Seasons Hotel, the waterfront terrace comes alive during the winter, reminiscent of an Italian terrazza experience and overlooking Abu Dhabi’s skyline, but this year, the terrace will open on November 7 despite temperatures having already dropped.
The Eve Penthouse & Lounge, located on the rooftop of the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights, is the type of outdoor terrace open all year long, thanks to a fully functional, timed mist system that cools down guests even when temperatures soar. It opened this past September, and has cocoon seating that allows for secluded, semi-private seating and unrivalled 360-degree views of the city.
And the crowds just keep on rolling in when it comes to outdoor dining. At Fogo De Chao, the Brazilian steakhouse in Dubai, the outdoor courtyard was ready for guests by the first week of October and has been busy ever since says restaurant manager Daniel Miranda.
“People love the ambience of sitting outdoors, with views of the Burj Khalifa and good food to add to the atmosphere,” he says, noting that dining al fresco adds a fun and almost party-like dimension to an evening out.
Not all approaches to when a terrace is ready to welcome its guests are created equal, however, and at Coya Abu Dhabi, located in the capital’s Galleria Mall, the guests are the “sovereigns” who get to decide when it’s time to head outdoors, says restaurant manager Simone Sabbatini.
“If a diner decides to enjoy the experience whilst taking advantage of the weather, we’re always ready to fulfil every request,” he adds, although if the heat is excessive, staff do caution patrons before they head outdoors.
“I would say that this year the summer temperatures have been milder compared to last year, but it felt that the heat and the humidity lasted longer. Last year for example, we received many requests for outdoor seating from the last week of September, whilst this year we started receiving them from the first week of October."
When choosing where to head to enjoy the weather this time of year, Sabbatini’s advice is simple. “The location is the most important feature when it comes to the outdoor season. Imagine yourself enjoying your favourite dish or drink whilst looking at the sea, with the sun setting behind the horizon, the right music playing in the background. “All your senses are involved and enhanced when it comes to outdoor dining. It’s a feast for your body and your mind.”
The terrace in Vivaldi by Alfredo Russo, located in the Sheraton Dubai Creek, has floor to ceiling windows that can be opened whenever the weather permits, turning the restaurant into an outdoor terrace-like space.
“We usually open the windows starting from November, but this year it was a bit earlier, October 20,” says Feras Oweis, the hotel’s food and beverage director.
He says that when the restaurant is converted into an outdoor venue “it brings more business during sunset and more in-house guests because they can also enjoy a fresh breeze from the creek”.
At the Indian fusion restaurant Mitra, newly opened in the Al Seef Heritage Area on the waterfront promenade alongside Dubai Creek, the restaurant’s outdoors is a big selling point. The floating restaurant comes with two sprawling wooden decks and a huge terrace, adorned with twinkling lights for the evenings.
Shivam Goyal, managing director at Mitra, says the restaurant is ready for guests to sit outdoors. “Outdoor furniture is laid out, lots of flowers add colour and we prepare a special cuisine to cater to customers. Barbeque and grilled food have a high demand. It’s time to sit outside and enjoy the great weather.”
And because it’s that time of year when customers, given the choice, will always choose to sit outdoors rather than inside, eager to make the most of the temperate weather, restaurants have to be prepared, says Robert Clark, general manager of the Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi.
What this means is a lot of planning, months in advance. “Aspects we consider are updating the décor and ambience, increasing the staffing, reviewing our menus and creating new experiences,” says Clark.
“The timing is generally set from October to April but is always pending the weather conditions. In addition, all spaces need to be compliant with the city’s laws and regulations.”
The Holiday Inn has just opened the terrace of Stock Burger Co., the hotel’s new premium burgers dining venue.
“The Abu Dhabi dining scene is extremely dynamic and in order to keep the pace, hotels and stand-alone venues need to listen to their guests’ needs and deliver top-notch food, service and experiences on their terraces just as they do in their restaurants,” explains Clark.
Meanwhile in Dubai, Folly by Nick & Scott are slated to open up their brand new rooftop terrace this weekend, and to do so, a major clean-up of the premises, the equipment and the entire venue was in order, in an effort to rid the area of dust, says Naim Maadad, CEO of Gates Hospitality. Gates run Folly, French restaurant Publique in Madinat Jumeirah, the Reform Social and Grill at the Lakes Club, the Bistro Des Arts in Dubai Marina and Italian restaurant Via Veneto on the ground floor of Manzil Hotel in The Boulevard, Downtown Dubai. What all the venues have in common - and what makes any outdoor location a draw to customers - is both incredible views and a casual, playful atmosphere suited to the fresh air.
“The outdoor space should ensure that the identity of the brand is not lost or diluted due to the extension of the venue,” says Maadad. “With the cusp of the cooler winter months, it’s truly exciting times ahead for outdoor venues.”
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