No rules exist to regulate drive-by food services, but residents and business owners want a solution to double parking and late-night honking for restaurants and cafes in residential areas.
ABU DHABI // Tenants, business operators and building managers are calling for specific rules to regulate drive-by services offered by cafes and restaurants in residential buildings.
The lack of regulations allows businesses to offer a car service that can compromise the flow of traffic and the comfort of residents. And with more than 5,000 licensed restaurants and cafes in residential buildings across the emirate there is room for exploitation.
According to the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, no special permission is required to offer a “drive-by” service, provided that the general food safety guidelines set by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority are met.
Guardian Towers, a residential and commercial development located at Muroor Road and 31st Street, is one of many developments facing numerous complaints from frustrated tenants.
Cafes and restaurants line the ground floor, making it a hot spot for anyone with an appetite. Streams of cars with drivers who need a quick calorie fix can be seen double parked or stopped in the middle of the road during peak hours.
While many outlets only take outside orders by phone, Il Caffe Di Roma has waiters ready.
Bassem Y Chouman, facility manager with Guardian Towers Real Estates, said tenants complain constantly.
“They get very irritated and they’ve made car accidents at the entrance of the garage because of people parked at the corners,” he said. “I have families living here saying they can’t sleep because of the honking.”
Article 11 of the Executive Regulation says it is prohibited to use car horns constantly or in a way that annoys pedestrians or disturbs the public. Horns should only be used for warning purposes and drivers must refrain from using horns near hospitals, schools and religious places as well as in residential areas between midnight and 6am.
The law also states that drivers must refrain from using the horn while the vehicle is not moving and at other times and in other places defined by the licensing authority.
Despite the law, horns can still be heard in the morning and well past midnight in neighbourhoods that have popular cafes and restaurants.
And with no formal laws in place to regulate drive-by services, Mr Chouman said he does not know how to respond to complaints.
“Sometimes I tell them I can’t do anything, sometimes I tell them we’re trying to do something with the police,” he said.
Regulations, including those setting aside dedicated spaces and specific hours of operation, are key to alleviating the problem, Mr Chouman said.
“It’s become a mess and we need something to control it, similar to how fast-food restaurants operate in petrol stations with special areas.”
Mahmoud Abdel Kaway, Il Caffe Di Roma operation manager in Abu Dhabi, insisted that having waiters on standby was better than the alternative, adding that parking challenges often exacerbate the situation.
“If we don’t serve the cars, they will double park,” he said. “This will only create more traffic and more honking. At least this way the driver is in the car so they can move immediately if they need to.”
The team is doing its best to respond to complaints, Mr Kaway said. At another of its branches, at Sheikha Salama Tower in Khalidiya, it has eight employees dedicated to serving drive-by customers and helping manage the flow of traffic. It also hired two security guards to ensure access to and from the building via a gated passageway for tenants.
Although the situation has improved, Mawaqif parking spaces in front of the cafe are still often blocked by customers, and anyone trying to enter or leave must be patient as the cafe’s customers try to manoeuvre. The branch serves about 150 people daily, half of them drive-by customers.
The cafe is not alone in trying to cope with complaints while not compromising its business.
Last month, Lebanese Flower opened its fourth restaurant in the emirate in a residential building on Muroor Road. Across all of its branches, up to half of its sales come from drive-by customers.
Wassem Abou Fakher, the restaurant’s operation manager, is well aware of the impact this has on residents.
“Whenever we are opening a restaurant in that area people start moving out,” he said. “Everyday our neighbours are calling the police, everyday we have a problem, but they cannot stop our business. We’re not doing something wrong, we are taking orders – there are no rules and regulations to stop us.”
As to the reason for the high demand for drive-by service, Mr Abou Fakher believes that heat and parking issues are just an excuse for “laziness”.
“Sometimes we are giving them the excuse that there is no parking, but in this area there is a lot,” he said.
It takes about 20 minutes to fill each order and up to 10 additional employees per branch are hired to keep up with demand from drive-by customers.
“People are always in a hurry and after one minute they’re honking and asking about their order,” he said. “They don’t want to bother themselves to come in, but they also don’t want to wait outside.
“You have to think of the people living in this area. But they don’t think, they are just pressing the horn.”