Ask Ali: Restaurant trade tips

Cultural considerations when opening a restaurant and hosting Emiratis abroad.

Powered by automated translation

Dear Ali: I plan to open a restaurant soon and was wondering what cultural considerations I should note when planning a concept for it. YK, Al Ain

Dear YK: My first tip is to get the name of your restaurant right. If you're going to give it a non-Arabic name, make sure it does not have a bad meaning in Arabic.

When it comes to hiring staff, we notice that many Asians get hired for hosting and waitressing jobs. However, I urge you to mix things up a bit and consider other ethnic backgrounds such as African and European. It would take your restaurant to a whole new level as it would feel fresh and different.

It goes without saying that your staff need to be trained well. Diners ask waiters their opinion of dishes, so it's imperative they know the menu and have tasted it.

Moving on to the menu, oh gosh! It is important for restaurateurs to get into customer psychology a bit, especially in this part of the world. We are visual people, and that means we are more likely to order a meal that has an accompanying picture on the menu (given that it looks delicious). Again, be careful of what the words on the menu mean and how they are pronounced in Arabic. For instance, "zuppe" means "soup" in Italian, but in Arabic it means "manhood". Having a menu that is also written in Arabic is the way to go. It can be separate from the English menu or can be on the same page. Again, get it translated by a professional.

If you plan to serve alcohol, have a separate menu for that to avoid offending your Muslim customers, especially when they come with their families. Speaking of families, I hope you will make a separate area for them, as many Arabs prefer that.

Dear Ali: We are entertaining Emirati businessmen and others from the Arab region. We want to offer them great service with cultural sensitivity to comfort them and make them feel like they are at home. What would you suggest? MO, United Kingdom

Dear MO: To start, make sure you can pronounce their names correctly. Some Westerners call any Arab man Mohammed simply because it's the most common Arabic name. I don't advise that. Secondly, if these men have an official title such as His Excellency, His Highness or Doctor (for PhD holders), address them by their title. Many of our names start with "Abdul", so if someone's name is Abdul Rahman don't call him only Abdul, but say his full name.

When picking up your guests at the airport, note that VIPs and high-ranking officials are used to luxury cars such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Keep the music to a minimum or none at all. Provide some water bottles.

Remember that many Arab women don't shake hands with men, so refrain from offering your hand to a businesswoman or a female spouse. If you know of women arriving, perhaps send a woman to meet them, as they will feel much more at ease.

The restaurants you take them to must have halal food. If not, don't be alarmed if they stick to fish, veggies and rice. In fact, ask if they would like to have Arabic food. I know it sounds weird, but Arabs love their rice, and some, like me, must have it daily.

In their hotel, make sure you are aware of the "qibla", the direction towards Mecca in which Muslims face to pray five times a day. Knowing the prayer times in your city also would impress them. Do keep bottles of water in the bathroom for personal hygiene reasons.

Language lesson

Arabic: Mathalan

English: For example

If you are explaining something to someone and you want to back it up with an example, you would say: "Mathalan", meaning "For example, you can do this or that". It also can be a questioning term, as in: "Dear Sun, with regard to your hotness, are you showing off mathalan?'