The meaning of iftar is lost, restaurant customers say

Ramadan 2012: Should restaurants be made to donate a portion of their iftar profits to charity?

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ABU DHABI // Ramadan should represent a time of righteousness and charity, but residents complain that some hotels are cashing in on iftar as a commercial venture.

During the holy month, Muslims in the UAE abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset, then break the fast with an iftar meal - traditionally, a time to gather with family and friends and reflect on the meaning of Ramadan.

These days, an iftar out of home has become a popular option that costs on average between Dh100 and Dh170.

Five-star hotels are more like to charge over Dh200, and one in Dubai charged as much as Dh395 for an iftar meal last year.

Alia N, a Palestinian resident in Dubai, said she felt "ripped off" when breaking her fast last year.

"I went with a couple of girls to the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Jumeirah and the minimum spend was Dh600 for three people," she said. "How much can you eat at an iftar anyway? It was really overpriced."

She said the maximum she would spend on iftar at a hotel was no more than Dh150.

Nick Rego, an Indian resident in Dubai, said he enjoys taking part in iftar meals even though he is a Christian.

"The first one I attended was at a friend's house with 20 people and it was amazing," he said.

But when a friend suggested iftar at a "ski chalet" in the Kempinski Hotel in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates, Mr Rego was hesitant.

"I was mortified by how expensive it was," he said. The set price per person for iftar was Dh395 for an unlimited buffet in a pre-booked room for a group of 12 people.

"When I hear the word iftar, it has a religious significance," said Mr Rego. "But hotels make a profit out of it, I found it very expensive and it's blatantly taking advantage of the consumer.

"Where does that come into Ramadan? Most hotels look at it as moneymaking and it's very rare to find Arabic-style Iftars that are affordable. Iftar at hotels has become just another brunch and lost its meaning."

Reine Khleif, a worker at the Kempinski's events department, explained the high price was charged because the iftar was organised in a hotel room.

"It's a unique room and it has the view of Ski Dubai," she said. "It's a three-bedroom ski chalet, that's why they have to pay more, because we have to close it and can't [rent] it out to other guests."

Mr Rego, who believes paying more than Dh150 is too much, said the "all-you-can-eat" buffet Iftars were lavish and over-the-top.

"I understand hotels are empty during Ramadan so they have to make their money somewhere but over Dh300 for something that holds meaning to people is not the best option," he said.

"It's all about bringing people together, iftar is more focused on the action and the fact that you're breaking your fast."

Kempinski offers an unlimited iftar buffet at its other restaurants for Dh195 a head. Brunello restaurant, for example, charges Dh195 and donates a portion of the fee to charity - an idea Mr Rego thinks more restaurants should embrace.

If you don't want to pay through the nose, avoid booking an iftar at 5-star hotel that can legitimately charge extra for the pleasure of enjoying a meal in one of their well-appointed eateries.

Look for restaurants offering à la carte options and, if you do your research, you will can still find good deals like the iftar at India Palace in Ibn Battuta Mall, which starts from Dh45 per person.