They say it’s risky playing with a winning formula — especially when that formula results in massive revenue for Covid-battered restaurants and is one of the pillars of a country’s tourism offering.
So, when the UAE government announced it was shifting its weekend from Friday and Saturday to Saturday and Sunday to align with global markets at the start of the year, Dubai’s hotels were quick to reassure its fun-loving residents that their greatest fear hadn’t been realized — brunches weren’t “over,” they were just moving to Saturday.
Brunches in Dubai are legendary and have always been unapologetic in their sheer extravagance. Traditionally starting at around 12.30 p.m. and finishing some time after 4.30 p.m., these all-you-can-eat and drink get-togethers bolster Dubai’s image as a Champagne bottle popping, sunshine soaking, lobster cracking, party playground.
In reality, brunches are a much-anticipated end-of-week treat for the city’s hardworking residents — and make no mistake, despite the designer labels and bumper to bumper supercars, this is a city where people work extremely hard for their tax-free dirhams.
In a recent study by mobile tech company Kisi, Dubai came out highest for most overworked population in the category of work intensity, meaning full-time employees often work 48 hours per week.
The UAE is tackling this issue of work-life balance and the government recently rolled out a 4.5-day working week for Emirati government employees, meaning they now get a half day Friday with time for worship and family gatherings on the Islamic holy day.
However, most of the expat dominated private sector will still work the full day on a Friday — hence restaurants switching brunches to a Saturday — a change that Dubai’s foodies appear to have adjusted to with a shrug.
In fact, the only serious problem hungry weekenders now have is which brunch to choose from, with lashings of new options right across the emirate such as Bleu Blanc at the newly opened The St. Regis Downtown Dubai. Guests there can tuck into extravagant creations such as a wagyu beef doughnut with truffle mayo and enjoy endless Champagne for 700 UAE dirhams ($191) a head.
Not to mention old school “classic” brunches like Bubbalicious at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi resort, where diners can unleash their tastebuds across three restaurants and an enormous outdoor terrace for 695 dirhams with unlimited fizz, including an enormous fresh seafood display topped up with lobster, crab, prawns, mussels, and piles of freshly shucked oysters.
“I don’t think people needed the slightest encouragement to go back to brunches after the weekend change,” David Tully, head of media at Dubai’s Middlesex University, told CNBC.
“They could switch brunches to Tuesdays and folks would find a way — Dubaians just can’t say no to a pricey, excessive smorgasbord. Covid can’t destroy a time-honored tradition, nothing breaks the brunch stride in this town.”
The American expat added: “I think Aristotle called it Catharsis — after the slog of the work week, people need a little Dionysian excess on the weekend to let off some steam.”
Meanwhile, Stephanie Hughes, the British managing director of a Dubai communications firm who has been an avid brunch-goer since moving to the UAE in 2014, says the new Saturday brunch is a good thing.
“It’s better because we now go to brunch and enjoy a great day out and then have a relaxed, traditional Sunday roast the next day to recover from the festivities,” she told CNBC.
She added: “There now also seems to be more brunch choice, better quality of food and different timings to choose from.”
Swedish expat Victoria Stevenson, who goes to brunch most weekends with her Scottish husband, says she’s also noticed Dubai venues have upped their game to pull in the punters.
“I think entertainment has become more a part of the brunches; when we go back to Europe for a visit, we’ll really miss the scene,” she told CNBC.
Although some brunches did continue during the height of the pandemic, most were dramatically pared down and included safety measures such as table spacing, hourly table sanitization, screens, and table service as opposed to the usual buffet set up.
Many of the stricter protocols have now been dropped by Dubai’s hotels — although it may be some time before table service gives way to the usual buffet and multiple food stations set up.
Not that it matters.
Hotels are doing all they can to woo back big-spender brunch clientele and their efforts appear to be paying off with bookings soaring in recent weeks in what appears to be a spinoff of so-called “revenge tourism” — a recent concept that refers to consumers being more eager to travel after lockdown restrictions.
“There has certainly been higher demand this year,” Elif Yazoglu, general manager at DoubleTree by Hilton in Dubai’s beachfront Jumeirah Beach Residence, told CNBC.
“There’s a need for everyone to go back to normal, be social, share a meal with family and friends, have casual conversations, and a lot of laughter — brunch is a relaxed weekend option to do that.”
Yazoglu says the hotel’s brunch moving to a Saturday has been smooth sailing in terms of guest acceptance.
“Since the weekend itself shifted for everyone, those who were previously off work on a Friday but now work that day obviously prefer Saturday brunches.”
She added that after a tough couple of years for the hospitality industry due to Covid, 2022 has been upbeat — supported by great weather, the excitement round Expo 2020, and travel trends going back to normal.
“We have also noticed that there’s a great demand for outdoor spaces — if weather supports — and our biggest advantage is our large garden space with its fabulous views of Ain Dubai [Dubai’s iconic observation wheel] and Bluewaters Island,” she said.