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The joys and challenges of UAE-style business meetings

Introducing my new Business Lunch Index (BLI) ranking

UAE business meetings Four Seasons
Doing some business over dinner in a five-star hotel is so much more enjoyable than in an office meeting room

One of the great pleasures of doing business in the UAE is that personal interactions are often conducted in less formal and more enjoyable surroundings than office meeting rooms.

Over morning coffee in a bistro, lunch in one of the growing number of upmarket restaurants in the financial and business centres, or drinks and dinner in a five-star hotel – it is all a far cry from the dull glass box in a nondescript office block.

I think it’s far more productive to do business around a lunch or dinner table than in a conference room around a squawk box under a Zoom screen with a fuzzy vision of the finance director from London.

The Arab world, with its traditions of generous hospitality and love of cuisine, offers the perfect opportunity to mix business and pleasure.

But there are significant practicalities to overcome too, even if they are of a “first world problem” variety.

Is the restaurant or café table big enough for plates, cutlery and glasses as well as laptop and notebook? 

Have you got the physical dexterity to talk, eat and drink while juggling a pen or a mobile?

What about privacy? If your conversation is confidential (and most business meetings are), are you at risk of being overheard by a potential competitor at the next-door table?

Or maybe vulnerable to some snooper getting a sneaky look at the very private and sensitive document on your laptop?

And – most important of all – who pays? To achieve a successful business outcome on the other guy’s dime is a very satisfying feeling.

I was fortunate enough this week to attend business meetings in three of the best venues in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Here’s how I rate them on my new Business Lunch Index (BLI).

UAE business meetingsFour Seasons Press Room
Butcher & Still

Butcher & Still, Four Seasons Hotel, Abu Dhabi Global Market

A 1920s-style Chicago steakhouse in the heart of the UAE capital’s financial hub, this place was buzzy and busy even from 7pm.

The food was great (I had pink oysters and Kansas City striploin) and the service excellent in a friendly way.

But the table was small and cluttered when all the sides were served, and I had to put the notebook away.

The confidentiality risk was high, with big groups of diners – potential eavesdroppers all involved in the financial industry – in close proximity.

We had to lean closely over the food to avoid shouting and being overheard. My dinner companion picked up the bill.

BLI rating: 7/10

Architecture, Building, Dining RoomLa Niña
La Niña

La Niña, ICD Brookfield Tower, Dubai International Financial Centre

What a find this place was in the DIFC’s newest gleaming business tower, at the suggestion of my lunch partner, a mover-and-shaker in the regional private equity scene.

Iberian-Latino, the place called itself, but the dominant theme to my mind was Portuguese. I had fantastic gazpacho and succulent wagu albondigas.

The table in one of the banquette alcoves was enormous, with plenty of space to spread out documents and laptop, and absolutely no risk of being overheard.

Once again, the “cuenta” was met by my generous amigo. I will certainly return, for pleasure rather than work next time.

BLI rating 9/10

Indoors, Restaurant, FurnitureAddress Hotels & Resorts

Monty’s, the Address Montgomery, Emirates Hills, Dubai

A “casual dining restaurant” in the posh golf club in Dubai’s swankiest neighbourhood, this is the perfect venue for a fast, efficient business lunch.

Even the TV screen showing cricket (not my game) with live and loud commentary was not a huge distraction.

The food is simple, but with a lot of variety and very well prepared – my penne carbonara was cooked to perfection.

My lunch partner – a senior media industry executive – asked for an extra table to spread out, and the smiling waiter was happy to comply, leaving lots of room to accommodate documents and pads as well as plates and glasses.

There was zero risk of being overheard above the cricket commentary, and the Hills is not the kind of place where you get corporate snoopers anyway. We split the bill.

BLI rating: 8/10

Being able to make a living in such an environment is a great pleasure, and ample compensation for all the early-hours phone calls and late-night Zoom meetings.

Some might even hesitate to call it work.

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