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When the saxophonist appears, it’s time to pay the bill

The noise in Dubai's restaurants is the single biggest obstacle to enjoying a night out

Behind poor service, Dubai diners are most annoyed about noise levels Dubai Tourism
Behind poor service, Dubai diners are most annoyed about noise levels

At a three-day conference of architects, builders and interior designers in Dubai earlier this year on the theme of “light and intelligent building” in the region, an industry expert unveiled a shocking fact.

Noise is the second most reported bugbear of diners, behind poor service, in the region’s public eating and drinking spaces, according to somebody who described himself as a “principal acoustics consultant”.

No doubt that finding was based on exhaustive research into consumers’ experiences in Dubai’s myriad bars, restaurants and cafes, but I could have told them that for free.

For me, noise is the single biggest obstacle to enjoying a night out with friends and loved ones, or having a business dinner with a contact or colleague.

Whether it’s trying to conduct a sensible conversation over the racket of a loud and inebriated crowd of people on the nearby table, or fighting against the intrusion of the in-house music, a night out in the emirate often turns into an endurance test, hands cupped to ears and repeated requests to “say that again, didn’t catch it”.

Ah, you say, that’s because you’re getting on in years and your hearing is on the wane. To which I reply “sorry, what did you say?”.

I recently booked a table at the Café Belge, the “lively” bar and eatery at the Ritz Carlton in the DIFC, for dinner with a visiting friend, somebody high up in the mediaverse who happened to be in the city on a corporate thing.

The Belge is one of my favourite places in the city, and does a great business lunch, but in the evening turns into something of a fun palace.

The best tables are on the terrace, just before you get to the Sunken Garden, and I had reserved a prime one bang in the middle, and was looking forward to an evening of reminiscence and gossip swapping.

Hardly had we touched our G&Ts when the DJ started up beside the bar. Within minutes, normal conversation was impossible, and we decamped into the slightly less noisy but also less agreeable interior of the restaurant.

As the evening wore on, and the diners got more raucous and the music louder, my guest was obviously feeling uncomfortable.

“Is it always like this?” she asked, and I had to explain apologetically that, actually, such cacophony was increasingly the norm in Dubai. She didn’t hear me.

In some of the swankier places in DIFC and the Palm, for example, there are virtually two restaurants in one, according to the time of night.

A sophisticated and highly rated eatery turns into a nightclub – strobe lights, revolving mirror balls and all – at the stroke of 10pm, and you have to pay the huge bill quickly just to get out of the eardrum-threatening din. That’s no way to end an enjoyable evening.

Saturday brunches are, as you’d expect, the worst. What begins as a pleasant and convivial gathering of friends at 1pm descends into Babylonic chaos by 4pm, with everybody just a little bit tipsy and giving out that loud, artificial laugh that says “aren’t we all so witty and amusing and having such a great time”.

But with brunches, that’s what you expect and indeed what you pay for. I seldom do them anymore.

One bar/restaurant in Jumeirah Lakes Towers does an all-you-can-eat lunch between 1pm and 4pm, followed by an “all you can drink” session between 4pm and 7pm. After that, normal conversation would be virtually impossible anyway, regardless of the fully amped live band belting out Sweet Caroline.

And, finally, my own personal nightmare: the wandering saxophonist.

In a flash beachside restaurant, you’ve just got used to the decibel level of the DJ and the loud “happy birthdays” sung by apparently every table in the place in rotation, with full percussion accompaniment by the staff, when one of these fiends sneaks up behind you with the opening bars of Baker Street.

It’s enough to make you choke on your pina colada.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia and is a media adviser to First Abu Dhabi Bank of the UAE

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