Dubai’s famous boozy brunches restart as Saturday becomes the new Friday

The UAE is tackling this work-life balance issue and the government recently introduced a 4.5-day working week for Emirati government employees.

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They say it’s risky to play with a winning formula – especially when that formula generates massive revenue for Covid-battered restaurants and is a mainstay of a country’s tourism offering.

So when the UAE government announced it was moving its weekend from Friday and Saturday to Saturday and Sunday to align with global markets earlier this year, hotels in Dubai didn’t were quick to reassure its fun-loving residents that their greatest fear hadn’t been realized – brunches weren’t “over”, they were just moving on to Saturday.

Brunches in Dubai are legendary and have always been unapologetic in their sheer extravagance. Traditionally beginning around 12:30 p.m. and ending sometime after 4:30 p.m., these all-you-can-eat encounters reinforce Dubai’s image as a popping bottle of champagne, sun-soaking, lobster-crunching, party playground.

In fact, brunches are a much-anticipated weekend treat for hard-working city dwellers – and make no mistake, despite designer labels and bumper-to-bumper supercars, it’s a city where people work extremely hard for dirhams.

In a recent study by mobile technology company Kisi, Dubai came out on top for the most overworked population in the work intensity category, meaning full-time employees often work 48 hours a week.

The UAE is tackling this work-life balance issue and the government recently introduced a 4.5-day working week for Emirati government employees, meaning they benefit now half day on Fridays with time for worship and family gatherings on the Islamic holy day.

However, most of the expat-dominated private sector will still work all day on Fridays – hence restaurants switching brunches to Saturdays – a change that Dubai’s foodies seem to have adapted to with a shrug.

In fact, the only serious problem for hungry weekenders is knowing which brunch to choose, with plenty of new options across the emirate, such as Bleu Blanc at the brand new The St. Regis Downtown Dubai. Here, patrons can sample extravagant creations such as a wagyu beef fritter with truffle mayonnaise and enjoy endless champagne for 700 UAE dirhams ($191) a head.

Not to mention “classic” old-school brunches like Bubbalicious at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi resort, where diners can unleash their taste buds at three restaurants and a huge outdoor terrace for 695 dirhams with unlimited bubbly, including a huge display of fresh seafood topped with lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels and heaps of freshly shucked oysters.

“I don’t think people needed any encouragement to go back to brunches after the weekend change,” David Tully, media officer at Middlesex University in Dubai, told CNBC.

“They could move brunches to Tuesdays and people would find a way – Dubaiers just can’t say no to an expensive and excessive buffet. Covid can’t destroy an age-old tradition, nothing breaks the step of brunch in this city .”

The American expat added: “I think Aristotle called it Catharsis – after the drudgery of the working week, people need a little Dionysian excess on the weekends to let off steam.”

Brunches are a long-awaited weekend treat for hard-working residents of the city.

Karim Sahib | AFP | Getty Images

Meanwhile, Stephanie Hughes, British managing director of a Dubai-based communications firm who has been an avid brunch regular since arriving in the United Arab Emirates in 2014, says the new Saturday brunch is a good thing.

“It’s better because now we’re going to have brunch and enjoy a nice day and then have a traditional Sunday roast the next day to recover from the festivities,” she told CNBC.

She added: “Now there seems to be more brunch choices, better food quality and different times to choose from.”

Swedish expat Victoria Stevenson, who goes to brunch most weekends with her Scottish husband, says she has also noticed that Dubai venues have upped their game to attract punters.

“I think the entertainment is more of a part of brunches; when we go back to Europe for a visit, we’ll really miss the stage,” she told CNBC.

Although some brunches continued during the height of the pandemic, most were significantly scaled back and included safety measures such as table spacing, hourly sanitizing of tables, screens and table service by opposition to the usual buffet.

Many of the stricter protocols have now been abandoned by hotels in Dubai – 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 spendthrift brunch clientele and their efforts appear to be paying off with skyrocketing bookings in recent weeks in what appears to be a spinoff of so-called ‘revenge tourism’ – a concept recent which refers to consumers being more eager to travel after lockdown restrictions.

“There’s definitely been higher demand this year,” Elif Yazoglu, managing director of DoubleTree by Hilton at the beachfront Jumeirah Beach residence in Dubai, told CNBC.

“Everyone needs to get back to normal, be social, share a meal with family and friends, have casual conversations and lots of laughs – brunch is a laid-back weekend option to do that.”

Yazoglu says the hotel’s brunch that moved to a Saturday went well in terms of customer acceptance.

“Since the weekend itself has changed for everyone, those who were previously off on Fridays but now work that day obviously prefer Saturday brunches.”

She added that after a difficult few years for the hospitality industry due to Covid, 2022 has been optimistic – buoyed by good weather, excitement around Expo 2020 and travel trends returning to normal.

“We have also noticed that there is a high demand for outdoor spaces – weather permitting – and our biggest advantage is our large garden space with its fabulous views over Ain Dubai. [Dubai’s iconic observation wheel] and Bluewaters Island,” she said.

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