UAE | Society

Wild Fridays: Drunch, Dubai style

Lavish all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches under spotlight after Dubai Police ask hotels to rein in drunken behaviour

  • By Muby Asger, Staff reporter, XPRESS
  • Published: 00:00 October 27, 2011
  • XPRESS

  • Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A woman falls flat on her back, unable to keep her balance even while seated. The man next to her laughs so hard, he falls over too. Drinks are spilled, food falls over. The music's so loud the woman's screams are barely heard.

A couple at the adjacent table helps her up and piles her with what won't be her last drink of the day. Diners all around laugh, drink, misbehave, dance, eat, drink some more. Husbands flirt with women who would never be their wives. Children watch helplessly as their parents continue to embarrass them. In the corner a fight breaks out between two macho types, both barely able to stand on their own, the alcohol interfering with their rationality.

All through the chaos, the bubbly flows freely, more red and white consumed than what seems humanly possible.

No, this isn't a Thursday night gone wrong. It's early on a Friday afternoon at one of Dubai's notorious brunches; the type of lunch that's not only re-invented the wheel but created a brand new phenomenon where expats get together early in the day, head down to their favourite Friday restaurant and indulge in an all-you-can-eat and, more importantly, all-you-can-drink, alcohol-induced fest.

With so much alcohol flowing freely, the danger of over-indulgence looms large. Although hotels stand to benefit from their drunken clientele, they, too, have to draw the line somewhere.

In a new advisory by Dubai Police's Traffic Department, hotels will have a role to play in reducing the rate of fatalities caused by driving under the influence of alcohol. Police will be co-ordinating with the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing to educate hotel personnel on how to deal with visitors who appear to be under the influence of alcohol.

Watch the guests

Early this month, Major General Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of Dubai Police's Traffic Department, said, "Hotel staff will be instructed to make sure a guest or visitor is stable, both mentally and physically, before handing over his car and allowing him to drive away." Diners and guests who appear to be unfit to drive will have a taxi called to drop them home.

Some hotels are taking this advisory seriously. However, while they share the concerns raised by Dubai Police, they don't want to comment on it in view of the sensitivity of the issue.

Certain bars in the busy Al Barsha area have been banned from serving alcohol between 4 and 6pm in an attempt to curb the post-brunch drinking frenzy that leads to all sorts of unpleasant situations.

A four-star international hotel in Deira said they have a strict policy for guests who over-indulge in their all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunch offers. "The safety of our guests is of the utmost importance to us," says the hotel's spokesperson. "Alcohol service will be immediately stopped if the guest is found to be overly intoxicated. At first, we would explain the situation to him and offer him a chance to continue his brunch with us, but minus the alcohol. If however, the guest is agitated or begins making a scene, he will be asked to leave the premises and put into a taxi straight away. When all else fails and the guest refuses to leave or slow down on the alcohol, we wouldn't hesitate in contacting the police and handing him over to the authorities. Although we understand that this may seem a bit harsh to the guest, we have to follow the rules of the country. A brunch offer is meant to help guests unwind after a long week and enjoy their weekend. At no point should it be abused."

Contrary to her words, various hotels in the city use every means of marketing possible to entice diners to their drunken brunches. For example, a restaurant in Al Garhoud area invited guests with unlimited free cocktails.

"The Dubai brunch is an expat institution," says Londoner Sarah. "Of course, people will over-indulge, go crazy, and often make a fool of themselves. When anyone is offered that much alcohol, what else do you expect?"

Referring to an experience early this year, Sarah recalls how a celebratory brunch ended up totally out of control. "I was with my boyfriend at the time and eight of his friends. We went to the famous brunch where each of us was allocated 30 free mojitos along with our minuscule, bite-sized potions of food.

"Unfortunately, my boyfriend was amongst those who abused the privilege of an afternoon drink and ended up in a massive bar brawl. One moment we were dancing and enjoying the happy hour discounts available for four hours post brunch, and the next I saw him landing a punch on someone's jaw. Naturally, his friends and I all jumped in to stop the fight. Big mistake. He was so drunk that he not only managed to give me a black eye but in his drunken haze he ended up also punching his best friend's girlfriend! Naturally, security was called in and my boyfriend spent the rest of the evening at the police station. Needless to say, we've never spoken since."

The brunch is a trend that hotels all over the city have caught on to. Every 3, 4 and 5-star worth its salt hosts a Friday brunch. The competition to outdo each other only means that the diners (read drinkers) stand to benefit.

Over-indulgence

Take for example the city's most famous bubbly brunch at an Australian restaurant in a popular Dubai hotel. Held on the grass lawns, the champagne brunch is an expat favourite. Although priced on the higher end of the scale at over Dh500 per head, the brunch offers diners an all-you-can-drink experience unlike any other bar in Dubai. This rowdy brunch often has women dancing atop the tables, flutes in hand, while the DJ takes revellers to new heights with his music.

Unfortunately, this notorious party, unofficially dubbed Dubai's most famous brunch, was first brought to international fame due to Michelle Palmer and her sex on the beach case in 2008. Palmer's actions were a direct result of an all-afternoon drinking fest at this Aussie brunch.

"An hour or two into a brunch, most people will have given up on eating, focusing all the limelight on the star of the afternoon: the branded beverages. Inhibitions are shed, table-top dancing abounds and all sorts of revelry, normally never permissible in Dubai, takes place," says a brunch regular.

However, when things get out of control, drastic action is called for. A five-star hotel in New Dubai told XPRESS that guests are immediately escorted to the door at the first signs of aggression. "There's a lot we turn a blind eye to, but when a person starts getting violent, either with his words or behaviour, he is politely but firmly shown the door. It's rare that we would contact the police since most brunchers are there to have a laugh, not to harm anyone. But in the exceptional cases, where we feel the situation has gotten way out of hand, we wouldn't hesitate in contacting the authorities."

While bubbly may not be everyone's first choice, or the price tag may seem a tad high for a couple's weekly bill, the other options available to eager brunchers range from the Dh85 for an open buffet with five free drinks in Bur Dubai to Dh195 for a not-so-rowdy bubbly brunch in Dubai Marina.

A three-star hotel in Bur Dubai claims to have found the middle ground. "Yes, we want our clients to enjoy their afternoon and giving them free drinks is one way to do that. However, we limit the number of free drinks to three per person. After that, they pay happy hour prices. We want them slightly inebriated but not so drunk that they ruin our reputation, or it becomes a police case, or worse, an international scandal," the hotel's spokesperson said.

While it's all cherries and cream for the expats, hotels are often forced to take a stand against excessive drunkenness. "We have bouncers discreetly positioned all over the restaurant," says the spokesperson for a four-star hotel in Deira. "The minute things get out of hand, the bouncers spring into action. The drunk guest is escorted out of the restaurant before we even begin asking them any questions. We're just supplying people with the ingredients to spice up a Friday afternoon. In no way at all do we want to instil the idea that we're a place that ignores the laws. We're well aware that undercover personnel are sent to various bars and restaurants all over Dubai, and we would never want to violate any of the country's laws."

Meanwhile, regulars to the Dubai drunken brunch scene have even coined a phrase for the weekly event: Drunch (or drunken brunch to the rest of us). "It's no longer a mix of breakfast and lunch. No, Dubai's brunches are about getting drunk over lunch. It's a drunch. It's an institution." says Rob K., a British expat.

Global reputation

With a reputation that's spread far and wide, the UAE's brunches have become an international topic of conversation. A brunch is often part of the must-do list for many a tourist eager to get a taste of all that the country offers. "When we told friends we were going to holiday in Dubai, the first thing we were told about were the brunches," says Australian expat Jeff. "While all the tourist books told us that Friday was the holiest day of the week, the party guides all had lists of where to get drunk as an expat, while the citizens adhere to their religious customs. True to form, as soon as we heard the sound of the prayers, the hotels opened their doors for brunch. What we saw was insane. Even back home, the brunches aren't so lavish or excessive! Sober-looking diners soon disintegrated into a mob of uncontrollable drunkards barely able to stand any longer."

Did you know?

According to a 2010 survey by research firm Euromonitor, alcohol consumption in the UAE has increased by 30 per cent since 2005. The frequency of Alcoholic Anonymous Arabia (AA Arabia) meetings which address the issue has registered a staggering 700 per cent increase, from three per week .

Comments (17)

Have you been to a brunch where things have gone out of hand? Tell us your experience Should all hotels limit the number of drinks guests can have at brunches?
  1. Added 16:39 October 27, 2011

    I think it is about time these booze soaked brunches are got rid of. I have only been to one and I found it quite repugnant to watch people literally gorging themselves on food and alcohol. And I wonder what other people in the UAE who don't touch alcohol really think of these brunches which always take place on Friday, the day of worship here. I'm originally from a country where public drunkeness is not really shocking, and even I find it pretty offensive. The Dubai authorities should take a stricter stance There are better ways to relax at the end of the week than drinking yourself into oblivion!

    Anon, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 16:15 October 27, 2011

    Many of these places often discriminate against Asians which I thought was crazy. I have myself seen a gatekeeper rudely and abusively turn away Indians for walking in wearing shorts while allowing others to get in wearing similar wear. I wish the UAE authorities would pass strict laws against such discrimination.

    Raul Johnson, Dubai, South Africa

  3. Added 15:38 October 27, 2011

    Unfortunately, the reckless practices of some expats (whom we all know) is causing this issue. Open buffet/bar is present in many places around the world, but it doesn't get out of control like it does in Dubai. Simply, the majority of expats from certain countries think they are above the law. I think they should have more strict laws against them. Instead of sending them home in a taxi, they should be taken to a police station and taught a lesson in etiquette and proper social conduct.

    ConciousMind, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 13:56 October 27, 2011

    These brunches and drinking excesses should be banned by the authorities and they should crack down on them. It is not only the Friday brunches but also the numerous ladies nights with free drinks on offer around town which cause problems. Gone are the good old days where no alcohol was served during the day, especially on Fridays. To attract western lifestyle and tourism is ok but it must be within limits. A line needs to be drawn. Expats should respect the country's, culture and laws and should be happy with the freedom they can enjoy here but not go over the top. In most of their home countries such excessive drinking parties do not exist so why here?

    Michael, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 13:34 October 27, 2011

    It is not an acceptable behaviour. They should jail a couple so that the others wont have the courage to do this again. This is a Muslim country. Have some respect!

    dood, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 13:30 October 27, 2011

    Although the writer of this article has obviously done their research, it appears to be all one sided giving the message that most all Friday brunches in Dubai to be preceived as drunken, out-of-control brawls. I attend many brunches all over Dubai where the alcohol is not free flowing, but rather limited to two drinks or none at all in the price and everyone has a wonderful time with no troubles. While reporting negative about a subject in general I would suggest reporting some of the positives as there is a lot of it on offer in Dubai. I would venture to guess the writer of this article is a non drinker and sounds prejudiced in general which I believe to be completely wrong when reporting on a subject where your personal choices take over in place of impartial journalism.

    Jim , Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 12:01 October 27, 2011

    This story is trying to be overdramatic without and facts to back it up...

    Mary Swan, Dubai, United Kingdom

  8. Added 11:37 October 27, 2011

    Very sad...when UAE citizens travel abroad, they are forced to obey every country's traditions, which they do. But in Dubai and the UAE, these expats indulge in such excesses despite it being the holiest day of the week. If you don't respect the country you live in, at least prevent exposing your children to this kind of behaviour.

    ALi, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 11:08 October 27, 2011

    Why are you portraying things in black and white? I have been to many brunches and have never seen anyone out of control the way you described it. Most people are able to control themselves and know their limits especially given the fact that there is a zero-alcohol tolerance policy, especially while driving. Don’t assume everyone will go out on a binge, over-indulging just because there was one odd incident that happened and ruined the reputation for everyone. If you’re going to publish facts at least do it objectively I don’t have time to read fairytales or horror stories that came out of a someone’s Macbook. Instead of writing fiction like this why not pay attention to increasing number of car races among young people resulting in huge fatalities. That’s today’s reality that no one is addressing.

    Maria, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 10:44 October 27, 2011

    We have some excellent brunches in RAK usually about half the cost of Dubai. People actually go for the food, and yes they may drink a bit more because it's included, but I have never seen any of the rowdiness mentioned.

    Reg, RAK, United Arab Emirates

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