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.
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.
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.
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."
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 .