Many clubs have a unspoken minimum spend rule that’s applied selectively Image Credit: © XPRESS / Ahmed Ramzan

Dubai In a city that has some of the world's best bars and nightclubs, choosing where to spend your wages is not the problem. It's getting into them that's an issue.

With strict door policies, minimum spends in the thousands and selective screening by bouncers, not every expat gets equal access rights to these high-end venues. At some of Dubai's super-clubs, if you aren't hoity toity enough, you're slapped with the minimum spend rule, as is the case at a prominent new nightclub, a branch of one of London's favourite clubs, that opened on Shaikh Zayed Road last December.

In an e-mail to XPRESS, a spokesperson for the club states that "guests are required to be in mixed groups of couples." Guests need to make reservations in advance or put themselves on the club's guestlist. "[Although] priority is always given to table reservations, a guestlist or table reservation does not guarantee entry," says the spokesperson. "Entry will be at the discretion of the management to decide upon the appropriate guests to enter the club."

What the policy doesn't talk about is the minimum spend behind those reservations.

A spokesperson for the club told XPRESS "the minimum spend for a small group would be Dh5,000. A larger group of eight to 10 people would have to ensure a minimum spend of Dh7,000, while groups larger than 10 need to have a minimum spend of at least Dh10,000 for the night."

Walk-ins, especially on a weekend, are unheard of. "We are the best club in Dubai," says the spokesperson. "People book at least five days in advance and pay up at least a day earlier to ensure that they get into the club."

This notorious club isn't alone.

A high-end fashion inspired bar and restaurant has a similar policy. Entrance is free provided a reservation has been made. And like most other venues of a similar calibre, there is the unspoken minimum spend rule. For those who make a table reservation, there is a minimum spend of two courses per person, provided at least one is a main course. In order to be put on the guest list for "drinks only, there is no minimum spend at all," says the club's spokesperson.

Despite the rule, on one visit (weekday, 9pm), five Indian women and a single guy headed to the lounge for an after-work drink in the bar. "I was informed of a minimum spend of Dh1,000 per person in order to sit on a bar stool! (Following our protests) the hostess was ready to negotiate the price down since we were a large group," said one woman.

Club contradicts itself

In responding to her e-mail, the club contradicted itself. "The restaurant and lounge is the most exclusive area in the venue as a result of its views. The minimum spend in the said lounge area usually starts at Dh1,000 per person as a result."

Further down Shaikh Zayed Road is another newly-opened super-club, very tropical in name and nature. With a reputation of being the friendliest and most relaxed venue in Dubai in terms of bar policies, a guest was surprised to find that the hidden layer of minimum spend applied here too. "I'm almost afraid to use the word racism, but that's what it feels like," says a Filipina secretary in Dubai. "I see a lot of Western expats getting in with no questions asked. Then, when it's my turn, I'm asked for all sorts of ID and proof and when all else fails, they slap us with the minimum spend," she said. "At this particular venue, we expected different. We turned up for drinks at 11pm on a Friday night and were told at the door that after 10pm there was a minimum spend for table reservations."

In an e-mail to XPRESS, this venue was the only one to confirm having a minimum spend policy. "We have an open and friendly door policy," wrote the spokesperson. "We do not operate a guest list. But to book a table after 10pm, there will be a minimum spend. The exact amount varies with the size of the group and what day you would like to come down.

"The minimum spend for a table in the lounge ranges upwards from Dh2,000, while tables in the club go from Dh5,000 upwards," says the spokesperson.

Exorbitant costs such as these are not uncommon at the city's high-end venues.

An Indian businessman cele-brated his 35th birthday at a decadent, fantasy-world club on Shaikh Zayed Road. "I was told that the minimum amount I would have to spend to book a table for drinks in the club was Dh6,000. Whether or not my group consumed drinks worth Dh6,000 was beside the point. To be honest, I don't think it's over-the-top. Where else would I have been able to take over 10 friends out for drinks, in a venue as erotically decadent as this? It's not the drinks you're paying for when you go to a club such as this. It's the atmosphere. And for that, they could charge whatever they want to, and those who want that environment bad enough will pay for it," he said.

A bouncer who works at a prominent nightclub did his best to ease ruffled feathers when confronted with a barrage of questions on which guests are asked to spend the minimum amount, and who's allowed in regardless of the rules.

"The minute door policies are mentioned, the first word that comes to people's minds is racism," said the bouncer. "But there's a large difference between being racist and stereotyping people. My job isn't to be a racist jerk. It's understanding people, cultures and spend habits and then putting people into brackets as I see them lining up in a queue. Certain cultures are known to spend more or less than others, and it's my job to pick those out at first glance. It's also my job to notice when certain people clearly stand over and above their cultural stereotypes, and to bend the rules slightly for them. It doesn't make me a bad person. I'm just doing my job."

It's a job however, that some take advantage of, believes an Indian flight attendant who was asked for an unreasonable door charge earlier this month. The steward said he went to a popular nightclub located within a mall hotel with three other male friends and one woman. "We were told that the minimum spend for us would be Dh3,000 per table. When we agreed, they changed their mind and said that on second thoughts, there was no table available, so we would have to pay the same amount just to stand at the bar. And while he said that, all around us I noticed other couples walking in with no minimum charge rules. Eventually, we bargained the minimum spend down to Dh1,500. But my question is, if Dh3,000 is the minimum spend, then how can they bargain it down to an amount even more minimum that the minimum? It makes me question: ‘Minimum spend based on what? Since clearly, the minimum changes from person to person."

  • Dh1,000 is the minimum spend per person at an upscale lounge and bar on Shaikh Zayed Road
  • Dh6,000 is the minimum to book a table at an exotic night club in a five star hotel

What DTCM rules say

A circular from the Department of Tourism and Commerce marketing (DTC), on entry to entertainment outlets, states that "food and beverage outlets of hotel establishments, sport and leisure clubs, restaurants and resorts are not permitted to impose any entry restrictions relating to the race, colour or profession of their guests and customers. Exceptionally, some outlets may be allowed to impose conditions limiting their entry to members only, provided the management of such outlets submit the membership regulations and conditions and the reason thereof together with all the supporting documents, in order to obtain the Department's prior approval. Information on these regulations and conditions must be made available to those interested in membership." The circular goes on to state that violators will be imposed with either a fine not exceeding Dh20,000 or temporary or permanent closure of the outlet.