When I worked in London many years ago, typically around 11.45am I would get a phone call from a client with the message: “David, take me to lunch.” There was no doubt who was paying - me, or actually the company I worked for. Also, you were judged as much on the choice of restaurant as on the work you did.
So as part of the job, you had to research restaurants, know which ones had good reviews, what was fashionable, and what was generally within walking distance. The best were down some dark alley, and probably in a basement with steep steps.
You were expected to understand your way around the menu - European menus in French, even though the food was English. If Chinese or Indian, you needed to know not only what the dishes were, but what constituted a balanced meal. That meant knowing how many dishes to order, and to make sure they were not too spicy - and negotiate with the client.
The next challenge was the wine list. Clients would expect wine. You could not order the cheapest, and it was bad form to order the dearest. What mattered was whether it went with the food. Sometimes a client would say: “You must try this.” So what can you do but try it, whatever the cost? It also applies to which beer, gin, vodka, whisky and even sparkling water to drink.
In Dubai, it is much easier not to lose your credibility, but so much harder to gain it. All the information is on the internet, but the choice may come down to which restaurant you could choose in the Ritz Carlton. It does not give you much credibility to select a restaurant based on how much discount you can get using a voucher.
You think you can abdicate responsibility and choose from the many indistinguishable buffet lunches and dinners. You may not have to work your way around the menu, but you will be judged by what you put on your plate.
Sticking to standard restaurants in standard hotels gives you no credibility whatsoever. You get kudos by knowing the unusual. I take guests to a little Iranian restaurant in Muraqabat. Then a 10-minute walk to a Filipino night club where, like most Filipino venues, the band’s music is very well played but not too loud. In Abu Dhabi, there is a dockside fish restaurant where you go to another restaurant to choose the fish. Clients love it and it is inexpensive.
You need to do your research, and have a selection of places to choose from in every area of Dubai just in case your client wants lunch, coffee, dinner or a drink. “I know a nice little place by the harbor,” should trip off the tongue easily.
Then it comes down to what you eat. If you like your steak well done, people will associate you with celebrities who like it the same way. There is a belief that food has to be cooked to death to ensure there are no remaining germs. Good restaurants serve lamb pink, steak rare, and ‘just-about-cooked’ fish. If you do not like your food that way, you will be judged as a redneck or philistine.
“I like food I can recognize” and “I like plain food” are, or were, usual expressions of the English. However, if your client takes you to an Indian restaurant (especially if he or she is Indian) and all you dare eat is an omelette, it does not give a good impression.
You need to respect race and religion - beware of pork or beef with Muslims and Hindis respectively. However, do not assume because someone is an Arab they are Muslim, and even if they are, that they will not drink alcohol. Sophisticated people recognize that they have their way and you have yours, and do not impose their rules on others.
So to entertain your client:
• Have a list of venues for all occasions in all locations
• Know what your client likes
• Know about the unusual and be courageous
• Understand menus
• Know how to use cutlery, and which hand to eat with
• When and how to pay