Landing the best tables in Dubai’s eateries can be notoriously tricky. So how do you get what you want from the city’s bookings staff? Penelope Walsh asks the experts.
Dining out is big business in Dubai
So much so, it’s almost a national pastime. But in case you’ve ever encountered incompetent reservations services, or struggled to get your favourite table at a popular eatery, there is help at hand. We’ve spoken to four senior restaurant reservations managers, two from major hotel groups in the city and two from standalone restaurant hotspots, that get booked out fast. From planning a birthday party to waiting at the bar for your table, here’s how to overcome reservations dilemmas and get the dinner experience you want.
I don’t want to give my credit card details
Unfortunately, all our reservations experts reveal that if you are asked for credit card details to secure a booking, there is little you can do to get out of it. ‘Leaving credit card details at the time of booking is simply to secure the reservation,’ says Christopher Bird, royal service manager at Fairmont The Palm. ‘On an exceptional basis we would request debit card details, and if that is a problem [ie, you don’t own a credit or debit card], calls are recorded so we can take a guarantee verbally and send an email acknowledging the guest’s confirmation, but the last scenario is very rare,’ Sugandha Dsa, restaurant reservations manager at Atlantis The Palm tells us. But Rebecca Scott, guest relations manager at Karma Kafé, says there’s another option. ‘We ask guests to pay a deposit for the table, which is refundable if they cancel 72 hours before the event,’ she says.
I’m worried I might have a few no-shows on a large group booking
Ten friends have confirmed for a dinner or brunch, two are dragging their heels, and two are notoriously flaky... Do you book for eight, and hope the restaurant will accommodate your party if everyone makes it, or do you book for 12 and hope you won’t be charged for no shows? All our experts agree that it is a much safer option to book for more people than for less. Firstly, they say you are very unlikely to get charged for no-shows. Secondly, you may find they can’t accommodate extra guests at short notice. If some people drop out, this should not be an issue at all in most cases. Restaurants managers do account for the fact that numbers may drop or swell. Rebecca from Karma Kafé says: ‘We don’t want to cause our guests stress over confirming exact numbers, hence we try to be as flexible as possible. Organising a group dinner should be fun and exciting and not something you stress over. It is always recommended that the reservation is made for the maximum number of people expected as we cannot guarantee there will be availability for additional guests.’
Is it worth waiting at the bar for a table?
You turn up at a restaurant without a reservation, or there are no tables available at the time you want. The reservation desk suggest you wait at the bar for a table, but is it worth the bother? With so many eateries in Dubai, you might be better off cutting your losses and checking out the place next door instead. If you’ve got your heart set on this particular restaurant, however, don’t wait more than half an hour. Petra Szabo, reception manager at La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie suggests 30 minutes should be enough time for reception to let you know whether you are likely to get a table. Christopher from Fairmont The Palm agrees: ‘I wouldn’t give it more than 30 minutes to wait for the table. However, checking frequently with the host doesn’t help and can backfire on occasion. Being polite and respectful of a manager’s time goes a long way, and they will try to find the best solution for you.’
I want my favourite table
‘While we don’t make guaranteed reservations for specific tables, we of course try to honour all requests for specific seating – the earlier you make the reservation, the more likely we will be able to accommodate,’ says Sugandha from Atlantis The Palm. If it wasn’t available on reservation, what can you do on the night? Sugandha and Petra from La Serre both suggest it is worth asking again on arrival. If there has been a last minute cancellation, they won’t say no. Sugandha also notes trying to bribe the staff won’t help – the key is making the request as far in advance as possible. But how do you get a last second reservation? Petra from La Serre suggests putting your name on a waiting list for that table. ‘Mention how flexible you are with your timings,’ she says. ‘If you live nearby, tell the receptionist.’
Should I ever contact the restaurant manager directly?
Sadly, our experts agree this option is unlikely to help. ‘People have this misconception that contacting a manager will guarantee you a better table or a table at a certain time. This is not the case,’ Rebecca from Karma Kafé explains. Christopher Bird adds: ‘The reservation team at a hotel is 24 hours and can expedite reservation requests very quickly, a guest will make a faster booking by contacting us directly than by reaching out to an individual restaurant manager.’
Would tweeting help me get that table?
If you are thinking a flurry of Twitter tweets or Facebook messages will help you get VIP treatment, the managers we spoke to begged to differ. Petra says that it, ‘Wouldn’t make a difference,’ while Rebecca agrees you won’t get favourable treatment but does suggest a way in which it could be useful. ‘If you tweet us a photo of your favourite table at Karma Kafé, we will of course know exactly which table you mean,’ she says.
Can I stop the dreaded time limit on my table?
If you’re told to give up your table at a particular time, how strictly should you take this? Christopher tells us the Fairmont The Palm, has a policy against doing this. ‘It ruins the entire guest experience’. However, the other three are in agreement that if you have been asked to give up your table at a particular time, it means another set of guests will be waiting for it, and so, unless they arrive late or cancel, there’s no escaping it – you ought to try to respect your fellow diners.
How do I make a special occasion really special?
If you have a birthday, anniversary or special occasion, all agree you need to let the reservation desk know as far in advance as possible, with two days’ notice being the guideline given. If you do, the restaurant can arrange birthday cakes with candles, personalised messages and, Sugandha adds, you might even get a complimentary beverage. Sugandha also suggests reminding the restaurant when you arrive.
Again, the mantra is to let the restaurant know as far in advance as possible if you need a special menu, or have an allergy or dietary requirement. Tell the team when booking and remind them again on arrival. ‘We do get requests from guests who are regulars to a particular restaurant and like to order things that used to be on the menu and are no longer available – we can always check and try to accommodate where possible,’ Sugandha adds. Most restaurants can rise to the occasion if you give them enough notice – for example, Raffles Dubai can arrange a vegetarian afternoon tea, while At.mosphere in the Burj Khalifa can prepare a gluten-free one. If you need to know what’s on the menu before booking Rebecca from Karma Kafé suggest you can usually ask for the menu to be sent to you via email.
And as for those strange requests...
While the reservations team will do their best to make sure your visit is an enjoyable one, Sugandha notes there are some circumstances in which they won’t be able to help you out. ‘There are so many [odd requests] but my top three would include “My child is five years old but eats like an ant – will you still charge me?”, “My three maids will be coming along with us and we need them to be on the table, but they won’t eat, so don’t include them in the reservation” – how do we arrange the table size? – and lastly, “If you cannot seat me next to the aquarium [in Ossiano] then you need to offer me compensation”.’
Karma Kafé, Souk Al Bahar (04 423 0909). La Serre, Downtown Dubai (04 428 6969). Atlantis The Palm (04 426 0000). Fairmont The Palm (04 457 3388).