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21 February 2024

The Christmas dinner debate

By Keith J Fernandez



Focus on Festive, said the billboard on Sheikh Zayed Road as early as October, urging party planners and upwardly mobile professionals alike to start looking ahead to the holidays. For deciding where and what to eat during the festive period is not as straightforward in the UAE as it is elsewhere.

Back home, you would enjoy a home-cooked meal with the family. Here, where friends often take the place of family, particularly for expatriates, and where so many share accommodation with people not necessarily their nearest and dearest, you have a choice; dine out, or dine in? And if you do pick the “out” option, then you have even more choices. Do you go traditional, or do you veer away from the turkey and stuffing altogether? Whatever your decision, the Emirates’ hotels and restaurants are cashing in.

“As the hotel nears the festive period, food and beverage revenues can increase by 50 per cent,” says Oliver Key, hotel manager at The Fairmont Dubai, which launched the Focus on Festive campaign, with 29 events and a website, www.focusonfestive.ae.

“Christmas/New Year’s is a very busy time of year for us, and with Eid just before it, the season has truly been extended,” he adds.

Other hotels, like the Sheraton Hotel Dubai Creek, see food and beverage bookings rise 20 per cent, says the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Yves Tarabout. “Christmas and New Year are times for renewing bonds with family and friends. But inviting 15 people, for example, requires a lot of time and preparation, so eating out is often the best solution, especially when many people are working the next day,” Tarabout says.

“In many ways, it’s so much easier to eat out – and you don’t have to do the dishes,” agrees American publishing professional Kim Thomson, 46, who has pretty much tried all the options over the 10 years she and her family have been in Dubai.

And as you might expect, it is no surprise that almost every hotel in town offers some sort of special festive menu. From the traditional turkey with trimmings to the gourmet European goose or the Goan-style sorpotel, it is all on offer. Some outlets even go one step further with more unusual menus, such as the restaurants at the Shangri-La Dubai.

“Our Asian specialty restaurants, the Shang Palace and the Hoi An, have proved to be very popular for holidays such as Christmas,” says Neil Rumbaoa, director of communications at the hotel.

“This is partly because unless such celebrations are done at home, people look for something out of the ordinary, something non-traditional, at these times. Also, menus during the festive season are more special and not usually found in regular á la carte menus. The dishes reflect the festive dishes of the country their cuisines represent.”

Both the Sheraton and The Fairmont told Emirates Business that their outlets were either fully booked or booked to about 75 per cent capacity for meals around Christmas Day and Christmas Eve by midweek, so clearly the big dinner out has its takers.

But eating out can be expensive, with most options for Christmas brunch costing an average of Dh300 per head together with beverages. Although there are cheaper options: Double Decker at the Al Murooj Rotana does a pub grub brunch on Christmas Day at Dh200. By and large, however, the festive season is a time to dig deep into your wallet and if your restaurant of choice throws in a Christmas choir, a visit from Santa or other such wondrous delights, you could be looking at Dh800 each. And for a family of four, it all adds up to quite a significant amount.

It is prices like these that have prompted Scottish sales professional Margaret Grant, 45, to stay in and cook dinner. “We started with three people and now, we’re up to 13,” she laughs. “When you go out, everything becomes so expensive and so impersonal,” she says. “Christmas to me is all about staying home and doing the traditional thing: get up, open your pressies, cook dinner, then lounge around watching movies with the family.”

She adds that for families with children, not only is it a question of money, but also of fairness. “Children can’t be told they have to go out and behave themselves so adults can have fun, when all they want to do is play with their presents,” she adds. But there is a middle way. Some people, like Canadian HR professional Jennifer, 33, simply opt for the best of both worlds, by pre-ordering their turkeys “to go” and popping them into the oven for a warm up before sitting down to dinner. “You have to carve the bird yourself, so you’ve got to do some work, but this way I can spend the time and money saved on other things, such as decorating or getting the house ready,” she says.

Jennifer says she does not consider herself a good cook and feels for Dh450 a bird or about Dh75 per head with eight friends pitching in, it all works out much more economically – while still providing the feel of a meal at home.

And this way, you get to eat the leftovers for as long as you want. Kim sums it up this way: “They are all different experiences. It’s nice not to have to do the cleaning up when you go out, but you do miss the leftovers. And food seems to taste so much nicer when it’s eaten at home – yours or someone else’s.”

Another trend also emerging this year: the prolonged season has seen hotel bookings rise. “We have experienced an increase in the number of visitors from neighbouring GCC countries, who are celebrating the holidays in Dubai and taking advantage of the great dining and shopping this city is renowned for,” says The Fairmont’s Key.

Tarabout adds the Sheraton Dubai Creek is fully booked until year-end, and estimates to close the year with around 93 per cent occupancy and an average rate above Dh1,000.

The numbers

Projected increase in seasonal food and beverage revenues as a result of special deals over the festive period for the UAE’s hotels


Average cost of dinner per head, including drinks, at one of the city’s fine-dining restaurants. The cheapest deal is probably around Dh200, but depending on the location and what is on offer, prices can rise to Dh800 per person 


Average supermarket bill for a traditional dinner for eight people, not including drinks, according to Dubai-based reader Kim Thomson


Cost of a take-home meal for eight from Pronto at The Fairmont Dubai. It includes a whole turkey “to go”, plus add-ons such as mash, candied yams and Christmas pudding.