Eating out is on everyone's menu in the UAE
Dubai residents have become compulsive foodies. Here's why...
Do you increasingly find yourself ditching the kitchen stove in favour of an eat-out or a takeaway? You're not alone. A Khaleej Times' online poll found that 35% respondents dine out at least 2-3 times a week; the number went up to 43% on weekends; and 17% said they eat out/order in every single day.
What's cooking on UAE's dining scene?
A recent F&B survey conducted by KPMG revealed that amongst Emirati and GCC nationals, Arab, Asian and Western expats, 66% of people eat out at least once a week, with an average spend of Dh120 per person.
> Over 70% respondents indicated they were influenced by opinions of friends and family; over 40% read an online review before visiting a restaurant for the first time.
> Casual dining restaurants, quick service restaurants and food courts are the most popular F&B choices for UAE residents.
According to CBRE, the international real estate consultancy, the UAE has the highest number of food and beverage outlets, per capita, in the world. We're spoilt for choice, spoilt for convenience, and, with all our smartphone gadgetry, spoilt for accessibility to food, anytime, anywhere. Within the UAE, Dubai - with its number of restaurants tipped to be anywhere between a whopping 7,000-8,000 - occupies pride of place when it comes to the spiralling eating out/ordering in trend.
Turkish national Shima Karimi, a pharmacist, has been in Dubai for six years and says that she orders takeaway dinners every single night. "I work till 10pm. I am too tired to cook when I get home. So I order in - fast food mostly. I like Lebanese food, so I tend to order things like hummous and moutabel." She says she can cook, but there is just no time. "Groceries in Dubai are expensive so, price-wise, it amounts to the same thing - at least for one person, and there's just me." Is she worried about getting inadequate nutrition or the possible unhealthy-factor of ordering in everyday? "Yes, but what can I do? I try to eat less of carbs. And I jog in the morning." When she was in Istanbul though, she says she never ate out much. "Food was cooked at home."
This holds true for most people in Dubai. Gone are the days when going out was a weekly or monthly treat. "My mother still cooks food at home for my father," says Thanzeem Rawther, who works for Emirates airlines, "but we all eat out so much now that eating at home is a treat!" Thanzeem says that since none of her family members' schedules line up, they often end up eating at odd times, seldom with each other. "It's just more convenient. I don't think I've ever been home before 9.30-10pm. It is easier for me to just eat on the way, especially if I'm far from home." She is, coincidentally, waiting for her lunch to be delivered as she speaks. "At work, almost everyone orders in... The biggest thing here is the sheer variety and choice of food that you can eat. You're never out of options," she adds.
"Four times a week would be an understatement for me," says Diya Mathai, manager at an FMCG company. "Most lunches are outside, which is the same with everyone I work with... I have dinner out 4-5 times a week."
Manika Dhama, a freelance writer and mother of a 4-year-old, moved to Dubai last year. "I cook everyday, except on Thursdays. We eat out on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays."
Varghese and Irene Skariah love pizzas and burgers and eat out often. "On Thursdays and weekends, we eat out, and at least one weekday too," says Irene, a passionate baker and stay-at-home mum. She cooks at home a couple of times a week - and all the time for her 18-month-old son Yohann - but she realises that the green leafy component is probably missing from their diet. She has friends who "have cooks who make breakfast, lunch and dinner for Dh500 a month".
For those of us who can't afford a home cook, but still prefer to eat at home, things quickly become expensive. "One of the primary reasons why people eat out so much is the prohibitively high cost of groceries here," says Samantha Wood, a noted food writer in the UAE of foodiva.net fame. "It's just not financially viable to cook for one or two people. Unless it's a family of four or more, it's cheaper to eat out," she says. "The other factor is that it's so easy to get food delivered to you."
With so many restaurants in Dubai, there is obviously no dearth of convenient dining options, with a variety of cuisines to choose from (according to the latest data compiled by restaurant rating aggregator Zomato, pizza is the most searched food in Dubai). And the F&B sector doesn't look like it's in for a slowdown anytime soon, especially with Dubai's large tourist influx and young population. "The demographics of the UAE market explain why people eat out a lot in Dubai," says Mathew Parsons, director, KPMG in the UAE. "The population is young, mostly between the ages of 18-44 and steadily growing. Busy working professionals, who spend long hours in the office tend to prefer convenience and entertainment when it comes to food, which is why they dine out so often. Tourists also contribute to the high level of spend in the F&B market - they tend to eat out a lot."
According to Zomato, people in world cities like Istanbul, Jakarta and Beirut tend to order out more on the weekends than weekdays - but people in Dubai order food for lunch and dinner almost everyday of the week; other cities on its radar tend to cater only one meal - either lunch, or dinner - indicating that Dubai's denizens are turning their backs on their kitchens, and heading straight for a restaurant. or at least dialling the hotline to their favourite takeaway corner.