Ritz-Carlton DIFC review: Prime Dubai location with more to offer than just business expertise

It is location, more than brand loyalty or star-rating that matters when picking a hotel for a business trip. Being close to the conference, exhibition hall or office to attend meetings often takes precedence, especially for a short work trip.

For a prime business location, the Ritz-Carlton in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has both the city’s financial hub as well as the Dubai World Trade Centre on its doorstep.

But keen to shun its image as a business-only hotel, it also offers a high-end spa, seven restaurants and cafes and has another advantage to its location – its proximity to the Dubai Mall.

The 341-room hotel, which opened in 2010, comprises 38 club rooms, 80 suites and two royal suites, and is decorated in the signature style of the Ritz-Carlton brand – a modern take on French Imperial architecture. The effect is one of calming grandeur; the bustle of the DIFC becomes a distant whimper once inside the room.

Staying in one of the Dh1,970-a-night club suites, I had a spacious living area, with a guest bathroom, separate seating and dining area – all closed off from the bedroom if you decide to hold meetings in the suite. As well as a flat screen-TV, there is a large desk connected to several international plugs and stationary.

Internet is easily accessible via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable with speeds good enough for all tasks.

Any potential wardrobe mishaps are avoided with an iron and ironing board, sewing kit and shoe shine already supplied. And Asprey amenities in the bathroom aids those that have forgotten their toiletry bag.

Room service can be enjoyed at the living room’s four-seater glass dining table – a club sandwich sets you back Dh60 and steaks start at Dh320. Prices are on the higher side, but this, after all, is the Ritz.

For those on a tighter budget, club room and suite guests have access to the Club Lounge where light salads, meze, sandwiches and hotplates such as grilled chicken and shrimp, are available throughout the day. With high-speed Wi-Fi, international newspapers and plenty of seating, the Lounge proved an excellent spot for casual work.

What lets this hotel down is its proximity to its residential apartments. The rooftop pool is a messy affair with kids and nannies – not ideal for that downtime moment.

Q&A

How fast was check in?

Those staying in Club rooms and suites can bypass the lobby and head straight to the Club Lounge for a speedier, more intimate check in experience.

Is there is a business centre?

Yes. Open 24-hours a day, it offers plenty of computers and workspaces and 75mbps internet. The hotel also has eight different meeting rooms for those after a more formal setting for meetings. Prices for rooms start at Dh500 per hour with additional costs incurred if you add on lunch or drinks.

And if I want to relax during my downtime?

There is a gym and the spa offers Dh285 express treatments – such as a cleanse facial or a back de-stressor massage – that you can fit in between meetings. There are two swimming pools – one indoors and the other on the roof, but best to avoid this one as it is shared with the residential guests too. Even a stroll through the property can be a rather cultural affair with displays of art loaned by the Opera Gallery.

What about dining options?

There are seven cafes and restaurants in the hotel. Cafe Belge does a set business lunch menu starting from Dh100. While the choice is limited, it is convenient for a quick business lunch.

Is it easy to get around Dubai?

There is usually a steady stream of taxis outside the lobby. The metro station is a short walk away and the hotel also has its own chauffeur driven cars.

* The writer was a guest of the hotel.

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UAE plays lead role in video gaming

Games are popular across the Middle East; from consoles to mobiles, the region’s youth are tapping away scoring points, navigating their way through first-person shooters and tilting their phones to race.

According to data from Abu Dhabi’s media free zone authority twofour54, the gaming sector in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is growing faster than the global average, outpacing Russia, China and even South Korea and is set to triple in size to US$4.4 billion by 2022. PwC, however, has a more conservative estimate for the growth of the market.

“Globally, the entire videogames market will be worth $93bn by 2019. In Mena, it is smaller at $1.76bn, but it is growing at a faster pace than the rest of the world,” says Philip Shepherd, a partner at PwC.

The sector presents a lucrative opportunity for advertising and subscription revenue and various institutions are now pumping money into creating an ecosystem for mobile and console gaming as a means to create a more local market.

Leading the way is twofour54, which has established a games academy to train local developers and cement Abu Dhabi as a regional centre for content creation for the sector.

“The majority of gamers spend time downloading free-to-play games [apps] but start paying, via in-app purchases, once they are immersed in the game,” says Maryam Al Mheiri, the chief operating officer at twofour54.

“Games like Candy Crush Saga and Game of War generate around $1 million a day in revenue. In this region, consumers will increasingly expect international players to Arabise their content. These figures start to build a picture of the market opportunity in the region for gaming companies.”

Development in the region has taken a two-pronged approach – there are those who prefer to develop their own games, tailored to the local market and drawing from narrative threads of the region, while others prefer to localise global games.

“A mixture of both would be the best way to go,” says Mohammed Al Shawwa, a research manager at Arab Advisors.

“[Localising] has proved successful for a number of games, especially due to the fact that the content of the game is localised and does not contradict norms and traditions of the region, in addition to some of these games being international ‘hits’ that are of high quality.”

But these games have not been developed with a regional focus or audience in mind, so there is a market for locally produced content.

“And this is where regionally developed games can excel – by developing games that, from inception, are based on the culture of our region and on matters to which the Arab player can relate,” says Mr Al Shawwa.

The argument in favour of developing games locally is the control that the region can have on the narrative of the games and the characters within them.

“It will definitely have a positive effect, especially on young children here in the region,” says Mr Al Shawwa. “Moreover, Arab players will be able to relate more to a character that shares their background, as they feel that they are similar to them.”

But there is still a long way to go. Pay-to-play offerings are still quite under-used in the sector. In Egypt, 30 per cent of internet users are regular online gamers, but just 5 per cent pay for them. In the UAE some 17 per cent of those who play games online pay to do so.

“The ‘freemium’ model is dominant in the region,” says Mr Al Shawwa. “Gaming companies need to get a huge base of players in order to be able to generate revenue streams that would be enough to sustain their business.”

The number of mobile gamers has grown substantially thanks to the adoption of smartphones across the region. The UAE has the highest smartphone penetration rate in the region, at about 80 per cent.

The Arab Advisors Group has conducted a number of surveys focusing on mobile applications in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in 2014 and 2015. Part of what the surveys covered was the amount of time mobile application users spend playing mobile games. In Jordan, about 47 per cent of the respondents who play mobile games spend between one and three hours a day doing so, while some 33 per cent spend less than an hour a day. As for Egypt, 71 per cent of mobile game users spend between one and three hours playing games on their mobile, which is similar to Saudi Arabia, at 74.2 per cent.

Currently, mobile games, played on tablets and smartphones account for a third of all global games, but that is set to grow to half in the future.

“The Mena region has the highest mobile smartphone penetration rate in the world and the mobile market is growing year on year,” says Ms Al Mheiri.

There are close to 530 million mobile phone users in the Middle East with an overall smartphone penetration rate of about 39 per cent.

Twofour54 has developed a programme specific to the gaming sector, attracting eight gaming companies, including Ubisoft, to its campus to develop games for the region and the wider market.

Ubisoft set up in Abu Dhabi in 2012 with a strict global outlook and now employs 60 people in its studio.

“Our main goal is to develop for the global market, that is one point we stress – our focus, development and vision is for a global audience,” says Yannick Theler the managing director of Ubisoft Abu Dhabi.

Since its arrival, Ubisoft has worked with the academy and local producers and designers to create its first game for mobile – CSI Hidden Crimes, an online free to play game.

“It was really interesting and challenging for the new team. It was the first project for the studio and for the majority of employees – it was the first time they were developing a game and the first time developing for mobile,” says Mr Theler.

Since the launch in May 2014, the game has racked up close to 30 million global downloads and won several international awards, making it one of the most successful mobile apps fully developed and produced in the Arab world.

While the region has yet to produce a game that rakes in billions in revenues, there is now the potential and ability to contribute evermore positively to the sector.

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Executive travel: heritage and personal touch at The Quin in New York

Choosing the right hotel for a business trip can be a pretty strategic affair for the image conscious traveller.

While many opt for the familiarity and loyalty programmes of chain hotels, there is an argument to be made for a boutique hotel that can lend its own heritage and history to cultivate your image.

The Quin, located in New York’s Midtown Manhattan district, on the corner of 57th Street and 6th Avenue, is one of those hotels that enjoys a strong heritage, which it peddles to guests keen to associate themselves with the more refined and cultural side of the city.

Opened in 2013, the art-deco property was refashioned as a boutique hotel and it has embraced its artistic past (it once played host to musicians and artists including Renata Tebaldi and Georgia O’Keefe), by focusing on exhibitions and displays of modern art.

The cool, marble lobby essentially doubles up as an art gallery and what could be more discerning than an appreciation for the arts? The hotel’s exhibitions and artwork will easily lend itself to interesting small talk for meetings and first encounters.

Its meeting spaces include a 10-seat boardroom which can be hired out plus there are also three private dining rooms, one of which can seat 130 people.

Workwise, there is a small business centre (basically a couple of computers with internet access) to carry out basic tasks. However, Wi-Fi is freely available in the rooms and there is ample desk space to spread out documents. While there are plenty of sockets, they are all standard US, so you will need an adapter.

The rooms are decently sized and light and airy with a palette that doesn’t venture too far from white and grey. Crucially, the beds are very comfortable and each room has a Nespresso machine.

There’s a dash of technology with control panels that allow you to adjust the curtains, lights and temperature. And thankfully, it’s relatively easy to use.

But despite the high-tech feel, there is no trouser press so you must rely on the laundry service.

Given the hotel’s location in New York, the city of skyscrapers, the Quin stands comparatively short and is dwarfed by its surroundings, offering only street views for those staying in the standard rooms and no sight of Central Park, just a short walk away.

The property has 208 rooms and suites with prices starting at $400.

Q&A

Where is it?

The hotel is a stone’s throw away from the Carnegie Hall, famed for its classical and popular music concerts. With its central location on 57th street, it is close to a couple of subway stations, Central Park, the shopping haven of Fifth Avenue and Times Square.

Apart from meeting rooms, what other options are there for hosting?

To really impress clients, you can hire out the hotel’s penthouse for an event, which occupies the top three floors of the property with a 1,300-square foot terrace overlooking some of New York’s most iconic landmarks.

Is there a gym for after hours?

Yes, there’s a small fitness centre that is open 24 hours. It has the standard equipment – running machines, cross trainer and weights. The gym overlooks the lobby, so you can watch guests wandering around. Personal trainers and yoga instructors are available on request.

What about restaurants?

Downstairs is The Wayfarer restaurant, offering seafood fare. The in-room dining menu is exquisite with lobster cocktail and Colorado rack of lamb; prices range from $18-25 for breakfast to $20-65 for lunch or dinner. But if you’re staying in New York, you really ought to venture out.

Anything else?

The best thing about boutique hotels is the level of service, it is just that bit more personable. Apologies are particularly forthcoming – unable to fulfil our request for our rooms to be on the same floor, the manager apologised with a handwritten note and a box of handmade chocolates from a local outfit. It was an elegant touch.

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Executive travel: heritage and personal touch at The Quin hotel in New York

Choosing the right hotel for a business trip can be a pretty strategic affair for the image- conscious traveller.

While many opt for the familiarity and loyalty programmes of chain hotels, there is an argument to be made for a boutique hotel that can lend its own heritage and history to cultivate your image.

The Quin, located in New York’s midtown Manhattan district, on the corner of 57th Street and 6th Avenue, is one of those hotels that enjoys a strong heritage, which it peddles to guests keen to associate themselves with the more refined and cultural side of the city.

Opened in 2013, the art-deco property was refashioned as a boutique hotel and it has embraced its artistic past (it once played host to musicians and artists including Renata Tebaldi and Georgia O’Keeffe), by focusing on exhibitions and displays of modern art.

The cool, marble lobby essentially doubles up as an art gallery. And the hotel’s exhibitions and artwork will easily lend themselves to interesting small talk for meetings and first encounters.

Its meeting spaces include a 10-seat boardroom which can be hired out, plus there are also three private dining rooms, one of which can seat 130 people.

Workwise, there is a small business centre (a couple of computers with internet access) to carry out basic tasks. However, Wi-Fi is freely available in the rooms. While there are plenty of sockets, they are all standard US, so you will need an adapter.

The rooms are light and airy with a palette that doesn’t venture too far from white and grey. Crucially, the beds are very comfortable and each room has a Nespresso machine.

There’s a dash of technology with control panels that allow you to adjust the curtains, lights and temperature. And thankfully, it’s relatively easy to use.

But despite the high-tech feel, there is no trouser press, so you must rely on the laundry service.

Given the hotel’s location in New York, the city of skyscrapers, The Quin stands comparatively short and is dwarfed by its surroundings, offering only street views for those staying in the standard rooms and no sight of nearby Central Park.

The property has 208 rooms and suites with prices starting at $400.

q&a great location and service

Triska Hamid expands on what The Quin offers the business traveller:

Where is it?

The hotel is a stone’s throw away from Carnegie Hall, renowned for its classical and popular music concerts. With its central location on 57th Street, it is close to a couple of subway stations, Central Park, the shopping haven of Fifth Avenue and Times Square.

Apart from meeting rooms, what other options are there for hosting?

To really impress clients, you can hire out for an event the hotel’s penthouse, which occupies the top three floors of the property with a 1,300-square feet terrace overlooking some of New York’s best known landmarks.

Is there a gym for after hours?

Yes, there’s a small fitness centre that is open 24 hours. It has the standard equipment – running machines, cross trainer and weights. The gym overlooks the lobby. Personal trainers and yoga instructors are available on request.

What about restaurants?

Downstairs is The Wayfarer restaurant, offering seafood fare. The in-room dining menu is exquisite with lobster cocktail and Colorado rack of lamb; prices range from $18-$25 for breakfast to $20-$65 for lunch or dinner. But if you’re staying in New York, you really ought to venture out.

Anything else?

The best thing about boutique hotels is the level of service. Unable to fulfil our request for our rooms to be on the same floor, the manager apologised with a hand-written note and a box of hand-made chocolates from a local outfit. It was an elegant touch.

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There is no lack of places to stay in New York, its hotel industry is incredibly competitive. One hotel that is making its mark is the Viceroy on West 57th Street in Manhattan, just a short distance away from Carnegie Hall.

The Viceroy opened in 2013, and has carved out an unique identity in the bustling city.

The 29-floor hotel stands tall among other skyscrapers in New York’s skyline, but it is a slim building, thus offering pretty small rooms.

I stayed at the Park Suite, on the 26th floor, with a splendid view of Central Park. It was a tad small for a suite, but rather spacious by New York’s standards.

There is a living room with dining area and bar, stocked with a Nespresso machine, sink and dining table with high chairs.

The lounge area has a leather sofa that can be converted into a bed, coffee table, large widescreen television, and a desk where you can comfortably do your work.

For those who wish to hold formal meetings, the hotel has two meeting rooms. Unusually for New York, Wi-Fi is free at the Viceroy for up to 10 devices and internet speeds were decent.

Leading into the bedroom, the king-size bed, although comfortable, took up far too much room in the restricted space.

The bathroom, however, was the star attraction, with marble from floor to ceiling and golden taps.

Rooms are equipped with a smartphone, which acts like a digital butler, providing access to concierge service and information about the city.

Breakfast can be taken at the The Kingside restaurant on the ground floor, while The Roof bar is proving to be a popular spot for New Yorkers who want to enjoy great views of the city.

q&a slumber in the city that never sleeps

The National tells you a bit more about the Viceroy:

What are sample room rates at the hotel?

When we checked, the hotel’s website had rooms available for a stay late this month at prices from US$319 to $349 a night, plus taxes and fees.

NYC is the city that never sleeps – how good is the soundproofing in the rooms?

It is near impossible to completely drown out all noise in New York, but the Viceroy does pretty well. The sheer height of the hotel helps in this regard.

Is there a gym?

Yes there is a gym. It is small, but it is open 24-hours so you can enjoy a workout no matter the time. Despite its size it is kitted out with very modern equipment including pilates machines. With an array of balls, weights and mats you can also fit in a solo yoga session.

What’s the deal with breakfast?

Like the majority of hotels in the city, breakfast is not included in the price of the room – that you have to order separately, either through room service or head downstairs to the hotel’s only restaurant – Kingside.

Other eating options?

Given the hotel’s location there is a whole host of restaurants and cafes to choose from if you fancy something different. Next door is Norma’s Café, an establishment notorious for American-sized meals including pancakes, waffles and omelettes.

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Emirates A380 800 business class review: Pleasurable except for unruly children

There is something reassuring about a new plane. The engines are not as overworked, the seats are cleaner and the entire experience is smoother. The Emirates A380 800 is one of those planes that delivers such an experience, especially when you’re seated on the top deck, away from “cattle class”.

Flying from London Heathrow to Dubai on a morning flight, my spirits were lifted by an upgrade to a business class seat.

The new fleet of A380s has had an interior facelift. Gone are the grey plastic framings, replaced with wood veneers that re-enforces the feeling of luxury. The fully reclining seats of this aircraft offer space, comfort and sufficient privacy – each seat is attached to a personal minibar perched on top of a high cabinet. Within the cabinet is a foldaway table, sturdy enough to enjoy your meal and place your laptop. Given the power plugs next to the minibar and on-board Wi-Fi, working on those presentations becomes a doddle.

The in-flight entertainment is more enjoyable on the bigger screens and the option of strolling to the bar at the back for drinks and nibbles promised a sophisticated alternative to economy class ankle rolls to prevent deep-vein thrombosis. For those that wanted to sleep, a cotton duvet is available so no static shocks during your snooze.

The service was attentive with no chance of going thirsty or hungry as the cabin crew paced the aisles with drinks and snacks to sample. The menu offered a variety of dishes including chicken, salmon and lamb. I opted for the cold meze to start (a staple on all Emirates flights it seems) and the salmon, cooked just right for my palette – a tiny bit pink in the middle.

However, the experience was tarnished a little by the piercing screams of children. This was not the forgivable short-lived cries that occur during take off and landing or a child in distress struggling to get to sleep; this was unruly children not being managed by their parents.

Airlines should consider bundling families together in one section and leaving part of the plane as a quiet zone for adults – particularly those wanting to get some work done.

The professionalism of the staff made up for it though; they did their utmost to keep the children entertained.

Q&A

An Emirates spokesperson tells Triska Hamid more about the Emirates experience:

How frequently does Emirates fly from London to Dubai and on which aircraft?

We fly to both London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports. We have eight flights a day in total. For London Heathrow, we fly an all A380 operation five times daily. For London Gatwick, we fly thrice daily and have just announced the second A380 on the route.

Unruly children can ruin a flight, what is Emirates’ policy on this?

Emirates offers special assistance to make travelling more comfortable and convenient for our youngest flyers and their families, at every stage in their journey.

Has Emirates considered ‘adults only’ zones on the A380s?

No we have not.

What has been the response to Wi-Fi on board?

The response has been tremendous. It’s free to blog, post or tweet from your seat on most of our A380 aircraft as you can enjoy 10MB of data for free. In fact, we have found that the longer the flight, the higher the rates of people connecting on our flights.

What inspired the menu selection for the London-Dubai flights?

Menus are planned for each individual route to ensure that meals served are appropriate to the destination. Emirates strives to make every journey a destination in itself so our passengers get a taste of local palate or be reminded of home, prior to their arrival. The menus are planned by regional catering managers and the concept development team who visit outstations to sample the dishes before launch.

* The writer was a guest of Emirates.

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Day in the life: Iftar preparation starts early for Ritz-Carlton DIFC chef

Manuel Caceido is an executive banquet chef at The Ritz- Carlton DIFC, which he joined in 2013. With more than 10 years of experience across Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, the Colombian chef, 35, is the culinary mastermind behind the hotel’s high-profile events, including iftars, weddings for up to 1,000 guests, and corporate parties and banquets.

7am

I wake up from 7 to 7.30am, depending on how busy we were the night before. I have breakfast – double shots of espresso with hot milk – while checking emails, messages and voicemails. I get ready and then leave my home in Motor City for the 20-minute journey to the hotel.

8am

I go for my morning walk-through and greet the team, talking to them about anything and everything, from a recap of past night’s events to reviewing events for the day, and even personal stuff. A typical day for a chef can be up to 14 hours long. We spend more time at work than home, so my team is really an extension of my family.

9am

It’s my responsibility to ensure the team is briefed and prepared. This involves checking the set-ups for breakfast, coffee breaks and lunch for each event and inspecting the quality of the produce. Midmorning, we start cooking dishes that take longer or can be prepared ahead of time, such as soups and desserts. Since we do high-volume cooking, it’s important to manage the time.

11am

Even though it’s Ramadan, it doesn’t mean we have no meetings in the hotel. For in-house guests, Café Belge and Cake are also open for lunch. I go back to the kitchen to ensure we are ready for lunch service, double-checking and tasting each dish.

Noon

During lunch operations, I interact with guests to see if there is anything more we could do to wow them. I like to hear feedback directly because it allows me to take action immediately. We cover a huge range of events. The most common during Ramadan are corporate iftars and suhoors. We work closely with clients to personalise each event, from table seating to special linens and props.

1pm

I don’t typically have lunch, but when I do it’s a quick and light. Sometimes we do menu tasting with clients, so that’s lunch. I also review the menu planning, check costing and meet the procurement team and suppliers to make sure inventory orders are delivered and that the produce is high quality. For events that require a lot of preparation, usually weddings and gala dinners, I visit the suppliers and vendors and select the produce myself. Back in the kitchen, the iftar team should be finishing up the preparation work by now.

3pm

I meet the events and banquet team. Banquet events – no matter the size – take a lot of coordination between the departments and all concerned have to be briefed on their roles.

4pm

We have an afternoon line- up of the culinary department (a team of 35 chefs) where we discuss our daily commitment to quality and wow stories – a collection of memorable stories crafted by The Ritz-Carlton team all over the world.

5pm

I call this our happy hour; it’s the time we brainstorm, share feedback, experiment with different ways of plating a dish, and infuse new flavours to an existing dish. We challenge ourselves to come up with new ideas and innovate to create new experiences without compromising on the quality of the ingredients we use. For example, this Ramadan we created “Savoury Booza”, served as unique condiments to our felafel waffle. As we brainstorm, a chef makes my favourite chai.

6pm

It’s almost showtime. The iftar crowd arrives any time from half an hour to five minutes before breaking the fast. We transport all the food from the kitchen to the Samaya ballroom, where we host the DIFC Ramadan Majlis. Each chef has their assigned station, but on busy nights it’s not uncommon to see me behind the hotline.

10pm

As service slows down, I go over the closing duties with the sous chef. Before leaving, I spend another 20 to 30 minutes preparing for the next day, checking orders are placed in the system. It’s always better to be prepared.

10.30pm

I head home and go for a six-kilometre run. I love to do that at night with my headphones and loud music; this helps me relax and think outside the box. If I’m not running, I meet friends and try new restaurants in the city.

1am

After a cold shower, I hit the bed.

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Day in the life: Iftar preparation starts early for Ritz-Carlton DIFC chef

Manuel Caceido is an executive banquet chef at The Ritz- Carlton DIFC, which he joined in 2013. With more than 10 years of experience across Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, the Colombian chef, 35, is the culinary mastermind behind the hotel’s high-profile events, including iftars, weddings for up to 1,000 guests, and corporate parties and banquets.

7am

I wake up from 7 to 7.30am, depending on how busy we were the night before. I have breakfast – double shots of espresso with hot milk – while checking emails, messages and voicemails. I get ready and then leave my home in Motor City for the 20-minute journey to the hotel.

8am

I go for my morning walk-through and greet the team, talking to them about anything and everything, from a recap of past night’s events to reviewing events for the day, and even personal stuff. A typical day for a chef can be up to 14 hours long. We spend more time at work than home, so my team is really an extension of my family.

9am

It’s my responsibility to ensure the team is briefed and prepared. This involves checking the set-ups for breakfast, coffee breaks and lunch for each event and inspecting the quality of the produce. Midmorning, we start cooking dishes that take longer or can be prepared ahead of time, such as soups and desserts. Since we do high-volume cooking, it’s important to manage the time.

11am

Even though it’s Ramadan, it doesn’t mean we have no meetings in the hotel. For in-house guests, Café Belge and Cake are also open for lunch. I go back to the kitchen to ensure we are ready for lunch service, double-checking and tasting each dish.

Noon

During lunch operations, I interact with guests to see if there is anything more we could do to wow them. I like to hear feedback directly because it allows me to take action immediately. We cover a huge range of events. The most common during Ramadan are corporate iftars and suhoors. We work closely with clients to personalise each event, from table seating to special linens and props.

1pm

I don’t typically have lunch, but when I do it’s a quick and light. Sometimes we do menu tasting with clients, so that’s lunch. I also review the menu planning, check costing and meet the procurement team and suppliers to make sure inventory orders are delivered and that the produce is high quality. For events that require a lot of preparation, usually weddings and gala dinners, I visit the suppliers and vendors and select the produce myself. Back in the kitchen, the iftar team should be finishing up the preparation work by now.

3pm

I meet the events and banquet team. Banquet events – no matter the size – take a lot of coordination between the departments and all concerned have to be briefed on their roles.

4pm

We have an afternoon line- up of the culinary department (a team of 35 chefs) where we discuss our daily commitment to quality and wow stories – a collection of memorable stories crafted by The Ritz-Carlton team all over the world.

5pm

I call this our happy hour; it’s the time we brainstorm, share feedback, experiment with different ways of plating a dish, and infuse new flavours to an existing dish. We challenge ourselves to come up with new ideas and innovate to create new experiences without compromising on the quality of the ingredients we use. For example, this Ramadan we created “Savoury Booza”, served as unique condiments to our felafel waffle. As we brainstorm, a chef makes my favourite chai.

6pm

It’s almost showtime. The iftar crowd arrives any time from half an hour to five minutes before breaking the fast. We transport all the food from the kitchen to the Samaya ballroom, where we host the DIFC Ramadan Majlis. Each chef has their assigned station, but on busy nights it’s not uncommon to see me behind the hotline.

10pm

As service slows down, I go over the closing duties with the sous chef. Before leaving, I spend another 20 to 30 minutes preparing for the next day, checking orders are placed in the system. It’s always better to be prepared.

10.30pm

I head home and go for a six-kilometre run. I love to do that at night with my headphones and loud music; this helps me relax and think outside the box. If I’m not running, I meet friends and try new restaurants in the city.

1am

After a cold shower, I hit the bed.

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Cisco’s Rabih Dabboussi on the perks of cycling in Dubai

Rabih Dabboussi is the general manager of Cisco UAE, an American computer networking company. The Lebanese-American, 44, joined the company in the US in 1996 as an engineer before moving to the UAE in 2008 to lead the engineering division for Cisco’s emerging markets and later assuming his current role. Out of hours, Mr Dabboussi, who lives in Dubai, is an avid cyclist – a hobby he often engages in for his morning commute to work – even during the summer months.

How often do you go cycling and where?

I go cycling two to three times per week, especially in the Jumeirah Islands neighbourhood where I live, which has a track of about 7 kilometres, and at the Al Qudra Cycle Path.

Do you usually cycle to work? What is your route and how long does it take?

Yes, I cycle to work all year round, even in the summer. It of course depends on the level of heat and humidity. So if the weather is too oppressive, say 53 degrees and high humidity, then I may not cycle; I’ll alternately try to do something active like swimming or running. My commute takes about 25 minutes, beginning at my home in Jumeirah Islands. I’ll then ride through The Springs, take the overpass across Sheikh Zayed Road into Media City, and then park at the Cisco office in Knowledge Village.

What do you think are the benefits of cycling to work?

Cycling provides a wide range of benefits: it helps keep people healthy and relieves stress; it lowers carbon footprint and is a fun way to exercise. In the work environment, with the rapid pace of work and the pressure that employees are under, exercising daily is essential. Employees who exercise and go cycling can feel energised for work in the morning and help take their mind off work in the evening.

How has cycling helped your personal life and career?

Cycling is one form of cross-training exercise that I do, complementing running and swimming. I can go cycling for hours on end in Dubai’s Al Qudra Cycle Path, which provides a safe and scenic environment in the desert natural environment. I’ve met a lot of people while cycling, and cycling has helped to widen my circle of networking relationships. I’ve been cycling with my team since being at Cisco in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, and we have had business discussions over bike rides, especially after work in the evenings.

How has the UAE’s cycling infrastructure improved over the years?

It has improved significantly over the past two to three years, especially in Dubai, thanks to the efforts of the UAE’s visionary leaders to raise awareness about the benefits of cycling, and to create a culture of cycling safety. There are more kilometres of cycling tracks, paths and circuits than ever before. I’m very impressed by the UAE’s cycling infrastructure, and look forward to more advancements in the future. The UAE can definitely become one of the world’s leading cycling countries.

What safety precautions do you take when riding your bike?

Having proper safety gear is the most important precaution cyclists can take – especially wearing a helmet and glasses. Cyclists need to be vigilant when riding in traffic and while riding at night, including checking the front, sides and behind of the bike. Turns and intersections are high risk, when cyclists are riding alongside cars, motorbikes and buses.

How does Cisco support cycling and a healthy lifestyle for its employees?

Cisco’s company culture has a long-standing commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles and exercise, and the company has sponsored cycling events around the world. In the UAE, our offices are fitness-friendly, with showers available for employees who exercise and bike parking for cyclists.

What advice would you give to people just starting to cycle in the UAE?

They should invest in a good bike and proper safety equipment. They should also learn best practices by training with experts, and should start cycling in a group or with partners until they are fully competent.

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Day in the life: Dubai entrepreneur in after-school specialty

Joanna Santillan, 30, is the founder of afterschool.ae, an online portal she founded in April last year for UAE parents to search and book after-school activities for their children. Since then it has grown to cover the whole of the UAE, with a particular focus on Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Ms Santillan now plans to expand across the GCC. She has been living in Dubai for the past 10 years after moving from her native Philippines. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Lyceum in Manila.

6.30am

My day starts with preparing my children for school. I have three kids – two girls ages nine and six, and my boy is one. I make lunch boxes for the older two and because they don’t go on the school bus, I drop them off at school. I have a maid who takes care of my youngest when I go to work.

7.45am

I live five minutes away from the school, so when I drop the girls off, I return home and get ready for work.

9am

I arrive in the office in Jebel Ali. Our main company, Searchfuse Marketing, is a digital marketing agency, and Afterschool.ae is part of Searchfuse. I do the day-to-day running of the company, but my main focus is Afterschool.ae.

10am

We have a staff briefing and look at where we are with the company’s development. We look at the sales and review the marketing, radio and print output.

11am

This type of business is more about connecting with mothers, so I often meet mumpreneurs and bloggers in the morning. We also run coffee meetings and play dates and connect with them that way. Most mums just want services that make their life easier. The common problem is the bridge between service providers and parents. Our platform brings the two together. It is not just a website; it has a booking system and you can pay for the activities on the site as well.

1pm

We break for lunch. I’m trying to be healthy right now. Today, I have hummus and carrots.

2.30pm

I pick up my girls from school and take them back home. They take part in piano lessons during the afternoon and today they have choir. I also have a group of mums in the school who come and pick them up if I have a meeting. The idea for Afterschool.ae came about when I was looking for activities for my children on Google. I had to look at each website, make calls, compare them and book, and that’s when I thought there needs to be a single platform.

3.30pm

I return to the office and usually do a call with our operations team in the Philippines. The labour is cheaper, their English is good and they’re great multitaskers. They do the search engine optimisation and digital marketing side for the company and the social media, which is very important for us. We have 77,000 likes on Facebook and 25,000 parent subscriptions. We make sure that we send out five posts every day on each social platform and we are very active with online ads and blog posts. Mums really like our blog posts.

6pm

I leave the office and drive the 20 minutes it takes to reach my home in Dubai Investment Park. I then cook dinner – Filipino food of course – and afterwards sit with my girls to help them with their homework. According to their school it should only take 40 minutes. My in-laws are here and my mother in law helps me out and keeps me going. After story-time, my children go to bed at 8pm.

9pm

I sit down with a cup of tea and share with my husband, who is on the board of advisers for the company, what happened in the office to make sure we are on the right track. Our focus is to get more providers on board, we have 10,000 parents coming to the website every month to check it out. We are also looking at expanding to the GCC in the places where there are higher expatriate penetrations, but I would have to clone myself. Right now our main focus is Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

11pm

I’m in bed, and that would be an early night.

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