It came like a bolt in the dark in the dying days of 2018 – the new “sin tax” due to take effect on 1 January 2019 would in fact include alcohol. Some labelled it the end of days. Unprecedented apocalypse-looming style lines formed at the QDC. Wailing was heard.
Now, the dust has settled, QDC has lowered some of its prices ever so slightly, hotels have taken stock and we can see start to see what this actually means to the average diner and drinker. As a keen observer of the food and beverage trends in this city, and having spoken to drinkers, hoteliers and others in the industry:
Many hotels in the city generate much of their income from F&B and those outlets are really going to feel the pinch. January is traditionally quieter because of the post festive hangover as well as people having less cash on hand, but anecdotally some hotel restaurants and bars are seeing a 40 percent drop in business. I think we will see in the true impact in February when things start to return to “normal”. Some hotels are still waiting to see how the market reacts and have left prices relatively unchanged. A good example is the Belgian Bar – they have stopped their popular happy hour (boooo!) for now but left their many of their bar prices at pre-2019 levels. As you can imagine – it’s a changing landscape so prices can change.
Friday brunches may become a rare treat. Several have now crossed the QR500+ Rubicon or hovering very close to it and when you factor in transport, baby sitting for families etc, it becomes an expensive proposition for a weekend indulgence. Add this to cost of living increases across the board and this may be the “treat” that gets jettisoned for other expenses. On the plus side, many hotels are trying to “value add” to their brunches – the Four Seasons have added gin and vodka bars and some like St Regis Doha and the very popular Toro Toro have kept theirs stable.Deals can still be found. Some Friday brunches are also starting to pop up on deal sites like The Entertainer, Mybook and Advantage Club.
BUT for many places, the happy hour is not dead – it’s just been revamped and yes, is a little more expensive. Many tried to kill them off in the earlier, dark moments of 2019. But I have good news! There are still relative bargains to be had (and frankly at the moment somewhat more reasonable than drinking at home when a humble bottle of wine now costs QR200 plus). Hotels are also keen to keep their slice of the market, so expect more specials and offers in the coming months. Yes, in most cases, prices have increase by five or so riyals, but many have made an effort to keep them reasonable.
So here are seven happy hours I’m loving in the “new world order”:
The Four Seasons has taken a more softly softly approach to the tax increase and it’s paying off. Their nightly happy hour at this Doha favorite runs from 5pm to 8pm and drinks sit at QR50 for a martini, QR45 for a generous glass of wine and QR40 for bottled beer. Add in the plush bar environment, free nibbles and renowned Four Seasons service and this will become a regular haunt.
Hard to beat this bayside location and even harder to beat their prices. Happy hour is daily from 4pm to 8pm and the views and the vibe are both perfect. Expect to pay QR35 for their cocktails, QR30 for bottled beer and QR30 for house wine.
This gem of a Japanese restaurant at the Mondrian Doha has a very underrated and stylish little bar area. Their new happy hour offer is as tantalizing as their menu – QR150 for unlimited selected drinks from their menu from 6pm to 8pm daily. Another bonus? It’s smoke free! It’s downstairs neighbor CUT Doha also has a decent happy hour where drink start at QR30 and there are discounts on your bill if you stay for dinner.
One of the stand out openings for 2018, this fun bar and restaurant has introduced a Saturday all-day happy hour. This means 50 percent of selected drinks the whole day – that’s one way to eaaaaaase into the work week! FYI their daily happy hour is 50 percent off from 5pm to 8pm.
This cult favorite pub continues to keep its loyal customers happy. Sundays from 8pm to 12pm you can get a pint of Carlsberg for QR35, a bucket of five beers for QR150. Ladies also get the first two drinks free between 8pm and 10pm. They have bands playing regularly and serve up some decent pub grub.
A small business-focused hotel in Bin Mahmoud which punches above its weight on the food and beverage front, the Centro Capital packs a pocket friendly big punch at happy hour. A selection of house beverages are just QR30 from 12pm to 8pm – you’re making money at those prices (almost!)
The original happy hour favorite – sip and savor at Spice Market – is an institution. And luckily for its fans, it remains intact if a little pricier. Prices are 50 percent off selected cocktails, wines and beers but best of all, the free snack from their menu remains. Crispy spicy prawns for me please!
PR-wise this move leaves Qatar in an interesting place ahead of 2022. It’s growing as a stopover destination thanks to Qatar Airways strong brand presence and great offers, but is a tougher proposition for longer stays. And hotels have also come to the party and reduced their prices to help create attractive accommodation packages. This tax makes that sell a little harder. I’m sure this will be resolved in the longer term but, at the moment, this is reality.
There is a lot to look forward to on the dining scene in Qatar in 2019 – hopefully we can see past this blip and enjoy the new offerings!