Butler training Etiquette

Tips On Middle Eastern Service

In the real world of the service industry in the Middle East, it’s the little things that make a huge difference, the day-to-day interactions that you need to know in order to avoid unpleasant little surprises.

Juice Service

If your lady is receiving female guests, a selection of juices and water is offered upon arrival. The juice must be fresh and can be plain or made up of combinations; I have also seen some houses that use yoghurt in their juice selection. Do not use canned or packet juices/drinks, especially pineapple (trust me on this one!).

Combinations could include: orange and mango, lemon-lime and kiwi, strawberry and mandarin to name a few. The regular variety would be watermelon, sweet melon (similar to honey dew), lemon, carrot and orange. You would only offer the guests juice once…then tea service would follow.

Typical Tea Service

Tea service would include a pot of Moroccan mint tea (make it with gunpowder green tea sprinkled over sprigs of fresh, common mint, add water, boil then strain). This will generally be served in a silver Moroccan tea pot. Red tea is also provided (what people in the West refer to as normal tea; your favorite or English Breakfast). This is served in a regular china tea pot.

Moroccan tea would be served in Moroccan-style glasses, red in regular tea cups. Milk and sugar (cubes only) and sweet ‘n low (or similar sweetener) would be offered. Coffee generally would not be offered to ladies unless requested.

Following tea there would be an offering of what in the East is called “sweet items or salt.” These can vary from house to house: from Moroccan-style biscuits to cakes, sandwiches or hot finger food. After offering food, you offer another round of tea. You don’t generally offer a second round of food, unless specifically requested. The serving dishes are to be loaded full and “mountain style” (stacked like a pyramid formation). The selection you are offering should not be mixed on the same platter either. One dish/one type of food.

Arabic Coffee Service (Ghawa)

This follows tea service to indicate that the meeting etc. is coming to an end. Sometimes Ghawa (Arabic coffee) would be brought out in a Dulla (a typical Arabic coffee pot) and poured from the left hand only into Ghawa cups that are held in the right hand, which are stacked inside each other (normally up to 6 at one time). If more cups are required, one staff member would follow with more cups on a tray or holder. The pourer would pour a round, then go around again and offer seconds – which are poured into the same cup. If the guest does not want a refill, they will shake their cup from side to side indicating ‘no, thank you’ and will place it on the stack back in your right hand. If you were working in the Middle East, there would be someone designated to making the Ghawa. Some people/houses like to add Saffron to it as well.

Oud/Bahoor Service

Oud or Bahoor is a fragrant wood or a little incense ball of a strong perfume smell/scent which is placed on what is commonly called ‘Magic Charcoal’ or real charcoal which is placed on top of a burner. The Oud, or Bahoor, is then placed onto the hot charcoal to smoke away; the pieces of wood are offered to guests to waft the smoke onto their clothing; it is a polite Arabic way of saying ‘party over’. Oud is very expensive and is mostly used by the royal family. The size of the piece of wood denotes the importance of the guest: the bigger the piece, the more important the guest. The smell is very typical of the East and clings. Arabs love it. Normally it is kept in a safe or under lock and key.


Mastica is imported from Greece and comes in the form of little dried balls of sap. It has a very distinctive smell and, like Oud and Bahoor, it is placed on the hot charcoal to smoke away, You use Mastica after you have cleared the dining room so as to remove food smells, of which the Arabs are very particular (hence there is always another kitchen out the back of the house for cooking). Bahoor could also be used to remove or mask smells…but never Oud.


Make sure you turn the smoke alarm system off before offering Oud or Bahoor to the guests… ( trust me on that one as well!).

If the guests are men, just add Ghawa at the beginning of their visit, before the juice, and again at the end before offering Oud.

Darren Schneider
(A Butler in Bahrain)