The real meaning of break-fast

For most of us, starting the day without water, juice, coffee or tea, fresh fruit, a little protein and a few carbs is unthinkable. So imagine the thought of working through the entire day without any sustenance at all until sunset, which here in Riyadh occurs around 6:30 p.m. in June. Add in daytime summer temperatures regularly hitting a blistering 45 degrees C to 50 degrees C (113 degrees F to 122 degrees F).

And yet, 90% of our workforce — along with our entire nation and the rest of the Muslim world — are preparing to do exactly that every single day during the approaching holy month of Ramadan as a sign of devotion to their religion and to focus their minds and their bodies on their spirituality while enduring the pangs of hunger, thirst and fatigue.

During previous Ramadan months, I have tried several times to fast along with my Muslim colleagues during the daylight hours so I could better understand how they deal with lowered energy levels as a result of their fasting, but I must admit I could not find the physical or mental strength to succeed.   

The way we try to overcome this annual phenomenon here is to ensure the working day is shortened to a more manageable six hours, and everyone gets away early in the afternoons to have a rest at home with their families before breaking the fast at sunset, which is always a joy to observe as minds and bodies are recharged and refilled with a sense of achievement and satisfaction from their daily sacrifice, along with some delicious traditional Iftar food. 

We also ensure all outdoor property cleaning and maintenance is done during the night or in the early morning when it’s cooler, and all departmental meetings and training activities are minimized or scheduled in the early mornings, before sugar and energy levels drop too severely.

Taking all that into account, it’s truly marvelous to see that everyone carries on with their duties as normal, and that our high standards of quality and service are maintained — an achievement that is always greatly admired and appreciated by me and especially by our happily surprised guests. There seems to be a widespread misconception that there is no point to travel here for business during the month of Ramadan because service levels drop along with energy levels as a result of the fast.

This may have been true at one time as royal courts and business leaders moved to cooler or warmer climes during the month of Ramadan, dependent upon their location and the time of the year when the month of fasting was observed, as it changes each year. But in the modern world where business never seems to slow down, that has all changed as many businesses can hardly afford to take a single-day break — never mind an entire month.       

The highlight of my day during this eagerly awaited time of the year is to invite 10 staff members to join me to break the fast at sunset in our gardens or at our Iftar restaurant each evening, a practice which allows me to connect with them and thank them in a meaningful way on a one-to-one basis. This ensures that I meet every member of my entire workforce over the month — including our non-Muslim colleagues — and just enjoy with them what surely must be one of the most culturally enriching dining experiences of my entire career, the deliciously spiritual Sunset Iftar.