Saturday, March 12

…in the fast(er) lane

Eating habits of the people and the outlook of the society at large has transformed since the launch of multinational food chains.

At one in the morning, an outlet of a multinational fast food chain on MM Alam Road is bustling with people. It their closure time, but customers are pouring in continuously to whom they are declining politely. In turn, they are insistent on getting food as if they would not be able to get it from anywhere in the city. This is a way of life for a quite huge chunk of people, who prefer to eat out every night. Weekend! It does not matter any more which day it is.
In Pakistan, fast food eating is a totally transformed idea where people have developed it into an outing spree, and 'dine in' as compared to 'Eat while you run for work'. In most of the cases, people come to these chains for formal dinning. Hardly, five percent are for 'casual' eating. It is true for all multinational fast food chains. One can see these outlets doing aggressive advertisement for birthday parties, and for other occasions. Sometimes, people do have official presentations, and have food simultaneously.
In this part of the world, the western fast food idea drastically metamorphasised as it has become a status symbol. Here these restaurants are for the middle and upper middle class, but in the West, the lower middle class is the target market. "Spending Rs 700 for seven persons for a proper food once a month is really worth the money," says a KFC branch manager. "Among the visitors, 35 percent dine-in whereas 65 percent opt take away and delivery. We have not moved in that fast lane as that of the West. Egotistic attitude is part of the psyche at large. People love to eat here, but they do not throw the trash in bins. I believe that it will take another few years to live up to the fast food eating standards," he concluded on condition of anonymity, as he was very reluctant initially to talk about the fast food fad.
'Get hold of young minds; they're your future clients’ is one of their marketing strategies. Their target class is between 16 to 28 years. However, kids remain their prime target, who make their parents visit these fast food restaurants more often. They are being followed in schools and homes.
Apart from this, these multinational companies try different tactics – like they ‘nationalise’ international tastes – to allure the adults as well. Arabian Rice, Rice and Spice and Hot Shots of KFC; Tandoori, Chicken Tikka and Chapli pizzas of Pizza Hut and McArabia of McDonald’s are a few examples. However, in certain cases, the Mother company has the final say. The idea is: ‘Think global, act local.’ Conditionlising or customising products according to the domestic requirements and circumstances is a constant feature of all the multinational companies. It is a strategy to attract local customers and cater to their needs. This has brought dividends to these companies.
During the last seven years, these chains have changed the outlook of the society. Now the concept of eating out has changed in comparison to what was the situation prior to the coming up of the food chains. Fast food restaurants were there like that of a few local brands, but not as such in vogue or could make an impression so huge like that of today's world. At that time, the market was not mature, clientele was limited, eating habits were not fully embedded in minds, an unfounded price fear, only posh locales housed those outlets, the society was closed to external influences, one way advertising bombardment was not there, frequency of foreign visits was minimal and less of familiarity with foreign food. In this context, the stage was set for the multinationals to open up to new opportunities, and after careful and rigorous surveys, they ventured to seize the opportunity. Since then, there is no looking back.
Kosta Tarabic`, a Serbian citizen from Monte Negro is in Lahore for the last two weeks. "I prefer to eat anything from fresh vegetable salad to meat. During my first two days in Lahore, I went to McDonald’s primarily due to the reason that it was near to my residence and secondly, I had familiarity with the foodstuff. I knew what I am going to get. Today I am in Pizza Hut because of the latter reason. While living in Serbia, I love to eat my traditional food, but it is because of my kids, I have to go McDonald’s. I like to eat Pakistani food, but it is spicy. I have eaten it, but less spicy chicken tikka and rogni naan, while the latter is similar to bread in my country. I can digest anything, but nothing too spicy," he said.
A French national Branko Milojic` shared almost the same views. "After staying for longer duration, I'll try the traditional food. So far I did not have any stomach problems. I like chicken Masala and gravy of any kind. I've been to Mumbai as well, but I find Pakistani food drier. My reason for visiting multinational food chains is that you know the name, product and the food. Plus language is not a problem here," he maintained.
When the people know the product (not just a name rather various niceties attached to it) and where to get it from, the market is mature to the corporate world. For instance, when Mr Manzar Riaz, former MD of Pizza Hut, opened its first restaurant in Karachi, his friends warned him about its impending failure, but he ventured his fortune, which earned him a fortune unparalleled in the restaurant (franchise) industry. After seeing his success, the rest followed. This brand enjoyed the novelty status for quite some time till KFC and McDonald's ventured in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
During the last few years, as the world has been shrinking with every passing day, Pakistan has responded it in the same vein. Our society’s outlook and eating habits have changed altogether. Now women have lesser tendency to cook at home. Home delivery is an added factor. And as the fast food concept is ‘Instant food availability’, they don’t bother much. Now these restaurants are places where you can have food and fun together with your family. Pizza Hut was first to introduce 'casual dine-in', which is more exciting even today and people talk more frankly. Service has become customer-oriented, and business is detailed-oriented. There is lesser of aggression in combating customer complaints, and one system approach, that is, standardisation of the service and production system, has made customers more specific about their experiential feel of a particular restaurant.
'Fake outlets' are providing almost the same recipe and product, but quality and taste are different. They have taken their share of customers, but these can't bear any shock given by the multinationals. "They will be closed down. Out and dead! Our mechanics are different. In Ramadan, our profits are in negative, but we survive, which they can't. These fake eateries have caused a dent, but not a threat. Their customers are ours too," said a manager of KFC.
Fast food has become an alternate food to the traditional one, and its demand is increasing manifold. The question is: Has it really replaced the traditional food? Not exactly! But it has definitely created its own niche in the eateries and eating habits of the people. It is not the replacement of the traditional food in any way. At times, when we feel saturated or bored with 'usual' eating, we love to give our taste buds a new flavour. It is just an alternative, but some alternatives become a bigger part. Fast food has done this definitely.
Eating out frequency has multiplied keeping business volume, and number of restaurants in view. And every restaurant has customers. Now people are more educated about food and restaurant manners. On eve of festivities, people come out of their homes. They celebrate anniversaries in these restaurants. On the other hand, people have exposure to foreign food now, which was rare a decade back. A Gawalmandi man can relish spaghetti, Lasagne and Maccaroni to full. One can see alive metropolises now. People are on road even in the wee hours. To them, watching television is no more the only source of entertainment.
Another scenario is that quite a few people hesitate going to local restaurants with their families. On the other hand, they feel comfortable while going these multinational eateries. It has became a fad now, and no body wants to remain behind in the race of catching up with the latest trends, and remain aloof or oblivious of the popular eateries. Freedy's café came in 2003 and caused ripples. "Hey! Have you been to Freddy’s?" You said no, and saw a bad face of the up-to-date enquirer.
With the passage of time, it seems that our traditional food is giving way to fast food. Even women love to acquire expertise in Chinese, Italian cuisine and pizzas.
Earlier ladies prefer to get parties arranged at homes, but now they prefer to avoid commotion at home. Now socially, food is a topic of discussion and sometimes talk of the town. A few years back, food was rarely discussed as such. Moreover, earlier newly married couples were treated at homes. Now they are invited to any of the restaurant above to one’s standard of living. It has become more of a social and a monetary show-off. Kids have made their parents to move out of their homes as they have a choice to insist for something. Eating is no more a problem. One can have food anywhere, any time. Life is taking extraordinary simulations, and there seems to be no end to it.

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