Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—The fast-food industry in Saudi Arabia is witnessing an unprecedented boom, particularly following the explosion of local burger joints in the country’s urban centers.
Sami Al-Mughir is one of those riding the fast-food wave in the country, recently launching the Burger Box in Riyadh. Mughir told Asharq Al-Awsat that he had taken the decision to run his own burger outlet for a number of reasons, one being his love of cooking. He also cited his time abroad as a student, when he spent a lot of time in fast-food eateries, giving him a strong desire to bring the fast-food ethos, and burgers in particular, to the Saudi public.
Asharq Al-Awsat also spoke with Abdullah Ba’ishen, a marketing director at Dar Al-Tujjar, which recently bought the Ketchup Restaurant franchise in Saudi Arabia. Ketchup is an up-and-coming fast-food franchise that is seeking to promote new ‘gourmet-style’ cooking; it has outlets in Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh—and Glasgow. The restaurant’s official website proclaims: “Ketchup takes classic American cuisine and catapults the dishes into the modern age; our menu inspirations are based on childhood favorites, recreated with a gourmet, upscale twist.”
Ba’ishen told Asharq Al-Awsat that Dar Al-Tujjar took the decision to acquire the Ketchup Restaurant franchise to meet Saudi Arabia’s growing appetite for gourmet fast food. He said the increasing investment and innovation in Saudi Arabia’s fast-food industry followed international patterns, namely the gourmet fast-food boom, a phenomenon that Ketchup Restaurants was seeking to take advantage of.
“Say goodbye to the tired American grill and steakhouse concept . . . at Ketchup, patrons step right into the midst of a white-hot party and sink down into a sleek, streamlined, and surprisingly comfortable Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed chair. Tables are strategically placed close enough together to facilitate social interaction but never feel cramped or crowded,” the restaurant’s website boasts.
It adds: “Speakers pump sounds of the new. The vibe is sexy, sophisticated, and cool.”
According to statistics, the fast-food industry in Saudi Arabia has an estimated turnover of 5.7 billion Saudi riyals, or close to 1.5 billion US dollars. While a number of prominent international fast-food outlets have franchises in Saudi Arabia, the country is also well-known for its regional and local fast-food shops.
However, Saudi Arabia’s growing fast food industry faces several challenges. Mazen Al-Darrab, a prominent Saudi businessman who works in online marketing, told Asharq Al-Awsat that some new restaurants were having problems recruiting qualified staff, particularly as the very concept of fast food in the more laid-back Middle East was something of a novelty.
Despite this, the Saudi fast-food industry is moving full steam ahead. Steak ’n Shake, a well-known US burger franchise, has recently signed a deal to open 50 of its restaurants in the country. Steak ’n Shake, founded in 1934, has announced that it expects to open its first restaurant in Riyadh during the first half of 2014.