Dhaka residents have begun 2017 with renewed hope for positive change.
With about six months since the July 1 terror attacks, it has been difficult for us to move on entirely. While a majority of us have grown out of our initial panic-stricken phase, perhaps we fail to realise the extent to which we’ve suffered as a nation.
There have been adverse repercussions in every industry, and, needless to say, some families have suffered irreparable losses. The local restaurant industry, more so, had been completely written off by many.
The equation was plain and simple: People had just stopped going to restaurants.
Many of us were thinking twice before going out for dinner, and perhaps four times if the restaurant happened to be anywhere around the diplomatic zone. For many who would traditionally make long trips to Banani from Dhanmondi or Uttara just to hang out, it became an almost obvious decision to stay within their respective neighbourhoods.
All this said, it was our sheer resilience as a nation and as a people which collectively empowered us to get our regular lives back.
Among other things, let me shed some light on a matter that I perceive to be quite unsettling.
An entire debate began a couple of years ago when there were certain groups spreading the word of how KFC was no longer going to stay in Bangladesh. What were the grounds? Some reached the conclusion immediately after observing that KFC introduced Bangla branding outside its restaurants, an act done perhaps to comply with a policy introduced by our government.
Instead of taking the change positively, some of us started questioning the local franchisee’s credibility, by hastily jumping to the conclusion that KFC decided to pull out of Bangladesh.
Not once did we stop to wonder whether the two actions are correlated. Neither did we account for the track record of the franchisee, which has some 15-plus outlets country-wide across three different brands.
Then came the inception of Burger King with four outlets launched within a span of six weeks.
A record for an international brand on the retail front, irrespective of industry in Bangladesh. Needless to say, following recent events, something of the magnitude of Burger King is what Dhaka needed. Badly. All of us queued up for the grand launching.
I, for one, was immensely delighted at having something I was afraid that we had lost, a feeling of unity that was shared in spirit, and in our love for food.
However, it was unfortunate to see certain small groups making inappropriate remarks on social media about people standing in line for a cheap $4 burger. But why couldn’t we accept it for what it was -- a new experience in Dhaka? Weren’t we the same people staying indoors out of sheer fear a few weeks back? And so what if people stood in line?
Are we so entitled that we feel the need to deride others for an experience that we readily partake in when we’re abroad?
We need them for the betterment of our industry, as such brands help set standards. This doesn’t necessarily harm local talent, but rather helps raise existing benchmarks for others to follow, and trains staff on a wider scale, which benefits the entire industry
And then surfaced rants on how the burgers are either too expensive or quite not up-to-the mark. A critical pre-requisite for any brand before scaling its operations, let alone at a global level, is the establishment of a set of general standards that must be complied with.
These practices are enforced only to ensure that a Nike swoosh on a label sold at a Bata store looks exactly the same as one on a Foot Locker outlet in Washington DC.
Similarly, they are there to, perhaps, ensure that a Whopper in Dhaka tastes the same as one in Kuala Lumpur. It is therefore difficult to take comments seriously when little thought has been made into making the feedback constructive.
Last but not least is a recent hoax involving Starbucks. Many of us noticed a Facebook page displaying their logo, which announced that the first 20,000 likers would get free coffee. In Dhaka, long lines during the launches of global chains such as Pizza Hut, A&W, KFC, Nando’s have become somewhat conventional.
Would a name as renowned as Starbucks really need to give away cups of coffee to create a stir? And to think this wasn’t it, there were subsequent posts about a straight-out 20% discount for anyone with a Starbucks Rewards Card, and also a screenshot from their work-in-progress website. This misleading mentality is reprehensible.
The restaurant industry in Dhaka experienced rapid growth in the mid-2000s with the advent of a wide variety of eateries. The industry has come a long way till. Despite these advancements, I’d like to stress that we need international brands here, including Starbucks.
We need them for the betterment of our industry, as such brands help set standards. This doesn’t necessarily harm local talent, but rather helps raise existing benchmarks for others to follow, and trains staff on a wider scale, which benefits the entire industry.
This increased competition is in our best interests, as consumers benefit from a standard of food and customer service.
In tandem, we also need to think hard before making comments. Instead of hastily drawing conclusions that tend to be detrimental to those around us, we can stand to be more informed. We must shun any condescension in our hearts.
Our reviews could be more constructive, written with the underlying objective of helping others -- the very same way we look to others’ reviews hoping that they aid us in reaching a better, more informed decision.
Let’s rise above and beyond deriding others for standing in line for a burger, or for consuming a product that we don’t appreciate. Let’s be the community we were meant to be, bound by our love for food: One for all and all for one.
Adeeb Shams is an entrepreneur.