American-style fast-food chains are sweeping the country, in response to changes in the Israeli lifestyle.
A decade ago, mama’s home cooking was to Israel what apple pie was to America in the days before you could buy one in the supermarket’s frozen-food section.
Not anymore. These days, Israeli mothers are more likely to be found in the workplace than in the kitchen, and the fast-food joints are soaking up the profits.
Though there are no hard-and-fast statistics regarding the proliferation of fast-food chains here, industry insiders put the number anywhere from 130 to 200 outlets nationwide.
Of the 10,000 or so eateries in Israel, an estimated 5 to 8 percent belong to chains (compared to 30 percent in the United States).
Actually, fast food is not all that new to Israel.
Wimpy’s set up shop here in the 1960s but went out of business a few years later.
A chain called Mr. Tops also set down roots but met with the same fate.
It was not until 1972 that Burger Ranch, now the country’s largest chain, broke into the market and stayed there. Today the company has 54 outlets throughout the country.
Other chains, such as MacDavid’s (established in the mid-’80s), Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza (both introduced within the past three years) are also raking in customers.
McDonald’s, which last week opened a huge outlet in a popular shopping mall outside Tel Aviv, will soon be joined by Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken, which have announced their intention to expand their chains to Israel.
All this competition will improve the quality of fast food in Israel, according to food critic Daniel Rogoff, who grudgingly visited the new McDonald’s the day after it opened.
Israelis are becoming more sophisticated as consumers, says Rogoff, “and they expect American-style fast-food chains to deliver the same high level of service, food quality and cleanliness that customers abroad have come to expect.”
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“Wendy’s was here a few years ago, but it went out of business because people expected better quality and service” than it gave, Rogoff said. “The shawarma and falafel shops can get away with lower standards, but chains can’t.”
The recent surge in the number of outlets in general, and the introduction of Israel’s first McDonald’s in particular, has put some fast-food chains, as well as regular restaurants, on the defensive.
Burger Ranch this week introduced an advertising campaign aimed at steering customers away from McDonald’s.
One of its flyers reads, “At McDonald’s you pay more for the name and the image,” and proceeded to compare the price and weight of various types of its hamburgers with the Big Mac, McDonald’s signature burger.
The country’s other chains will be hard-pressed to outdo McDonald’s, says critic Rogoff.
“The service is impeccable. When a person comes into McDonald’s, he receives his order within a minute of putting in his request. The same order takes at least five minutes at Burger Ranch, for example,” Rogoff said.
Ron Lapid, president of Burger Ranch, does not view this as a criticism.
“Our motto is, ‘Let the customer wait for the hamburger, not the hamburger wait for the customer.’
“The longer preparation time means that the product is fresh and allows us to custom-make an order when requested,” Lapid said.
As the president of the oldest fast-food chain in Israel, Lapid says he is both gratified and a bit surprised at the way fast food has caught on in Israel.
“Eating habits among Israelis have definitely changed over the past decade or so,” he said, “mostly due to a higher standard of living and the fact that there are more women out in the work force.
“After a day’s work, going to Burger Ranch is quick and less expensive than dining in a regular restaurant.
“It’s also a good place to bring the kids,” Lapid said.
“But if you’d told me 15 years ago that one day we would have 54 chains around the country, I’d have said you were crazy.”