Quick, France's second biggest fast food retailer, introduced eight halal-only restaurants earlier this year. Quick is now expanding the program, but rights activists are appalled.
Critics say that serving only halal burgers is discriminatory
Quick is France's second biggest fast-food retailer, with 362 restaurants nationwide. Its restaurants are a lot like McDonald's. You will find burgers, fries and play areas for the kids.
Starting this month you will also find halal meals in 22 selected restaurants around the country - meals that comply with Islamic guidelines for food preparation.
In halal slaughter, animals are killed by having their throats cut without being stunned. They may take several minutes to bleed to death in terror. Furthermore, Islamic rituals are involved - the animal must face Mecca, a prayer is said, and those doing the killing must be Muslims.
Going Halal - some Quick restaurants only serve burgers in line with Islamic rules
This comes after a test phase started last year in a limited number of restaurants. Offering halal burgers in areas where most customers are Muslim is a simple business decision, say chain owners like Eric Azan who owns six Quick franchises in Montreuil.
"First and foremost, I'm an entrepreneur and a business owner. My goal is to increase sales and satisfy my clients. It's clear I have clients that I am satisfying more since we went halal."
Sales in locations that offer halal meals doubled on average during the test phase, which is nothing to sneeze at in the ultra-competitive fast food market.
Going Halal creates jobs
To get ready for this expected jump in sales, Eric Azan hired 20 new full-time staffers on permanent job contracts. He argues the change benefits local employment, since Quick hires people without any qualifications and offers them opportunities for advancement. This is the only one of his six Quick franchises to become Halal.
To choose which restaurants would change, Quick carefully analysed restaurant sales around France, looking for very specific characteristics, "namely, Quick looked for outlets that oversell fishburgers, compared to average sales nationally and for outlets that undersell pork products such as bacon."
Another important indication: in some outlets business drops off significantly during Ramadan, the Muslim period of fasting.
It's either Halal - or a different Quick restaurant
Each evening in the first week of September was marked by a mad rush as people observing Ramadam broke their daily fast. Many were new customers like Djemel Benhamou, who lives in a neighbouring suburb. He says he would not have come in if Quick did not offer Halal meals.
"I eat strictly halal. I used to eat mostly in other fast food joints that serve Halal, like greek sandwich shops. Now that I can find halal meat, I'll come here."
Quick keeps its references to halal fairly discreet. It is not mentioned in advertising. A poster on one of the doors of the restaurant mentions that all meat is certified halal and a billboard inside details the certification. But not everyone seems to notice it, and some customers say it does not make much of a difference to them.
Not everyone likes the change, however. Local resident Jacques Chadli often meets with his teenage son at Quick. He likes the restaurant because it is clean and there are rarely any disturbances. He says he is of Muslim background, but is an atheist.
Chadi does not like the restaurant's decision to go halal "because it has to be universal. We must serve all kinds of meat: Muslim meat, Christian meat, Indian meat. It must not be only halal." Jacques Chadli adds he does not believe that "this is the way to develop a free and open-minded society."
Chadli says he does not mind eating Halal meat per se but that he is worried that by catering to one group in particular, the restaurant will end up attracting only that group. He does not want the restaurant to become an Muslim-only hang out because he specifically likes to come here because it is full of different people, people of all ages and all cultural backgrounds.
Eat Halal or not eat at all
Some customers support the idea, some find it discriminatory
Critics of the move complain that the 22 Quick restaurants which have gone Halal do not give customers a choice anymore. They have to eat Halal or not eat at all.
Eric Azan, the owner manager in Montreuil, had all the grills and the kitchen equipment in contact with meat changed so that the restaurant could be Halal certified. There is no way to serve non-Halal meat anymore, he says, without creating a second kitchen. The poster at the door indicates the locations of the nearest Quick restaurants that are not Halal. But they are pretty far - the closest is six metro stops away.
To respond to criticism, Quick has said it will soon add a non-Halal burger made elsewhere wrapped in cellophane to the menus of its Halal restaurants. It is hard to imagine anyone ordering a sandwich made elsewhere several hours, however, or even a day or two earlier.
A handful of Members of Parliament and a few mayors have complained about Quick's Halal-only outlets. They argue this kind of ethnic targeting goes against France's secular tradition.
A regional extreme right party called "Alsace D'abord" announced it would file a legal complaint against Quick for discrimination. The party already challenged the fast food chain in the city of Roubaix, one of Quick's test locations, a few months ago.
That challenge failed, so it is difficult to see how similar legal action could succeed. After all, Quick is a private company - a for-profit business. The company says going Halal is purely a business decision.
Author: Genevieve Oger (nh)
Editor: John Blau