PARIS // The Quick hamburger chain has declared its decision to open 14 more halal branches in France a success, despite protests from the political Left and the Right. The opening of the restaurants fell during Ramadan and comes amid an ongoing debate in France and the rest of Europe over the integration of Muslim immigrants and their descendants. Yesterday, the French Senate gave the green signal to ban the full face veil in public spaces, although the move could still be overturned by France's highest legal body, the Constitutional Council. The measure follows the prohibition in 2004 of head scarves in schools as part of a wider ban on all religious symbols.
The decision by Quick to open the halal outlets - converted from existing non-halal branches - was met with protests, mainly from the mayors of cities and suburbs where they were located, said Valerie Raynal, head of communications for Quick. "We do not get involved in the political debate but from the response of the customers we can see that the people like it," she said of the branches' success.
The right-wing politician Marine Le Pen, who may take over the leadership of the National Front party from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, opposes Quick's additional halal branches. Last week she called them a "scandal" on French radio, saying: "I'm not Muslim; I don't want this imposed on me." She has also welcomed the ban on full face veils, particularly the burqa and the niqab. At a non-halal Quick branch near the Louvre museum in Paris, two young customers hailed the idea of the halal offerings as "proof of France's multicultural tolerance". The two non-Muslim Parisians said it would not bother them if the restaurant no longer served bacon or other pork products. "We'd just choose something else," they said.
The absence of non-halal items from the halal branches' menu has been one of the points of contention between Quick and its detractors. When the chain tested its halal concept this year in eight outlets, the Socialist mayor of the northern town of Roubaix, one venue for the outlets, filed a lawsuit for depriving other customers of a choice. But Mayor René van Dierendonck withdrew the complaint within a week.
Quick will offer non-halal burgers at its halal branches from the end of this year but only with ingredients that have been prepared elsewhere and that only will have to be reheated. Bacon will not be on offer at any of the halal branches. Quick has also been criticised by some French Muslims who say the chain is not offering real halal. An official at the main mosque in Paris said condiments such as mustard and ketchup should also be halal.
The chain has also said it has no intention to stop serving beer at its restaurants. "We also have other customers and we have to keep providing them with what they want," Ms Raynal said. The chain has emphasised that the decision to open halal branches has been a commercial one, aimed at France's estimated five million Muslims. It is part of a global trend by the food industry to target Muslim consumers. Worldwide the halal food market is estimated to be worth between US$600 billion (Dh2.2 trillion) and $2.1 trillion annually.
Originally a Belgian chain, Quick has 350 branches in France of which 22 now serve halal meat. McDonald's, its larger competitor, does not serve halal meat in France but the US fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken has served halal chicken in the country for years. Quick says it used three criteria to determine where to open the halal branches: changed consumption patterns during Ramadan, low sales of bacon burgers and high sales of fish burgers. The chain says it does not intend for now to open more halal branches.
At the Quick branch in the centre of Paris, Abdallah Elmoiki said he was taking his family out for a day on the town during Eid al Fitr. "We are here now so we are ordering fish," he said. But when a halal Quick opened in the suburb of Argeneuil this month, he said: "We took the kids and drove 30km to eat there." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org