Restaurant owners worry that the new McDonald's will take away their customers.
By Mladen Dragojlovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 19/10/12
Banja Luka's traditional food restaurants may be up against tough competition with the opening of the new McDonald's nearby. [Mladen Dragojlovic/SETimes]
Some restaurant owners serving traditional favorites in Banja Luka – kebabs, grilled meat and pastries – are worried that competition from the world’s most popular fast-food restaurant will cut into their profits and siphon away customers.
The first McDonald's restaurant in Banja Luka opened on Thursday (October 18th), just 200 metres from the city's best-known kebab restaurant, By Mujo. Its owner, Amir Smailagic, keeps up the family business founded by his grandfather Mujo.
"I am worried, but not afraid. In the 60-year-tradition, the Banja Luka kebab and our restaurant became a brand name, well-known not only in this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in almost all former Yugoslav countries. Many tourists try our dishes," Smailagic told SETimes.
The only chance to survive in the business, he said, is to count on the older population and loyal customers that will stay with the more traditional food.
"McDonald's food is for young people, they will be the majority of customers. I hope we keep our customers and, of course, the tourists," Smailagic said.
McDonald’s, founded in the US in 1940, is the world’s largest fast food restaurant chain. With 33,000 stores in 119 countries, the chain claims to feed 68 million people a day worldwide.
But not all welcome its arrival in Banja Luka. Minutes after the fast food chain opened its doors, a group of young people appeared in the front of restaurant to protest the opening. "Our aim is to warn our citizens on bad quality of McDonald’s food," one group member told SETimes.
Restaurant workers said that the company respects freedom of speech and expression in a civilized and peaceful manner, and is aware of different beliefs and interests.
The company said their interest is to offer high quality and safe food -- and all of the nutrition information is available in the restaurants and on its Facebook page.
Banja Luka resident Miso Vidovic told SETimes he will never give up kebab.
"If someone offers me a hamburger, cheeseburger or another McDonald's meal, and a Banja Luka kebab, I'll always take a kebab," Vidovic said.
Ivan Sijakovic, professor of sociology at Banja Luka University, said that people in the region are inclined towards new things.
"McDonald's is imposed as a world brand, and many will accept it. In the beginning there will be queues just to enter McDonald's, as it was in Belgrade when McDonald's opened its first restaurant," Sijakovic said.
He added that, for the young, a hamburger is something new, different, nicely packaged -- suggesting that having a hamburger, for a young person, will mean identification with world standards.
"There is a chance that they will, when older, return to tradition. Then, kebab will probably represent just an exotic food from their youth. Eating hamburgers will be a status symbol," Sijakovic told SETimes.
According to Sijakovic, McDonald's prices are too high for Banja Luka residents.
The fast food restaurant is not new to the region. After McDonald's restaurants opened in Sarajevo and Mostar, local restaurants with traditional food did not lose customers.
"The work of our McDonald's did not affect the closing of any local grocery, but our work affected in the price decrease of local groceries. Our sales and operations registered planned growth and citizens of Sarajevo and Mostar accepted McDonald's," the Sarajevo McDonald's team told SETimes.
Belgrade's McDonald's opened with much fanfare, but people slowly returned to traditional food restaurants.
"People realised that McDonald's is just a fast food restaurant and nothing else. If they want that kind of food they'll go there, but for a dinner, they'll visit a regular restaurant," Danijel Milosavljevic, a waiter at the Belgrade Fontana restaurant, told SETimes.