Fatburger recently started advertising on billboards all across Karachi. The billboards, featuring a mouthwatering Triple Fatburger, are pretty hard to miss, and being the burger-junkie that I am, I dragged my wife and kids to Dolmen Mall, Clifton for a bite last Sunday. Unfortunately for me though, the burger joint had yet to open for public. Disappointed and disheartened, I went home and ordered some pizza instead. They say that when you want something really badly, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it. The very next day, I received an exclusive invite for a pre-inaugural bloggers’ meetup at Fatburger, courtesy Food Connection Pakistan.
So at precisely 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 3, 2013, I parked my car in the Dolmen Mall basement and made my way to the second floor. Turns out, the whole area where the restaurant was supposed to be was cordoned off. I asked one of the mall guards for directions and he told me to take a barely-visible side-entrance.
The Ambiance (9 out of 10)
As soon as you step in, you are embraced by this lively space reminiscent of an all-American diner. The place has a very casual atmosphere that is both welcoming and homely, someplace you can either hang out with friends or with family and have as much fun as you can possibly handle. The lighting is primarily done using strategically placed spotlights and is just right without being too overpowering. Should you choose, you can sit at one of the tables spread out across the restaurant, at one of the cozy sofas under the gigantic Fatburger logo, or at the sit-down counter where all the cooking, shouting and shaking (strictly within the confines of an electric blender) is done right in front of your eyes. Fatburger employees are a chatty bunch so if you’re feeling a little adventurous, the sit-down counter is THE place for you.
The Reception (10 out of 10)
Jake and Tarek with the boys
The first person I met there was Wasif, the Director at BIL Foods Limited (local franchisee for the Fatburger chain). I started talking to him but mid-way through our chat, I was whisked away by Tarek (Director of Marketing for Fatburger, Middle East and North Africa – MENA) to meet Jake (Director of Operations for Fatburger, MENA). Turns out, Jake was holding an informal Q&A for all attendees and I was asked to join the circle. Asiya (General Manager HR, Marketing and Corporate Affairs) joined us at the table too.
Jake started off with a brief history of Fatburger (see Wikipedia page for further information) and a few fun facts about the restaurant. Since I had a few burning questions for Jake, I started firing away:
Yousuf: There are many burger joints in Karachi. What is it that sets you apart?
Jake: Well for starters, we use freshly ground beef and the burger patty is hand-made, not manufactured in some processing plant. You should make a note of the unevenness of the patty when you order your burger; that’s because its made by hand. Moreover, we only use lean meat from 30-month old steers grown specifically for their meat. All the meat that we use in our restaurant here is high-quality USDA choice beef imported from USA and is 100% halal. The meat is flash-frozen and sent over to Pakistan to preserve its nutritional value. So in short, it’s a healthier version of your average burger where you get all the taste but little on the waist. Besides, everything is made for you fresh, right in front of your eyes, because we don’t have anything to hide from our customers.
Let me make one thing clear: we are NOT a fast-food restaurant. For most joints, the staff’s relationship with the customer ends once they take your money and hand you a receipt; for Fatburger, it’s where the relationship begins. There is a wait-time for processing each order and we like to utilize that to have conversations with our customers, making sure they are having the best time of their life. Customer service is our number one priority.
Yousuf: So have you customized your menu specifically for Pakistan?
Jake: As part of the Fatburger philosophy, we stick with what works best. Currently, we have the original Fatburgers, Jalapeno Fatburger (also in Chiken), a Western BBQ Fatburger, a Turkeyburger and Veggieburger (this option is still unheard of in Pakistan). You can customize these items using our condiments and add-ons. As part of our sides, we have Chili dogs, Fatwings, Fat fries, Skinny fries, Chicken nuggets and strips, Homemade Onion rings, Chicken salad, and Chili fries. You can choose to go with a drink with free refills or a real Ice Cream Milkshake to wash it all down.
When we launch in a new country, we start off with our core menu and after evaluating customer feedback and local trends, we add on other items. LTOs (Limited Time Offers) are also introduced from time to time.
Yousuf: I’ve eating a lot of burgers abroad but when I try the same burger in Pakistan, it tastes different, and I don’t mean that in a good way, plus the portion sizes are smaller. What are you doing to ensure this doesn’t happen with Fatburger?
Jake: We, at Fatburger, don’t like to cut corners. What you get anywhere else in the world is what you get here. We have a tried and tested recipe which works every time so we don’t try messing around with it. Tarek and I are here from the Fatburger corporate office in the Middle East because we like to keep a close relationship with our franchisees. Continuous quality monitoring and coordination ensures that the quality of our products doesn’t deteriorate.
Yousuf: What do you recommend I should try today?
Jake: You should definitely go for a Western BBQ Burger with an egg (if you’re feeling adventurous) with a side of onion rings and a milkshake. Our onion rings are actually handmade from fresh Spanish onions, not from frozen ones.
The Service (10 out of 10)
A Numbers Game
While I was waiting in line to place my order, I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on everyone’s faces behind the counter and in the open kitchen; working didn’t seem like a chore and the employees were really enjoying themselves. I was up next.
“Hello Sir. Welcome to Farburger. How are you doing?”, the lady behind the counter said.
“I’m doing good, and you?”, I inquired.
“Fine, thank you sir. What would you like to order today?”
I decided to ditch Jake’s advice and went for the unadulterated Fatburger. “Hmm. I’ll have a Fatburger without tomatoes, and some chili cheese fries.”
“Would you like a drink with your order?”
“Sure. I’ll have a milk shake. What flavors do you have?”
“We have vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and Oreo.”
“I’ll have a chocolate shake.”
“Anything else, sir?”
“No that’ll be all. Thank you.”
“Dine in or take-away?”
“Dine in, please.”
And then something really extra-ordinary happened. This lady taking my order proceeded with ‘The Call-out’, an authentic way of shouting out an order to the kitchen. I made a video of another transaction for your viewing pleasure.
“Thank you. Kindly take your receipt and this number. Your order will be ready within 10 to 12 minutes.”
As I made way to my table, all the employees there smiled at me, made small-talk and thanked me for coming to Fatburger.
The Food (8.5 out of 10)
The Original Fatburger
While I was waiting for my order, one of my friends who had already received his order offered me an onion ring. That was undoubtedly the most unpretentious onion ring I had ever had, and I mean that in a good way. Perfectly cooked with a balanced seasoning, it was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I had little time to admire the down-to-earthiness of the onion ring as a waiter came up to my table and put my meal in front of me, well within the promised 10 minutes.
The chili fries looked irresistible but could have used a little more cheese. They tasted pretty good too. The chili was a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, not over-the-top but just-a-hint-o-spice. Even though my Pakistani palette craved more heat, I found the chili-fries combo pretty satisfying.
I lovingly unwrapped the burger and took my first bite. It was very good, better than most burgers I’ve had over the years. The patty was moist and nicely seasoned, not too hard not too soft. The second bite tasted even better as I got a hit of pickle with that one. Needless to say, I was enjoying myself immensely. Just then, a waiter came up to me and asked me if everything was to my liking. He also brought me some tomato ketchup and my hand-scooped Chocolate milkshake.
As I was focused on finishing my burger, I barely noticed Jake coming down to my table. I offered him a seat and gave him a few tips on what foods to try when in Karachi. While we were chatting away, I took a closer look at my milkshake. Topped with a generous serving of whipped cream, it looked really tempting. I wrapped my hand around the glass, stirred the straw to mix in the cream and took a sip. It was perhaps the best milkshake I had ever had; PERIOD. It was thick and luscious and phenomenal, everything that you’d ever want in a milkshake. I finished the burger and with a heavy heart and a full stomach, took a long loving sip, only to hear the slurp that signified the end of my relationship with the milkshake.
The Pricing (8 out of 10)
Even though the menu pricing is on the high side of things, the quality and the overall experience significantly compensates for it. Since these are not your average everyday ordinary burgers, you should keep in mind the nutritional advantage you get at Fatburger before really focusing out on the prices. Plus, there are a lot of options and a lot of variations that you can mix-and-match to your liking.
The Menu – part 1
The Menu – part 2
For me, a dining experience is not just about the food, it’s about the place itself, the people running it and the hospitality they extend to you. Fatuburger officially opens its first restaurant in Pakistan today at Dolmen Mall, Karachi and I suggest ardent burger-lovers should definitely give it a try.
Now, some words of wisdom for the team at Fatburger and BIL Foods:
- Don’t let your quality deteriorate; if you maintain your standards, you grow your customer-base.
- Never compromise on customer service; a customer always loves polite and civil interactions, and a line delivered mechanically without emotion just doesn’t cut it.
- Smiles never hurt anyone.
- The customer may not be always right, but his/her feedback should be an important part of your ongoing improvement process.
- Keep rocking those shakes the way you are and you’ll remain the talk of the town for a long time to come.
- Extend the same level of courtesy and politeness (that you reserved for us) to all your future customers, and you’ll never have a deserted restaurant.
- The collaboration between the franchise and the franchisee is key; never let anything tarnish this relationship.
Fatburger brilliantly succeeds in making a meal, traditionally considered to be fatty, healthy. I salute the entire team for their blatant disregard of the norms set by the burger industry giants and thank them for giving us something original, unpretentious and nutritious. Their burgers are succulent, non-greasy, and light on the waist, without compromising on the taste. I have to say that I was honored to be one of their first few customers and I intend to remain one for a long time. All the best with today’s opening.
Jolly Good Fellows