February 22, 2011

What is happening to KFC?

Upon coming to Taiwan in 2002, there were a few difficulties I had to overcome. Obviously, the language was big on the list. However, it didn’t take long to find people that spoke English.

The next difficult thing to overcome, was finding food to eat. I’m sure that this is a problem for people no matter where they travel to. Unless you understand the local language, trying to figure out what is being sold for food can be daunting, to say the least.

Fortunately, Taiwan does have a few ‘western’ food outlets. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut – just to name a few. In the past couple of years, even Dunkin Donuts has come to Taiwan.

Lately though, I’ve noticed that the KFC outlets have been disappearing. There is a ‘local’ business that has sort of ‘adopted’ the KFC branding. It is called “KLG”. If one didn’t know better, they would think it was a cheap, hole-in-the-wall version of KFC. The major differences though, is that they sell no white meat pieces of chicken, and no salads or beverages. Just dark meat chicken and (in my opinion), crappy fries. Yes, I have tried it once or twice. By North American KFC standards, crap would be calling this stuff good!

Then again, KFC was no shits either! The thing that I also had to get used to, is that Taiwan people, or perhaps Asian people, tend to have different levels of taste than North Americans. Also, the menu at KFC was also different.

There is no such thing as a ‘snack pack’, ‘barrels’ or ‘buckets’ of chicken. There are no salads that we North Americans are used to – coleslaw, bean salad, potato salad. Everything you want to purchase, is listed separately.

Chicken was available in two flavours – regular or spicy. It was available in 6 or 9 pieces. Fries come separately in small, medium or large – like McDonalds. Yes, they did have a salad of sorts, but…

Quite frankly, other than the look of the place, it was not really a fast food restaurant that I would visit often. Perhaps once a month – at the most. I had tried the ‘spicy’ chicken, and the only thing good I could say about it was that the pieces of chicken were large.

The regular chicken, like the kind I could get in Canada, were these tiny pieces of chicken. The ‘skin’, which was always my favourite part as a child, tasted the same.

Perhaps people just didn’t like it. Obviously, there aren’t enough ‘foreigners’ to sustain the business, and obviously, the main customer base were the local people. But the thing that I find disconcerting, is that I was unaware that KFC was closing. No one said anything, but then again, why would they?

What I don’t understand, is why McDonalds is still here? I don’t know how they stay in business at times. When I first moved here, they had normal opening and closing times. However, I’ve noticed that ALL the McDonalds now operate 24 hours a day.

One of the things that I would never see, or perhaps not notice in Canada, is people sitting in McDonalds doing school work, surfing the internet, and not eating. At any given time of day, here in Tainan, and I’m sure it’s the same all over this island, people sit or sleep, chat with their friends, surf the internet on their laptops, read the newspapers and magazines, without so much as purchasing a drink! It’s not my business, I don’t own the franchises, so I don’t really care. I just find it odd.

For the most part, McDonalds does carry some of the same sandwiches as their North American counterparts. However, just as some McDonalds in Canada carry certain local menu items, Taiwan has different items as well.

I remember a few years ago when I was in New Brunswick. Going into McDonalds, I noticed that they had poutine and a McLobster sandwich. Here in Taiwan, they have corn soup (basically, watered down creamed corn, heated up and sold as a soup), as well as a few other things that I can’t recall at the moment. However, the Big Mac, McFish, and cheeseburgers are still on the menu.

One thing that I do notice differently, is that when you order a sandwich here, it is made for you when you order it. I suppose it has to do with the level of taste again. When we go into McDonalds in Canada, how many times do we have to wait for 5 minutes for our Big Mac? How often do we have to wait until our single order of fries are finished frying? Okay, during the busy times (‘feeding time at the zoo’, I call it), we may have to wait a couple of minutes, but not every time!

I’ve actually given up going to McDonalds. It’s not that I’m in a hurry and expect to be served right away. What bothers me more, is that, and I might add here, that this happens WAY TOO OFTEN, the little girl or boy at the counter doesn’t speak or doesn’t want to speak English. No problem. I’ve learned how to say certain things over the years. As well, they have a menu on the counter, and worse comes to worse, I can point to the items I want.

The last few times I’ve been to McDonalds, and not just the location near me, but all over Tainan, just as it is my turn, the little girl or boy runs away, and I can hear them yelling in the back that a foreigner is at the counter. No, they are not saying that in English, it is in Chinese. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out what they are saying!

After trying to be served by no less than 4 other people, me trying to say what I want in Chinese, and have the rest of the restaurant staff staring at me at the counter, enough is enough.

Perhaps it’s just that I’m getting to the point that I don’t have the patience for them anymore. Perhaps I’m starting to realize that McDonalds is not the ideal place for a meal. I know, that these little girls and boys learn English from grade 2. Many of them go to bushibans (cram schools) or have private teachers to teach them English. To be working at McDonalds, and not know what a Big Mac and French fries is in English, is disgusting. I know what they are in Chinese for god’s sake!

The funny thing is though, there are plenty of places to get food. And the places I frequent, may not speak English very well, but at least they try. I also, try to speak as much Chinese as I can. If I don’t know what it is, I ask them. I will order it again the next visit, until I know the word or words.

And what can I say about Pizza Hut, that I wouldn’t say about Pizza Hut in Canada? It all tastes the same – slop on a shingle! There are much better places to get a good slice of pizza. To me, Pizza Hut and Dominoes and Pizza Pizza are all crap. You want a good pizza here in Tainan, there is only one – 8818!

That’s it, that’s all… for now!


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