I’m waiting for the Rs400 hot dog. It’s possible, really, as a recent barrage of retail investment has turned India into a fast-food nation believing it is consuming something epicurean—and willing to pay big bucks for mediocrity. Before you think I am insulting you, I assure you I count my American self among the seduced.
TGI Friday’s? I hate it in New Jersey, associating it with mall culture and plaid-clad guys who don cheap cologne and eat disgusting things like bacon on top of potatoes dripping with cheese.
Here, I freshen my lipstick before I walk in, revel in frozen margaritas balanced on a waiter’s elbow and order greasy appetizers. My bill is almost double what I would pay in the United States for such a second-class meal.
Several friends and I have had similar experiences with brands and outlets such as Marks & Spencer, Ruby Tuesday and Mango. They don’t quite promote themselves as luxury but still command premium prices—for questionable quality and service.
Every day, I wake up to headlines announcing another Western business has big plans for India. Occasionally, I’ll cringe and turn to my husband: “Didn’t that company go under?”
Like earlier this month, when pizza chain Sbarro Inc. announced plans to open 100 restaurants here in a joint venture with Hotz Industries (India) Ltd. You deserve to know the truth about Sbarro. It’s the pizza of choice at railway stations and airports, usually delayed travellers’ lone choice.
Luckily, we no longer live in such desperate times. Indians have long contended with subpar products—colours fading after one wash, fraying office chairs—but the pricing generally reflected this. Why are we not discriminating with pricey imports?
The companies mentioned in this column were contacted for comment; most were unavailable but those reached blame exorbitant import duties and said they are continuously revisiting their India strategy—especially with more competition arriving.
Thank god for that; it’s the only thing that gives us freedom as consumers to reject the West’s rejects.
Like Barney the dinosaur. In case you haven’t heard of him, take a second to be grateful. Once upon a time, Barney, a big purple dinosaur, endeared himself to American parents eager to plop their children in front of a television for lessons on sharing and caring. He was really popular through the 1990s. The operative word is was.
So there he was in mid-February performing with his equally plush and sappy friends in New Delhi, tickets priced between Rs300 and Rs1,500.
Even my daughter’s tony preschool advertised the Barney programme and encouraged attendance. I happily stayed home with my kid and watched Sesame Street DVDs, timeless imports of my choosing from the US.
“When will India stop getting the world’s leftovers?” one friend of mine often asks.
Not until we stop accepting them with our wallets. That’s the ironic benefit of open markets—our discontent can help drive down inflated prices and increase standards of quality.
As with all of my frustrations in India, the experts advised patience.
“We are progressing later compared to the West, said Tejaswini Aparanji, deputy general manager of Branding Entertainment. “Brands like Mango, these are not the Chanels of the world, but Chanel is not far behind. There’s a premium attached to being new.”
Earlier this week, the Hard Rock Café, another Western institution I love to hate because there’s definitely not enough cool rockers’ paraphernalia to go around, also announced plans to expand in India.
“Hard Rock would close restaurants in less glamorous locations in the United States and Britain but double outlets globally to around 250,” Reuters said.
Oh thanks, I initially thought, close the Hard Rock Café in Indianapolis, and please export the guitar used by Michael Jackson’s security guard to hang in the new Patna location.
In Mumbai this week, I gave India’s first Hard Rock Café a chance, mostly to keep my perceptions honest and in check. I was dubious as we drove deep into the compound of the former Bombay Dyeing Mill but impressed upon entry: 6,000sq. ft of a tastefully redone industrial space, red-velvet walls, the perfect dim of lighting, even Richie Sambora’s shirt and guitar. It made the New York outlet seem like a dump. The food was excellent and the waiters staged a dance to the “YMCA” song.
At last, I thought, a new business trying to win over customers with more than a brand name.
The line of retailers, restaurants, cartoon characters, even employees like yours truly, arriving on Indian shores need to learn from mistakes made in the West. Indian customers should stop accepting all things imported as better and return to their roots as demanding connoisseurs on the lookout for a bargain.
And I hope they never pay more than Rs50 for a hot dog.
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