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Greek taverna threat from Burger King

- by Dabs Banner

As Greek tavernas face rising costs and tougher trading a new threat is about to sail over the horizon – a chain of Burger King fast food outlets are poised to open across Greece.

The mere whiff of a Burger King on the Greek Islands could turn the stomachs of many tourists who fly out to the islands to enjoy Greek, not American culture.

And the failure of other fast-food multinationals to gain a foothold in Greece should send a signal that cracking the Greek market will not be as easy as it might look.

The appeal of Burger King will hardly be great to the millions of tourists who flock to the Greek islands each summer.

Sitting in a traditional Greek taverna, eating local dishes, is just one of the great delights of a Greek Island holiday. Eating a bucket of Burger King chips doesn't have quite the same appeal.

And the precedents are not good. A bid by McDonald's to break into the Greek market went straight into the bin.

Burger King is one of the largest fast food chains in the world. It has launched a joint venture company to "aggressively expand" the brand in Greece, Italy, Poland and Romania.

The fast food giant has signed a long-term master franchise agreement that they claim will create more than 10,000 new jobs in five to seven years across eastern Europe.

Burger King Worldwide's president (they have presidents?) for Europe, Middle East and Africa said: "We are excited to bring the brand to a new market in Greece."

But they may have their work cut our to persuade Greeks or holiday visitors to tuck in. A similar venture by the McDonald's chain left a bad taste in the mouth when it failed to take off.

McDonald's failed to crack the Greek market

Holidaymakers may recall the Big Mac logo on the harbour front on the holiday island of Skiathos. It closed after a couple of seasons when it failed to tempt the tastebuds of locals or visitors.

McDonald's has since been closing stores all over Greece and now has only 19 fast food outlets left, with 11 of those based in the capital city of Athens.

Starbucks is another multi-national chain that has attempted to break into the Greek market. It has fared better than McDonald's most its stores around Greece remain open but it's facing intense competition from Greek firm Mikel.

It was a Greek company that hit McDonald's hard. The Greek firm Goodys aped the McDonald's franchise model but offered Mediterranean dishes rather than burgers and fries, beating the Americans at their own game.

McDonalds tried to hit back, offering Greek fast food like souvlaki and even replicating some of the dishes on the Goodys' menu but the Greeks developed a stronger taste for the home grown product.

Greeks have little taste for imported food fads

It remains to be seen if Burger King will make the same mistakes. Homogenised international menus have never made a mark in Greece and anyone who regularly enjoys a Greek holiday can tell you why.

Standard international fast food doesn't seem to work in countries like Greece which not only have tasty national dishes and strong local food menu but different cultural attitudes to eating out.

Walk along any holiday waterfront in the Greek islands and you will find a table with clean tablecloth and a waiter to attend you. Queueing for a meal is not a national pastime like it is in Britain or the US.

Launched in 2008 the Greek company Mikel replicated the Starbucksí model with comfortable stores in city locations and well-trained staff to serve a variety of coffee and fruit juice drinks.

Mikel is popular with young people and it's outlets are now pushing Starbucks hard. In the northern city of Thessaloniki, for example Mikel is outpacing Starbucks by opening new shops and undercutting prices.

It remains to be seen if Burger King can succeed where McDonald's failed but the Greek experience shows the problems franchise chains face as they try to muscle in on a local culture with strong traditions.

Its hard to see locals changing their habits to accommodate US food giants and holidaymakers fly to the Greek islands to escape the hum-drum and taste something of the Greek way of life.