Photo: (AP Photo/K.M.Chaudary)
McDonald’s is at the centre of a row over Islamic values in Pakistan after a customer complained he was told not to sit beside his wife because managers feared it would damage the restaurant’s family reputation.Noman Ansari, who stopped at a branch in Karachi for a diet Coke on Saturday night, said the episode was a symptom of an increasingly intolerant nation.
A spokesman for McDonald’s said it was investigating the complaint.
Mr Ansari said trouble started when he sat next to his wife and slipped an arm behind her shoulder.
A member of staff told the couple to move but when they again sat beside each other in an adjacent booth it became clear that the issue was not their location, but the proximity of a man and a woman in public.
In an account posted on his blog, Mr Ansari said he was told: “Sir, this is a family restaurant. Couples sitting together is against the policy of McDonald’s Pakistan, as it goes against the family atmosphere of the restaurant.”
Two managers then told him that couples sitting together damaged the “Islamic family atmosphere” of McDonald’s, according to the account.
The alleged incident highlighted a difficult issue for Pakistan’s restaurants, particularly fast food chains where loud music and glitzy American decor try to coexist with the country’s strict rules on modesty.
Many – including some branches of McDonald’s – have partitioned areas for families, to separate men from women.
Ali Arsalan, McDonald’s Pakistan assistant marketing manager, said the company tried to foster a family atmosphere and confirmed it was looking into Mr Noman’s grievance.
“If there is some physical action it is possible that a family might have raised a complaint and asked the couple to have sit on a separate seat because we have sisters or mothers there,” he said.
Multinational fast food companies frequently struggle with local religious and cultural sensibilities.
Last month, Pizza Hut Pakistan was forced to withdraw its “all you can eat” offer during Ramadan in order to end what it called an “invitation to gluttony” as customers gorged themselves at the end of a day of fasting.
And in India, McDonald’s is planning to open its first vegetarian branches close to two holy sites, leading to threatened protests by Hindus and Sikhs.
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