Globalisation and apparent self-evidence
Until around 1970, snack kiosks were pretty much the only alternative, if you did not want to cook yourself, except for going to a more expensive restaurant. However, in 1966 the first Resto-GB self-service restaurant opened its doors in Belgium (in the meantime there are 61 “Lunch Gardens”); in 1971, Quick started up (currently 84 branches); in 1978, the first McDonalds opened (now 63 branches) and 30 years later it is impossible to count all the pizza joints, kebab shops and Chinese (take-away) restaurants. At a fairly constant level of 5000 snack kiosks, the snack kiosk phenomenon nevertheless seems to be holding on amazingly well, but the question is for how much longer …?
Have you noticed how much a pedestrian shopping street in Helsinki resembles one in Frankfurt, Barcelona or Antwerp? The same brands, shops, chains and ‘concepts’ everywhere…. The -also literal – globalisation of tastes could, in view of the financial and logistical power of large chains, mean the end sooner than expected of our unique frietkot culture which by its very nature is individualistic.
Relaxation of the legislation
It might sound paradoxical, but in fact the profession of snack kiosk operator is protected by law, even though this is inadvertently in a roundabout way …
Anyone who wants to start a restaurant in Belgium must have a chef’s diploma. The so-called “Establishment Act” (Royal Decree of 13/06/1984) describes the activity of a restaurateur as follows: “the habitual and autonomous preparation of hot and cold meals intended to be consumed on location at the installation or ordered to be served by him outside the installation.” “Preparation” means: “preparing, compiling, arranging, heating up OR defrosting.” So, anyone …
Anyone? …. No. The Establishment Act stipulates a number of exceptions, including: “Preparing in frying fat or oil of potato fries and goods fully purchased for such preparation; serving sauces, pickled mussels, cooked cold sausages, gherkins, meat stew, goulash and meatballs in tomato sauce” – in short: a snack kiosk …- is exempted from the diploma requirement in as far as “they are not cumulated with other products such as for example cold salads, pancakes, grilled sandwiches and other toasts”… So, an establishment serving fries with mayonnaise and beef stew is a snack kiosk, but adding a single leaf of lettuce … turns it into a restaurant.
Naturally, anyone with a chef’s diploma has no reason to ‘limit themselves’ to the ‘normal’ range of products of a snack kiosk but in fact this also means that anyone who does not have the diploma must (by necessity) specialise in preparing these specific products ….
According to the European Services Directive, EU countries must simplify and harmonise the procedures for setting up a service company. The idea is to ensure that “service providers” can get to work more easily anywhere in Europe, whereby a member state may only impose requirements in the interests of the general good.
In contrast to Belgium, most EU countries do not have an establishment act for the hospitality industry (any longer) and the question is very much how long Europe will allow us to transpose this directive …
Lack of pride in the profession
Nothing is as typically Belgian as the frietkot culture…or the lack of chauvinism and pride. There are only a few other professions whose professionals are so discrete about what they do. Many snack kiosk operators have an inferiority complex and will tend to say that they work “in the hospitality industry” or that they run an eatery rather than admit publicly that they “only” have a snack bar …
It seems a happy coincidence that the frietkot culture has not yet been steamrolled by globalisation. In addition, the Belgian Establishment Act ensures that snack bars have to specialise in the typical range of snack bar products as it were. Although Belgian is not known for being the first to apply all the European directives, European patience is slowly coming to an end. Unfortunately, the snack kiosk operators themselves could well be the greatest threat to the degradation of the frietkot culture… After all, due to the lack of pride and recognition, there is a considerable risk that on abolition of the Establishment Act, they will be the first to convert their snack kiosks into a ‘fully-fledged’ eatery …
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