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Slow Food Versus Fast Food Essay


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Introduction Most hotels at Victoria Falls have for decades prided themselves on a culture of serving leisurely, gourmet meals (especially dinners) prepared using local ingredients including a variety of game meat (e. g. buffalo, kudu, impala, warthog, crocodile, guinea fowl), local mushrooms and vegetable varieties, and ? sh from the nearby Zambezi River. Arguably, a signi? cant proportion of this food quali? es to be called ‘slow food’, because it meets the four criteria for slowlness (Rothermel, 2009). First, slow food must be freshly prepared from fresh ingredients, mostly vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and meat in small portions.

Second, the food must be eaten leisurely in company. Third, it must be simple but varied in taste. Finally, it must be produced in an ethical and environmentally friendly manner. However, in recent years, fast food restaurants, led by Innscor brands such as Chicken Inn, Creamy Inn, and so on, have begun penetrating the market. Indeed the expansion of fast food chains in the last decade can be observed in several African countries.

In South Africa, international chains such as KFC and McDonald’s are becoming virtually ubiquitous.

Rapid growth of fast food restaurant chains has become a global phenomenon (Berta, 2003; Doherty and van Warner, 1995; Emerson, 1980; King, 2004; Lan and Khan, 1995; Parsa and Khan, 1989; Soeder, 1994; Walkup, 2008; Willging, 2008). In the resort town of Victoria Falls, most tourists have traditionally opted to eat at the hotels where they lodge. However, with recent entrance of fast food chains, hoteliers, facing the threat of losing market share, have been responding to the changing competitive forces. Victoria Falls has become a ‘slow food versus fast food’ battleground.

The main aim of this paper is to explore how the contemporary slow food– fast food contention is enacted in an African tourist destination setting. An important point to make is that it is not suggested here that Victoria Falls hotels serve slow food exclusively. Indeed, most hotels in the resort, in addition to what would qualify as slow food, also serve items which could be labelled as fast food, such as Corresponding author: Muchazondida Mkono, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Southern Cross University, P. O.

Box 157, Lismore, New South Wales 2480, Australia Email: [email protected] edu. au, [email protected] Downloaded from thr. sagepub. com at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on March 14, 2013 148 burgers, fries, and so on, typically as part of their ‘still room’ menus for lunches and snacks. At the same time hotels at Victoria Falls have always accepted that the majority of their guests spend the day undertaking a range of ‘tourist activities’ away from the hotel (for example elephant riding, over-the falls helicopter ? ights, bungee jumping, game safaris, white water rafting) and will often ? nd a quick snack elsewhere, or be provided with refreshments by tour operators offering these activities.

Breakfast is generally consumed at the hotel, as most hotel rates are charged on bed and breakfast basis. Thus the real contention as to the tourist’s choice of either fast food or slow food is centred around dinner. Tourism and Hospitality Research 12(3) Warner, 1995; Emerson, 1980; Lan and Khan, 1995; Parsa and Khan, 1989; Soeder, 1994; Willging, 2008). Research has mainly focused on the health impacts of this trend (Allen et al. , 2007; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1995; Blanck et al. , 2009; Bowens, 1994;

Chandon and Wansink, 2007; Chaudhry, 1992; Crowley, 2002; Dundes and Swann, 2008; Fitch et al., 2009; Grazin and Olsen, 1997; Gregory et al. , 2006; Hawkes, 2003; Hodges, 2003; Parker et al. , 2006; Rubin, 1996; Schreiner, 2007; Thornton et al. , 2009; Xu et al. , 2011), with the majority of authors corroborating the view that fast food poses signi? cant health risks. As such Slow Food Movement enthusiasts advocate a return to slow food habits. At the same time, there is a growing health conscious, market (Bartlett and Bartlett, 1995; Gray, 2004; Grazin and Olsen, 1997; Jonsdottir, 1998; Hwang and Cranage, 2010). In response to this trend, many hoteliers position their menus as healthier and wholesome.

A closely related debate to fast food–slow food discourse pertains to the authenticity of menus. Authenticity is a central topic in tourism sociological debates, and re? ects a search for the Authentic Other in tourists (Beer, 2008; Chhabra, 2010; Cohen, 2007; Connell, 2007; Connell and Gibson, 2004; Daniel, 1996; Johnson, 2002; Wang, 1999; Warner, 2009; Wherry, 2006; White, 2007; Xie, 2003; Yang and Wall, 2009; Yu and Littrell, 2003; Zheng, 2011).

Slow food, with its use of local ingredients and traditional cooking methods, has a stronger claim to authenticity, while fast food can easily be criticised as deauthenti?cation and MacDonaldisation of cuisine cultures; as Americanisation of traditional food cultures. A noticeable gap in the literature with respect to fast food chain expansion relates to the impacts on hotel food and beverage sales and pro? ts, as well as how (slow food) hotels have reacted to the trend to protect their market share.

For African tourist destinations, hotels have long been an important part of the destination’s ‘authentic’ image, and the MacDonaldisation of the food culture in these areas might destabilise the desired image. The impacts therefore are far-reaching.

Literature review While the concept of slow food has been received with a lot of interest among academics (Emerson, 1980; Gardner, 2007; Hodges, 2003; Jennings, 2006; Paxson, 2005; Peace, 2008; Piggott, 2001; Sassatelli and Davolio; Schwaner-Albright, 2007; Scoffer, 2008; Vaughan, 2008; Walkup, 2008; Waterhouse, 2008; Waters, 2006; Wong, 2009; Wright, 2007; Yee, 1999; Zuber, 2002), existing research has so far not looked at how resort hotels offering what could be described as ‘slow ? ne dining’ have been impacted by the expansion of fast food chains in Africa.

Further, most research on fast food and slow food has been conducted in Western and Asian countries. African case studies are noticeably lacking (Emerson, 1980; King, 2004; Lan and Khan, 1995; Parsa and Khan, 1989; Soeder, 1994; Walkup, 2008; Willging, 2008). The concept of ‘slow food’ was borne out of the Slow Food Movement, founded in Bra, Italy, in 1986 by Carlo Petrini (Jones et al. , 2003; Petrini, 2001). The movement aims at safeguarding food and agricultural heritage around the world, and educating consumers about traditional foods (Nosi and Zanni, 2004).

Formed to counteract the rapid globalisation of a fast food culture, the movement has evolved from being a protest against the erection of a McDonald’s restaurant in an Italian town to a formidable international organisation that has enthusiasts all over the world (Jones et al. , 2003). Interest in slow food has grown parallel to increasing criticism of fast food, although some authors question the movement’s ef? cacy in challenging the seemingly ‘all powerful’ fast food industry (Jones et al. , 2003).

Fast food, according to Rothermel (2009), typically bland, chewy, cheesy, crunchy, salty, meaty, nutty, fatty, and sometimes spicy, captivates the palette quickly, repetitiously, and obsessively. As such, fast food is consumed by a growing population, particularly in developed countries (Doherty and van Methodology The goal of this study is to provide an exploratory, inductive analysis of the slow food–fast food contention as it has unfolded in recent times at the tourist destination of Victoria Falls.

As a starting point for future research, the study highlights the perspectives of hoteliers, speci?cally food and beverage managers. The philosophical approach adopted for this study was hermeneutic (interpretive) phenomenology, which is also a research method (LeVasseur, 2003; Lopez and Downloaded from thr. sagepub. com at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on March 14, 2013 Mkono Willis, 2004; Wojnar and Swanson, 2007).

The approach was adopted to make sense out of a local situation by providing a thick description (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994). The localised focus resulted in small-scale theories that are situated in speci? c personal experiences and perceptions (Riley and Love, 2000). The paper employs a highly re?

exive and multivocal methodology where no single voice is priviledged (Riley and Love, 2000). Hermeneutic phenomenology is a particularly appropriate method for capturing subjective perspectives and lived experiences (Hegel, 1977; Ingram, 2002; Ironside et al. , 2003; Jonsdottir, 1998; Knibbe and Versteeg, 2008; LeVasseur, 2003; Lopez and Willis, 2004; Murphy et al. , 2009; Pernecky and Jamal, 2010; Racher and Robinson, 2003; Ross et al. , 2007; Sherrod, 2006; Simpson, 2007; Sinico, 2008; Szarycz, 2009; Wilde, 2003; Wojnar and Swanson, 2007). However, only a few hospitality researchers have adopted this methodology (Ingram, 2002).

Hermeneutic phenomenology accepts that both the researcher and participants cocreate an understanding of the phenomena under study, while bringing into the research their own frames of references drawing from their different backgrounds (Wojnar and Swanson, 2007). Researchers under this orientation will therefore often attempt to acknowledge whatever biases they brought into the study, through a process of ‘bracketing’ (LeVasseur, 2003), explaining ‘where they are coming from’. As such, the researcher here acknowledges her own previous work experience in the hotel industry in Victoria Falls as signi?cantly shaping her frame of reference throughout the study.

As Lopez and Willis (2004) argue, in the interpretive phenomenological approach, the researcher’s presuppositions or previous knowledge are valuable guides to the analysis, and can make the inquiry more meaningful. Wojnar and Swanson (2007) explain that hermeneutic phenomenology is most useful where the goal is to explicate contextual features of a lived experience as derived from the researcher’s and participants’ backgrounds, as well as their subjective experiences and perspectives.

However, the researcher is not absolved of the responsibility to minimise, or if possible at all, eliminating personal biases from the ? ndings of the study. It is often very dif? cult for researchers to demarcate between bias and fact, as bias can be very subtle. Data were collected from 11 hotel food and beverage managers. Food and beverage managers are the hands-on food and beverage operations decision makers who are directly responsible for the day to day and longer term strategy of a hotel’s food and beverage operations.

Of course, other managers in the hotel, such as restaurant managers, executive chefs,149 guest relations managers and functions managers may also input into the food and beverage operations. The researcher however felt their input was minimal and in most cases, involved more strategy implementation rather than strategy formulation. Thus food and beverage managers, as primary strategists in the food and beverage department, were identi? ed as the key informants in the hotels. Out of a judgement sample of 18 hotel managers in 18 hotels (2 to 5 star) who were contacted by phone and asked if they were available for an interview, 16 agreed and appointments were set up.

However, only 11 were subsequently interviewed. The other 5 could not avail themselves giving various reasons including emergency meetings or busy schedules. The researcher used an interview guide to maintain focus in the interviews. Questions were very open ended allowing interviewees to air their views freely. The research revolved around the two major research questions: the extent of threat posed by the emerging fast food competition (if any), and hotel management reactions. All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed manually, verbatim.

Data analysis was performed manually, through several stages, drawing from Benner’s (1994) hermeneutical analysis model delineated in Wojnar and Swanson (2007). The process began with reading and rereading transcripts reread to gain an intuitive feel for the data. Next, repetitious themes were identi? ed. The researcher then identi? ed exemplary quotes to illustrate themes. Findings and discussion The extent of threat The majority of managers felt that fast food companies were becoming serious competition for hotel restaurants: ‘‘It’s become a bit of a war really.

We have our appeal, but fast food restaurants have ‘‘street’’ appeal. We offer ? ne dining. Both concepts have their appeal, I guess. ’’ The ‘war’ referred to above is not unique to Zimbabwe. Restaurant wars have occurred in other places where fast food restaurants have entered the markets rapidly (e. g. Watson and Caldwell, 2004). Some managers reported that some of their guests were using their shuttle buses to ‘sneak out for a burger dinner at a fast food restaurant in town’. In addition, and more worrying for the hotel industry in Victoria Falls, hotel food and beverage sales were reported to have been reduced signi?cantly due to fast food entrance.

This was a great concern as managers Downloaded from thr. sagepub. com at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on March 14, 2013 150 reported the negative bottom line impact of fast food restaurant expansion. However, others were con? dent of the competitive strengths of their hotel restaurants, perceiving no real threat from fast food. ‘‘I think tourists in our hotel prefer to taste our full service men. It’s gourmet. Fast to me is bland and ordinary. Plus unhealthy. Our food is prepared by world class chefs.’’

Tourism and Hospitality Research 12(3) white water rafting on the Zambezi River, elephant back safaris, and so on) might not be consistent with a slow destination image, or a slow tourist segment. Another interesting comment made concerned the in? uence of age in preference for fast food: ‘‘It appears to me that it is our younger guests who might be particularly interested in fast food. The older folks are put off by the noise in the fast food places’’. The health implications in relation to fast food and slow food have been widely discussed (Hodges, 2003; Hunt, 2004; Mair et al., 2008; Wong, 2009).

Indeed this could be the biggest selling point for hotel food over food in this context, especially if the market is predominantly health conscious. This requires further inquiry. One of the managers felt that hotels’ competitive strength with respect to food and beverage was in the uniqueness and authenticity of their menus: ‘‘We sell cuisines that they can’t get anywhere else, our kudu and impala steak, for example. Our cuisine is authentic Zimbabweanness. We bring out the best of Zimbabwean and African food.

’’ Future research could investigate further the validity of this observation in more causal, quantitative research. However, some existing research would suggest that more younger people tend to prefer fast food compared to older people (Dave et al. , 2009). One manager drew attention to the attention paid to ambience in hotel restaurants, arguing that this is an important source of differentiation from fast food restaurants: ‘‘Our hotel restaurants have a special ambience which fast food restaurants simply cannot provide’’.

Authenticity is a core concept in tourism research, and it is signi? cant that hotel managers are engaged with this discourse in their re? ection of work lived experiences. But to ascribe Zimbabweanness lends to us to the complex questions of who authenticates food as Zimbabwean or otherwise, what criterion must be used, and consequently to the questions of identity and, for a multiethnic society that Zimbabwe is, ethnicity as well. Indeed, ethnicity has been a source of socio-cultural tension with regard to representing Zimbabwean identity.

However, this point constitutes a highly convoluted debate that cannot be treated in more depth in an exploratory study such as this one. One manager felt that Victoria Falls was a destination for the ‘slow’ tourist, who preferred ‘slow’ products and services, so that there was no real threat for hoteliers posed by the entrance of fast food. The slow food–fast food contention is a topical issue in contemporary hospitality management as it resonates with a nostalgic yearning for the past in modern society. ‘‘I think Victoria Falls attracts more ‘slow oriented’ tourists, I think.

’’ The role ambience in in? uencing customer satisfaction is widely recognised. However some fast food restaurants have made some strides in managing the atmosphere in their restaurants. For example, the Rainforest Cafe chain’s restaurant interiors depict a tropical rainforest with detail such as plant growth, mist, waterfalls, animatronic robots of various animals and insects (Williams, 2002). Thus hoteliers cannot become complacent about their restaurant ambience as sustainable sources of competitive advantage over their fast food restaurant competition.

The researcher asked whether the cheaper prices associated with fast food was a concern for hoteliers. Some managers agreed that price was in fact the major source of competition: ‘‘The trouble is that a burger at a fast food restaurants costs little, say three of four dollars. Our dinners cost them $30 dollars thereabouts. So if the decision is an economic one, especially where it’s a big family, the fast food restaurant is an inviting option. ’’ Slowness is a contested phenomenon, and it is not clear cut what constitutes slow.

Further, it is questionable whether Victoria Falls is indeed a destination for slow tourists. Indeed, the adventure oriented activities that Victoria Falls is commonly known for (bungee jumping, helicopter ? ights over Falls, cruises and However, some felt that there was no logic in comparing hotel food prices with fast food prices; that doing so would be akin to comparing ‘oranges with bread’. It is clear then that hoteliers have varying perception of who their competitors are: whether competition refers to other hoteliers, or whether it extends beyond the hotel industry.

De? ning competition narrowly, however, is likely to be detrimental to a hotel’s long term competitive strength. Downloaded from thr. sagepub. com at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on March 14, 2013 Mkono It was also highlighted by some managers that their clientele was ‘upmarket’ and therefore not very pricesensitive: ‘‘Most of our guests are internationals. . . . and price is not their primary criterion for choosing where they are gonna eat. They do not travel on a tight budget’’. 151 Victoria Falls.

Hotels would need to think on a longer term basis if their strategies should shield them from the competitive threat effectively. One manager expressed apprehension about the potential ef? cacy of any potential reactive strategies, citing that tourists from countries where fast food consumption has become ingrained in lifestyle ‘‘can’t resist a cheese burger’’. Thus to some extent, in this manager’s view, the war was already lost. Since for some managers the real competition was lay in the differences in price levels, it was not surprising that hotels were expected to bring down their prices.

Indeed, this had already been done in some hotels: ‘‘We have had to bring our prices down a little bit’’. Hoteliers would need to address the question whether they intend to target only the upmarket, or whether their target market can be de? ned more broadly. Considering that the government’s Look East Policy launched in the early 2000s has attracted a lower spending, more price-sensitive Eastern market, limiting the target market to af? uent high spenders might not be particularly wise as a marketing strategy. Hotels therefore ?

nd themselves in a crossroads decision regarding whether it makes more business sense to bring their prices down to become more competitive in the face of fast food restaurant penetration, and accept any compromises this might bring to customers’ perceptions of their product and service quality; or to keep their price levels as they are in the hope that this lures a more high spending, perhaps elitist market. A particularly important point was the reference to health conscious tourists.

It was the belief of some managers that a signi?cant proportion of tourists was becoming increasingly health conscious, and was therefore inclined to avoid eating fast food: ‘‘Our guests in general are becoming very health conscious. They ask for low fat, sugar free etc. They ask if our menu is organic. They know they can’t get healthy options at the fast food restaurant. That’s a fact. ’’ However, some managers were concerned about the effect of price cuts on their image. There was apprehension that tourists could assume that this was accompanied by a reduction in product and/ or service quality.

The relationship between price and quality has been investigated in many marketing studies, suggesting that customers perceptions of quality are indeed affected by price. The theme of image for some extended beyond an individual hotel. The image of Victoria Falls as a tourist destination was seen as impacted by the expansion of fast food supply. One of the respondents asserted that this would compromise the ‘luxury resort’ brand image that Victoria Falls held internationally: ‘‘Victoria is a high end market destination. We are about luxury hotels, class. No offence to fast food restaurants. ’’

Conclusion and suggested future research Hotel reactions Most managers believed that the competitive threat posed for hotels by the expansion of the fast food industry in Victoria Falls was serious enough to warrant reformulation of competitive strategies. Among the changes that hotels needed to make was to change shuttle buses’ routes so that they would not pass through fast food restaurant locations: ‘‘We might have to change the route for our shuttle. The current pick up points are not good for us at all because fast food shops are staring at our guest right there where they get picked up.

’’ However, such a change cannot offer a permanent solutions as tourists are not necessarily restricted to the use of hotels’ shuttle buses for transport within The study sought to investigate hotel food and beverage managers’ experiences with and perspectives of emerging fast food competition. As such, the paper adds to a growing number of phenomenological studies in hospitality. Managers’ perspectives re? ect several interesting issues. Many of the responses suggest a signi? cant level of complacency, a refusal to accord fast food the status of formidable competitor.

Some managers seem to think it ‘beneath them’ to even worry about fast food, and even more ‘beneath’ to engage in a ‘face-off ’ with them. The more ‘digni? ed’ option seems to be to pretend that fast food restaurants either do not exist at all, or to feign indifference. This begs the question whether this attitude is sustainable in the long term. The study also con? rms the dynamic and volatile nature of the tourist market. In an African destination Downloaded from thr. sagepub. com at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University on March 14, 2013.

152 where fast food consumption has been a once-in-awhile affair, the entrance of fast food is set to rede? ne food and eating culture. It is no longer a Western phenomenon. What is also important to realise is that fast food consumption is not restricted to the tourist market; that locals are also a part of the market. Future researchers might investigate the impacts of fast food expansion on the local population’s food culture, which will further case study knowledge on the so called MacDonalisation of society. Hotels might have to start actively targeting ‘slow tourists’.

However, research on the characteristics and means of engaging this potentially growing market segment is still lacking. It is hoped that more African context-speci? c studies will be carried out on the expansion of fast food and its business and sociological impacts. An inherent limitation concomitant to phenomenology is the lack of generalisability of research ? ndings. Owing to the small sample, the perspectives represented here are not representative of any other context, although some may be ‘transferable’ to similar resort destinations where fast food chains are beginning to enter markets which have previously been dominated by hotels.

Future researchers might want to engage in similar studies with a larger sample of informants, and perhaps on a wider spatial scale. Such studies could employ quantitative methods to explain causal relationships and test hypothesis, such as whether fast food entrance into a traditional hotel dominated market poses signi? cant threats to hotel food and beverage pro? ts. To complete the supply side perspective for this study, fast food managers also need to be included in data collection in future perspectives.

It would be interesting to investigate why fast food restaurants have decided to expand into the Victoria Falls now, how they perceive the competition from hotels, how they have tried to gain market share, and their views on slow food–fast food debate in an environment where fast food continues to be criticised as unhealthy. How are they building their defence against this onslaught? How do they continue to thrive despite this worldwide onslaught? What will be even more interesting would be to compare the ? ndings made in an African context with those found in other, perhaps very different contexts.

This research took a supply side bias, and thus fails to capture the perspectives of tourists who in fact make the choice between fast food and slow food. Thus future researchers might want to pursue either a market oriented approach, or better yet an integrative approach, which combines both supply side and consumer perspectives. In addition, future researchers who carry out similar studies in tourist destinations Tourism and Hospitality Research 12(3) could utilise the broader concept of ‘slow tourism’ as an analytical framework.

Thus food choice and consumption are not viewed simply as acts in dining, but perhaps as a microcosm of a much more complex ‘slow tourism’ phenomenon.

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