Saudi Arabia HungerStation: Fast-food Convenience or Obesity Enabler?

HungerStation in Saudi Arabia is a new online platform where customers can order food from a lengthening list of restaurants for delivery right to their doorstep.  Wildly successful, the service has experienced a 500% increase in daily traffic since their launch last November, and is signing on new food chains at an impressive clip.

HungerStation doesn’t deliver the food themselves, but instead acts as a junk food enabler. Clarification is in order: this isn’t fine dining.

Craving some crappy fast food?  Waddle over to your computer (or flip on your smart phone). Sign on to the website (weirdly named Henkerstishn in the English language version) and type in what you’re hungry for.  Using global positioning technology, the system ranks restaurants based on distance from final delivery, ensuring that your supersized food arrives at super fast speed.

Feeling promiscuous? There’s an option of ordering different munchies from different restaurants and getting everything delivered at the same time.

Home delivery of pizza and Chinese food has been popular in American cities and college towns for about fifty years; and it’s caught on in European cities too. In the 1990s, services sprung up that coordinated home delivery from finer American restaurants, but appeal was limited: prices were higher than in-restaurant dining, the food less impressively presented and naturally, it arrived colder.

Food is central to Saudi social life. The Saudi concept of majlis or diwanya doesn’t mesh with in-restaurant dining: most people prefer to bring takeaway food into their homes where they can casually convene with friends to play cards or watch television. This translates into a booming fast-food take-away business: Kingdom fast food sales expected to grow to $4.5 billion by 2015. Now HungerStation eliminates the need to ever leave your home.  Especially appealing to Saudi women forbidden to drive.

Founder Ahmed Al Majid was a student at McGill University in Montreal, a town familiar with home delivered grub. Its climate can be as punishing as anything Jeddah serves up, yet there isn’t a month in this Canadian city that is without some sort of brilliant public celebration.

Too bad he chose to export home food delivery instead of that city’s open-air cultural events: Montreal is a city of festivals. Sure, food is part of the party, but it doesn’t always hold center stage.

Al Majid might have elected to bank on young people’s socializing instead of their eating. He could’ve become a cultural impresario by exporting one of Montreal’s many excellent music events, or my personal favorite, the long-running comedy hit Just for Laughs (or “Festival du Ha-Ha”).

Instead he’s put his money where the kingdom’s young mouth is. And his investment is paying off: his service is now available in five Saudi cities, and he’s expanded to Bahrain. But it’s unlikely he’ll branch into the United Arab Emirates, which made feeding children junk food a punishable offense.

Image of kids eating fast food by Shutterstock

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