While eating at a popular fast-food chain, a Muslim man saw a cook frying up some bacon on the same grill as his burger patty. However, as soon as the customer complained about the cook’s “non-halal” method, the manager came out to set things straight.
When New Zealander Raz Domingo walked into a Better Burger chain in Auckland, he ordered his usual all-beef hamburger. As a Kiwi Muslim man, he has made a conscious effort to eat at establishments that he’s certain comply with his religious requirement of a pork-free diet.
However, he was horrified when he looked behind the counter and noticed that the cook was grilling up some greasy bacon on the same grill as his burger patty. According to the NZ Herald, Domingo brought it to the staff’s attention that the cook had contaminated the grill with pork, which in turn tainted his food. He angrily reminded them that they are to prepare halal meat in such a way that it never comes into contact with pork products.
One of the employees explained to Domingo that only one grill was working, forcing them to prepare everyone’s food in the same area. Upon hearing this, the customer told them that he’d just head to another Better Burger location. It was then that the employee informed him that this is the standard method of food preparation for all of the chain’s restaurants, leaving Domingo aghast at the realization that he’d been eating pork-tainted meat every time he walked into the establishment.
“I took it on face value, so we decided to go to another Better Burger because surely all of the stores wouldn’t have the same issue at the same time, and then at the other store they just turned around and said; ‘No, that’s just their process and what they do’.”
Furious over the fact that he wrongly believed he’d been eating halal meat, Domingo proceeded to chew out the staff members, chastising them for claiming that their burgers were “certified halal” and vowing to take the issue to the press. It wasn’t long before Domingo received a reply from the chain’s spokesperson that made things even worse.
According to Better Burger operations manager Josh Harre, the restaurant isn’t at fault because it doesn’t advertise that its meat is halal-certified. Much to Domingo’s dismay, he reiterated that, while the chain buys certified halal meat from its supplier, the restaurant doesn’t claim to adhere to halal standards.
“The butcher that we use is halal certified and that’s the information we share with customers. Given the kitchen layout of our different restaurants, the one at Sylvia Park, Mt Eden and the airport all do have a separate grill for bacon. The two sites in the city, purely based on the layout, don’t and that’s why we don’t advertise [halal] as a brand message,” Harre said.
Domingo was both shocked and appalled at the idea that he and so many other Muslim customers were eating meat they falsely believed to be halal. Although he doesn’t plan on visiting the burger chain again, he is worried that other Muslims will unknowingly continue to eat pork-contaminated beef at these locations.
“The only reason we eat there is because we were told at the beginning that they were halal and their menus were halal. Yes their meats are still halal, however, once they contaminate it by cooking it on the same grill it [defeats the purpose]. I am disappointed because I enjoyed their burgers. There will be lots of other Muslims that are going there thinking they are eating halal food which is not really.”
Although Harre explained that the restaurant shouldn’t be held responsible for what certain customers believe about their products, he admitted that the company may look into complying with halal standards in the future. However, he added that many locations in smaller settings would be unable to accommodate this concept since they only have a single grill and limited means.
The incident is an important lesson in awareness and personal responsibility. It is up to the customers to educate themselves on what they are eating, especially when the restaurant hasn’t implied that it adheres to certain dietary restrictions in the first place.