I came rather late to the Nando’s party. The chain first appeared in Britain in 1992 and over the last 10 years in particular it has become a huge and growing hit. I had my first Nando’s last summer, but how I have made up for it since.
I think it would be fair to say I’ve become obsessed with Nando’s. I’m far from alone in the level of my obsession. While Pizza Express has customers, and Wagamama has fans, Nando’s has devotees. (Take a look at the Rate Your Nandos website and feel the love in the room.) Though its peri-peri chicken is magnificent, I think the chain’s cult-like appeal centres less around the food than the overall experience.
For the uninitiated, I shall describe it. You arrive, are allocated a table and handed a menu. When you’re ready, you go and place your order at the counter and pay. You collect your own cutlery and pour your own drinks. A waiter brings you the food when it’s ready.
This is what’s known in the industry as a ‘mixed service’ model. Well, it works for me. I like the slice of responsibility this system hands to the customer and it just feels so liberating to be able to leave a restaurant as soon as I’ve finished eating, rather than having to grab the attention of an overworked waiter so I can pay.
Here’s another industry term, the umbrella of which Nando’s falls under: ‘fast casual dining’. It’s true, Nando’s occupies a middle ground. It is neither a McDonald’s, nor a ‘proper’ restaurant, but somewhere brilliantly in the middle.
A lot of Nando’s customers are, I suspect, people who either cannot afford to eat in ‘grown-up’ restaurants or who feel, rightly or wrongly, they would not be accepted in them. For instance, it’s popular among young Muslims, and black or mixed-race kids.
Yet the Nando’s customer base is a melting pot of races, genders and ages. Our race is Nando’s. Our gender is Nando’s. We are Nando’s years’ old.
Each outlet is our embassy in whichever neighbourhood we find ourselves. Nearer to home, for me there are three branches within walking distance: one in Windsor and two in Slough. I nearly always go to Slough for Nando’s. For if Nando’s is anything, it is Slough.
Another awesome thing about the company is how jolly and motivated its staff always seem. It has won industry awards, including the Sunday Times ‘best place to work’ gong. That comes across in the atmosphere of the branches. Also, it gives a 20% discount to police, ambulance staff and fire services workers – a fact that is admirable, reassuring and slightly sexy all at once.
I said the food mattered less than the experience but the food is delicious. Fiery chicken dishes at affordable prices (you can comfortably eat there for under a tenner). The menu is simple, yet it empowers the customer: we have to specify how hot we want our chicken.
My regular order is Chicken Butterfly (hot) with peri chips and corn on the cob. I always grab a bottle of garlic peri sauce for the table, which I introduce to my plate only late in the game. To drink I have Coke with lots of ice, and I regularly top myself up throughout the meal. Occasionally I switch to Fanta for the final glass.
Then I stagger out onto the street, in a chilli-fired daze of euphoria. A relative of mine described it as a ‘Nandos coma’. Long may they knock us out.
Do you love Nando’s. If so, why?
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