Do you remember a time when Nando’s didn’t exist? No, nor do I! It seems that the neon red mascot has been crowing our welcome for so long that we have forgotten what it’s like to be without it. Sitting with friends and family the words ‘what did we do before Nando’s’ brushes upon everyone’s lips at least once and there is no question that the restaurant has succeeded in inspiring a cult like devotion among their followers, of which there are thousands. For the very rare few who refuse to yield to the Portuguese chicken empire, complaining that it is merely a glorified KFC, even they cannot deny the phenomenal impact Nando’s has had on the British culinary scene.
As someone who lived abroad for two years in a country that didn’t have Nando’s (yes apparently they exist) and possibly missed Nando’s more than I missed my family, it is safe to say that I am a huge fan, but even I find myself shocked at what Nando’s has managed to achieve. As I sit enjoying my medium spiced chicken and side of coleslaw and peri chips, the thought ‘how have they managed to get it so right?’ is tirelessly running through my mind. Because even if you love it with a passion or hate it with scorn, it is indeed a very plausible question. How has a restaurant, and a simple one at that, managed to change the game so dramatically?
And it has changed the game; the social game. We live in a society that, although it likes to think it doesn’t, has a very clear social structure and whichever way you want to dress it up, the poor do not eat with the rich. They never have and even the suggestion seems outlandish. A family who enjoy a relaxing meal in Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant are not the same family that will be sharing a bucket of KFC in one of the Colonels fast food chains. A multi-millionaire like Opera Winfrey will not be eating in the same establishment as the group of builders who have just finished their shift. Yet in an ironic quirk of communism that I’m sure Marx would appreciate, Nando’s has managed to break down a remarkable social barrier that even the most optimistic of us thought impossible. Because the fact stands that Winfrey does enjoy going to Nando’s, enjoying eating exactly the same chicken that the builders do. Twitter and various blog sites have all confirmed that a spate of other celebrities have a love for the restaurant too. Famously Ed Sheeran is a huge fan, going so far as to make up the ‘Nando’s song’ about all the chicken he loves to eat there. He regularly tweets comments such as ‘Just landed from tour, Nando’s waiting for me in the car’.
For a singer reportedly worth over eight million, Sheeran could eat wherever he wants yet he regularly chooses the very affordable Nando’s as his plate of choice.
Suddenly there is a restaurant on the scene that everyone goes to, that everyone can afford, and that everyone loves. I cannot think of a single other restaurant that has managed to achieve such an elusive and unparalleled status. Fast food joints such as Burger King are mostly a guilty pleasure for the social elite as they would much rather grab a goats cheese and pesto sandwich from Pret a Manger as opposed to a greasy burger from MacDonald’s. Some of the people who do go to MacDonald’s have never even tasted goats cheese let alone considering it as a lunch time snack. Neither group of people are to be condemned for their choices, it’s just the way things have always been, the way our society has programmed us and what we all happily adhere to. Yet unexpectedly, here we all are, sitting in the same restaurant, eating the same food, regardless of social distinction. Sitting in Nando’s I have watched the ‘Lads’ grab a meal before a ‘messy night on the town’ while on the next table sit a mother and daughter who clearly come from the more affluent part of the city. I have watched dusty builders troop in for lunch and sit next to the Mayfair bankers who are enjoying a working lunch. If you take a moment to scan the restaurant you will notice that there is an eclectic mix of ethnicity, age and representatives from all social classes sit beneath the Portuguese chicken banner.
But before I get carried away with myself on a Peri Peri high, let me just state that no…I do not think Nando’s is somehow engineering a kind of social revolution that will break down all future class barriers. There will always be a class divide in our society. People will continue to dine out in Michelin Star restaurants while other people are happy to stay in the local Wimpey. The Mayfair CEO’s who sit at the next table from the group of builders in Nando’s are not about to start socialising together outside of Nando’s, but inside the vividly decorated walls of Nando’s a safe space has been created. Suddenly a space has emerged in our society in which young and old, rich and poor, black and white all congregate to enjoy the simple joys of Portuguese chicken that Nando’s has managed to get so so right. It is a unique space that is always bursting with Latin American beats that somehow seem to fit everyone’s musical tastes and it is a place where most of all, everyone is friendly and smiling with one another, class snobbery seemingly abandoned at the door. No, we are not on the brink of a social revolution by any means, but yes, it is pretty extraordinary what Nando’s has managed to achieve in creating it’s very own social class, one in which everyone is willing and happy to be a part of; The Peri Peri Class.