Fast Food in Costa Rica – Junk Food & Poster Child for Ad Pollution

Fast Food in Costa Rica

It seems it is an epidemic of Fast Food joints - they are springing up everywhere in Costa Rica.

I can not remember when the first US fast food joint opened up in Costa Rica, but when it did, I first thought, “Well, there goes a country.” And since that time (I/m thinking around 1982 and a McDonalds) the tiny Central American country has been overrun with American’s fast food joints.

Cruising San Jose, and driving the main drag in Jaco, and even in San Jose Airport , I swear nowadays, every fricken corner is some fricken US fast food franchise.

Papa Jones, Dominos, Subway, Piza Hut, Quisnos, Burger King (even in the airport, complete with a heaping plate of Gallo Pinto for under  fifty cents), Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Churches, Taco Bell, Wendy’s (a late comer in the burger experience) and God-knows who is thinking about infiltrating the Tico’s demand for fast food.

So much so, San Jose’s former Palace Theatre which was built in 1930’s as a variety theatre and cinema was declared a National Heritage site on November 8, 2000, and was later chosen by the Government for restoration.

But did it? The building is now a fast-food emporium called, the Food Mall.

On any given day, the lines at the McDonald’s downtown San José’s Plaza de la Cultura can be 20 Tico’s deep. The tables are piled high with Big Mac containers, extra large sodas and card-board containers of  fries. It is  not uncommon for the patrons to overflow and sit and eat their Big Macs outside the plaza under the watchful eye of pigeons.

Taco Bell AdsHowever, what has taken the toll is the down and dirty competition for consumers. The ads for fast food are getting out of hand. When driving out of San Jose, one can not help being literally bombarded with all kinds of advertising on billboards, plastered on anything that is eye contact, like stops signs, telephone polls and bus stops. And that is not counting ads in the local newspaper and television and in some cases, kids handing out fliers and placing them under your windshield wipers with special offers and coupons to get their share of customers.

The country is vastly becoming the poster child for “Ad Pollution.”

According to the Cámara Costarricense de Restaurantes y Afines (Cacore), which is Costa Rican Restaurant Association there are over 12,000 restaurants in Costa Rica and around 400 are operated by major 12 fast food chains or franchises with around 3,800 are small fast joints called, “sodas” or “fondas” (small corner restaurants or food joints) that target the food-on-the-go Costa Ricans.

Most of the fast food chains are in the greater metropolitan area surrounding San José, spreading out to various areas in the Central Valley, and have taken advantage of the tourist crowd in cities like Tamarindo and Jaco.

The big players in Costa Rica fast food industry are:

  • Corporación de Alimentos del Rey operates the 33 Burger King, 15 Papa Johns and 13 Church’s Chicken
  • Pizza Hut, operates 22 restaurants
  • McDonald’s leads the way with the most, 38 (mainly in the Central Valley).
  • QSR International operates 26 KFC restaurants, 18 Quiznos and 5 Teriyaki Experience.
Costa Rica Chicken Bros Bike

These little motorcycles dart in and out of traffic delivering fast food chicken from Chicken Bros

However, the above is not including other local fast food joints like, RostiPollos, a chicken joint that was foundered by Nicaraguans, back in 1983  and we can not forget about delivery services like Chicken brows,  fast food chicken joint where delivery is on a speed crazy Tico weaving in and out of traffic on a red motorcycle.

The demand for  fast food continues at somewhat of an alarming rate. In 2010, 29 new places open up in CR and in 2011 fast food chains plan to open 20 new restaurants  –  last April Burger King announced they were planning to invest $6 Million in Costa Rica.

The average investment ranges between $ 1 million and $ 1.5 million for opening of new stores. Remodeling of some stores has also been announced with values between $120 thousand  and $ 400 thousand USDs.

Costa Rica’s in their desire to eat, like the US, there is about one eatery per 350 people.

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  1. Not that surprising, after all Costa Rica is a fast-paced developing country. It’s helping the locals generate income anyway, and many were given opportunities to work because of foreign establishments.

  2. When I first came to Costa Rica in 1992 I was alarmed, yes alarmed, when the lineup for the McDonalds in Alajuela extended out and down the sidewalk. (It was the same in 2010) I thought what a shame to introduce such addictive substance as fat and salt and sugar to what I considered to be an already excellent Tico diet. It is much worse now and will show itself up in many more unhealthy citizens as it has done here in Canada. Diabetes and heart related issue are all the result of high fats (French Fries, Hamburgs), salt, empty carbohydrates (Buns and sweets) and sugar.
    If you want to slow this explosion of addictive foods put higher taxes on anything that exceeds suggested daily average intakes. That is the only way to slow down the “Fast Food Invasion”. Tax the fat pushers.

  3. Carlos says:

    Well lets see! First Costa Rica opens its first fast food American restaurant in 1969 or 1970 MacDonalds!! then it was Hardees and so on! We have always copy the American way of life, specially because we had our borders close to other cultures until the end of the seventies when Ex President Rodrigo Carazo because of a political and economic Crisis he decide to open borders and start Mercado Comun Centroamericano!Since then little by little Costa Rica starts emerging from an isolated tiny country to a favored country because our Democracy the Nature and the excellent soil for farming!
    Ten years a go we become a favorite spot for vacation, The North American and the Europeans start coming for every kind of tourism that exist good or bad!
    The reason of having the American fast food restaurants at the big Tourism areas is mostly because of the North Americans, they just can live without these kind of food!!! it is so funny to go to places on high season and low season and you always fin them in these restaurants!
    Wake up!

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