Saudi has most of the chain restaurants in North America including TGIFriday’s, McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut. They are quite comparable to those at home. There are a few exceptions, however.
Every restaurant in Saudi has two separate entrances. The first is called the “singles section”, and no, it’s not for those who find themselves looking for love. The “singles section” is for men only, and is like any restaurant back home, with open seating. The second section is the “family section” which is for women, children, and any men accompanying them. The “family section” is comprised of several booths or tables each with a screen or curtains covering the area where women might be seen. Sometimes, there is a choice of open-seating, or closed booth, but often, it is only the latter. At first, I liked the privacy this arrangement offered, but I quickly grew tired of not looking at other diners. Part of the fun of going out to eat is people watching, and now I frequently don’t have that option.
Most of the Saudi women who sit in the open section do not veil their faces. Those who veil sit in the closed sections and are typically more traditional. I’ve caught a glimpse or two of veiled women trying to eat, and it’s fascinating seeing the coordination with which they lift the veil, put the food in their mouths, and yet reveal not an inch of skin. To be honest, all of this is fairly easy to get used to. What I can’t get used to, however, is no alcohol. I miss wine with dinner. I get annoyed looking at menus that offer up cocktails like Mojitos, Bloody Marys, and Margaritas without the good stuff. I’ve almost forgotten what a stiff Cosmo tastes like.
All in all, dining out is one of the few forms of entertainment one is allowed here in the Kingdom. There are no movie theatres, music concerts, festivals in the park, or other things that are available in other more liberal societies. I miss the Canada and our favourite restaurants. At least a few of the chain restaurants in Riyadh give us a little taste of home.