I found this announcement in a Texas newspaper on October 28, 2016:
“The US fast food company Wingstop has announced that the franchise has plans to open 30 stores in Panama and Colombia, starting in 2017.”
I actually stopped at Wingstop in David (Chiriqui Province, Panama) about a month ago with a friend. We enjoyed a plate of wings with our favorite sauces and a Corona, while sport events were playing on several wall-mounted TV’s. Sound familiar? If this is your idea of an afternoon out, you really won’t be missing much in Panama. The fast-food joints that you have come to know and frequent back in the U.S. are becoming more and more common throughout Panama today.
Panamanians have always had a close relationship with U.S. culture over the years, mostly due to the Panama Canal. As a result, businesses, products and services associated with the United States are popular among the general population.
The economy in Panama has been growing steadily for over a decade. Panama also has the highest per capita income in Central America and the US dollar is legal currency here. With the increased purchasing power comes a desire for more popular (as seen on TV and movies, I believe) experiences and services. This trend has fueled investment by major multi-national food chains in recent years. Most of these franchises and restaurants are still found in Panama City, but they are popping up in the interior of the country as well, and more and more are appearing in Chiriqui, Veraguas, and Herrera. Several large shopping malls have recently opened in these areas, providing a boost to the growth of these franchises through their popular Food Courts.
Here is a sampling of the restaurants and cafes that I have personally seen here in Panama: McDonald’s, Burger King, Smashburger, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeye’s Chicken, Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, Dominos, Little Ceasar’s, Pizza Hut, Nathan’s Hotdogs, Subway, Starbucks, Coffee, Bean & Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, and of course Wingstop.
For the most part, these chains are very similar in pricing and products to their US counterparts. There are some notable differences though.
- Often, there will be additional menu items that are representative of local Panamanian foods, like yucca fries, or Sancocho (local Panamanian soup).
- The menu will usually be written in Spanish, but if you don’t speak the language you can say the order number and the prices are in US dollars.
- Fast food places are very popular in Panama and there can be long lines at certain times. The staff, and customers, are anything but ‘fast’, holding true to the laid back style of the country.
- If you are a woman over 55 or a man over 60 years of age, you can actually get the “jubilado”, or senior discount. This usually requires the manager getting a different receipt with your signature on it though.
- Many fast food restaurants offer delivery services, not just the pizza joints. I have even seen delivery bikes for KFC and McDonalds around town!
You won’t have to worry about getting your fast-food fix in Panama. Watch for my next report where I’ll share some of the popular full service restaurant chains that you can find in Panama today (hint: think TGIF & PF Chang’s).