US fast-food giant McDonald's, famed for its beef-based Big Mac burgers, on Tuesday said it will open its first vegetarian-only restaurant anywhere in the world in India next year.
The world's second-biggest restaurant chain after Subway tailors its menus to suit local tastes, which in India means no beef to avoid offending Hindus and no pork to cater for Muslim requirements.
The first vegetarian outlet will open its doors mid-next year near the Golden Temple in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in northern India where religious authorities forbid consumption of meat at the shrine.
"It will be the first time we have opened a vegetarian restaurant," a spokesman for McDonald's in northern India, Rajesh Kumar Maini, told AFP. "There is a big opportunity for vegetarian restaurants (in India) as many Indians are vegetarian."
After the opening in Amritsar, the US chain has plans to open another vegetarian outlet near the Vaishno Devi cave shrine in northwestern Indian Kashmir — a revered Hindu pilgrimage site that draws hundreds of thousands of worshippers year.
McDonald's in India has a menu that is 50-percent vegetarian. Its McAloo Tikki burger — which uses a spiced potato-based patty — is the top seller, accounting for a quarter of total sales.
Among the chicken-only meat offerings, the Maharaja Mac is also a favourite.
"At the moment, India is still a very small market — we just have 271 restaurants in India and across the world we have nearly 33 000," Maini said.
"But when you look at the potential of the country, it is one of the top priority countries and we are laying the groundwork for capturing the market." Hindus, who account for 80 percent of India's 1.2 billion population, regard cows as sacred. For Muslims, the consumption of pork is prohibited in the Koran.