It’s official—Syria's 6,014-seat Damascus Gate is the world’s largest restaurant. And you thought the Beijing McDonald’s, a mere 700-seater, copped the honor.
Recently anointed by the Guinness Book of World Records, Damascus Gate is a dizzying 174,000 square-foot open-air compound with sub-restaurants serving Chinese and Indian cuisine as well as Syrian, Iranian, and other Middle Eastern specialties. You’d expect a culinary theme park, and the three-year-old family owned restaurant does have its share of kitsch, including spotlight-washed waterfalls, fountains, and replicas of indeterminate architectural ruins—think Hadrian’s Arch meets the Aswan Dam.
But the place is for real. The restaurant’s subdivisions are a canny way of making the potentially unwieldy workable. Guests are famously coddled by a drilled, fleet-footed service staff of 1,800 whose duties are meticulously defined and rigorously supervised. The 8,000 square-foot kitchen succeeds similarly by its assembly line-like division of labor, and by the staff’s skill. For example, one cook can prepare twenty-five to thirty helpings of popular dishes such as hummus in one minute—that’s a single order every two seconds.
And diners leave happily fed, a requirement in a part of the world in which, says the owner’s son, manager Muhammad Samman, “all people care about is their stomachs.” A recent guest praised the restaurant’s shawamar—shaved, spit-roasted lamb wrapped in pita that’s topped with tahini and a mango pickle called amba—and the orange blossom-scented rice pudding made with goat’s milk. (We can’t vouch for the sweet-and-sour chicken, or even if it’s on the menu, as it’s in Arabic.)
One thing diners must forgo, though, is alcohol, which is proscribed by Islamic law. And though the place is surprisingly intimate—even hushed—some diners might still find it more overwhelming than they bargained for.
In which case they can always try the more intimate Mang Gron Lunag, in Bangkok. It seats a mere five thousand.
Photographs: Mazen Abdulaziz; World Amazing Records; Psedo-Eccentric