Maybe it's the near-ubiquity of sliders on upscale restaurant menus. Or maybe it's the nonstop parade of celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Laurent Tourondel rolling out flashy burger-centric concepts across the country. Or maybe it's the luck chains like Red Robin have had in figuring out how to deliver a gourmet burger experience at a popular price. Whatever it is, it's clear the full-service segment's success in the burger business has long-dominant QSR chains struggling to come up with a response.
You know it's getting crazy when McDonald's starts testing a scaled-down version of its signature Big Mac, encasing it in a flour tortilla instead of serving it on the traditional sesame seed bun. This sandwich, known as the Snack Wrap Mac, is being tested in McDonald's 1,400 Canadian units and in select markets in the U.S., including Houston and parts of Wisconsin. It's priced at $1.49.
The company has sold Snack Wraps before, but they contained chicken. This burger version of the Snack Wrap Mac positions McDonald's better against mini-burger competition of all types, gives the company a stronger entry in the hand-held portable sandwich market, and might even draw the occasional burrito lover away from the Chipotle Mexican Grill juggernaut. It might be super-savvy marketing…or Ray Kroc might be turning over in his grave.
Burger King is feeling the heat, too, and is also tinkering with how it presents its signature burger, the Whopper. In March, the chain opened a prototype Whopper Bar in Orlando. It's a format that enables patrons to customize a Whopper-based menu. “Burger-lovers select from a Whopper sandwich, Double Whopper sandwich or the new Steakhouse, XT,” say Burger King execs, noting that this latter item is “a casual dining quality burger that boasts an extra-thick patty.” Guests then choose from 22 toppings for the full “have it your way” experience.
The Whopper Bar is a spin-off concept from the traditional Burger King restaurant and has a much-different look and feel — including everything from interior design to crew uniforms to packaging — than the company's main brand. Burger King says it plans to introduce the concept on a global scale during the next year, with the first international unit to open in Munich this summer.
The QSR chain making the biggest leap into burgers is Arby's. No, they don't even have hamburgers on the menu. But the company does have a marketing team that's trying to convince customers its new Roastburger sandwich is just as good as an actual burger, or better.
What exactly is a Roastburger? It's thinly sliced, oven-roasted beef recast as a hamburger equivalent. The chain offers three varieties: the All-American Roastburger, a Bacon and Bleu Cheese version and a Bacon and Cheddar model.
“Roastburgers offer a tasty new way for burger lovers to satisfy their cravings while avoiding burger boredom,” says Arby's Steve Davis. New? Thinly sliced roast beef sandwiches — good ones — have been Arby's signature item for its entire existence. All they're doing now is changing the name, adding a few condiments and calling the end result Roastburgers.
Let's see. A sandwich made from roast beef involves a whole muscle product cooked in dry heat in an oven. A burger involves a ground meat product cooked directly on a griddle or over an open flame. They're as different as night and day. But Arby's hopes to make the two interchangeable in consumers' minds.
Will the Snack Wrap Mac, the Whopper Bar and the Roastburger all catch on? We'll soon find out, but if you thought your full-service restaurant couldn't compete with the QSR giants, think again. These bold moves on signature items tell us the QSR giants have become worried about competing with you.