For many years, Burger King has played second fiddle to McDonalds. In the last decade, they have been passed by Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, and Wendy’s. Sales have barely grown since 2020 and their leadership is under pressure to improve the performance of the brand.
On paper, the 68-year-old franchise should be very competitive. Its burgers are flame-broiled, not fried, and their ordering system encourages personal choices like no onions or ketchup. (An old jingle for the slogan ‘Have it your way’ goes, “Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us.”) Yet, year after year, despite a custom-order system and arguably better taste, the Home of the Whopper trails the pack. Their sales are currently less than 25 percent of what McDonald’s rings up each year, according to QSRmagazine.com
In my own experience with Burger King, I have seen widely varying levels of service and food preparation, to the point of being told by the disembodied voice of one drive-thru when I noted that the slogan on their cup says, ‘Have it your way,’ “We know what it says on the cup, but you can’t have it that way.” (All I asked for was to mix my onion rings with some fries. No problem at other locations.) This is the challenge of any franchise business—to maintain quality throughout its far-flung enterprise. And quality control includes prescribing and managing the brand experience of millions of customers in Burger King’s case.
Their management’s new strategy is to focus on their flagship product brand: The Whopper. The company has announced that in the next two years, it will invest $400 million in improvements to the brand — $250 million for upgraded technology and store remodeling, and $150 million for advertising and digital products.
BK’s president, Tom Curtis, told CNN Business, “What we really want to do in the short term is reintroduce America’s love affair with the Whopper.” (If I may, Mr. Curtis, “…rekindle America’s love affair…” would be a better choice of words. But I digress.) Doubling down on producing a better, fresher, custom-ordered Whopper should help move the sales needle a bit, but will it be enough to resuscitate the BK brand overall?
Perhaps part of the problem is a lack of other well-known sub-brands on the menu that can attract a broader audience. McDonald’s has the Big Mac, the Quarter Pounder, the Happy Meal, and even the seasonal McRib, all of which are essentially household names that appeal to the whole family. Burger King has the Whopper and Whopper Jr., and little else that occupies their customers’ minds. BK leadership recently said that their menu had become too diversified and cited their hand-breaded chicken sandwich as an example that bottlenecked their service.
The Ch’king, as it’s called, seems superior to a McChicken sandwich, but the Golden Arches is still winning the battle. I wish BK the best in renewing our love affair with the Whopper, but what they may really need is a customer base interested in hooking up with a variety of their menu selections. I’m sure the Whopper would understand.