Top Three 'Better Burger' Chains Offer New Spin on Burgers, Lessons for Operators [By the Numbers]

Photo 1: Smashburger Fresh Mex Burger; 2: Five Guys mobile ordering app

Top Three 'Better Burger' Chains Offer New Spin on Burgers, Lessons for Operator

The top three "better burger" chains offer restaurateurs lessons in putting burgers and guest smiles at the top of one's agenda. Whether in customizing options or making guests feel more at home by providing locally relevant flavors, the top better burger chains have a winning formula.

While these brands may offer the best-in-class ideas among burger chains, it's important to note that independents can also leverage the industry knowledge provided by better burger chains as a whole. Aaron Jourden, editor for Technomic, Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm, offers up these tips:

• Menu and market locally sourced ingredients when it makes sense.

• Create a signature burger based on the restaurant’s specialty or on regional ingredients and flavor preferences.

• Remember that burgers can be made anywhere, including in their customers’ backyards. A great “better burger” is a destination food for many consumers, so developing a unique and craveable burger can help independents stand out from the crowd. Outstanding service, of course, will also always be key.

OK, now let's dig in:

The Top Three Burger Chains¹

No. 1, Five Guys Burgers and Fries - Don't Slow Down

Five Guys Burger and Fries is the No. 1 better burger chain in the country¹ by sales. In 2011, system sales were $950.6M, up 32.8 percent due to its hefty growth. The Lorton, Va.-based chain has over 900 locations now and continues to grow on a rapid pace. When it took the experience to the next level with heartier, customizable offerings, a simple easy-to-read menu, and blazing efficiency in its kitchen, it never looked back.

Five Guys added 182 domestic units in 2011, after a 187-unit increase in 2010.

The burger chain has partnered with OLO Online Ordering to keep its speedy pace of service intact, adding online and mobile ordering and pick-up to the amenities that customers can expect from the No. 1 better burger chain. The iPhone version of the ordering app has even won accolades from Macworld.

(See related story, "OLO CEO Talks Digital Hub, Online, Mobile, Social Ordering.")

No. 2, Fuddruckers - Bank on Customization

Fuddruckers was one of the first chains to offer an engaging experience around burgers. In 2011, it took this experience to the bank with over $278.1M in system-wide sales. Being able to customize toppings at its market fresh produce bar, offering a family-friendly environment and giving customers endless combinations for its burgers were what set it apart when it broke onto the scene in 1980.

Fresh preparation sets better burger chains apart. "Better burger concepts make everything to order to the guest’s liking as a good full-service restaurant would," says Technomic’s Jourden.

Five Guys Mobile AppFuddruckers continues to offer a fun experience around burgers that you can customize to your tastes. Although the chain offers table service, it seemed fitting to add it to this top burger list because of its iconic brand. Other better burger chains have emulated some elements of the Fuddruckers concept.

Since day one, the chain was a family destination and continues to draw parents with smaller children. The burger chain's typical store size, attractions and accommodations are kid-friendly. Some newer chains have been tapping this key opportunity, even engaging influential moms and mommy bloggers to amplify their brands’ family-friendly aspects. In the better burger space, remember where it started.

Fuddruckers has also launched a hormone- and antibiotic-free line of burgers in its Fudds Exotics. Guests have the choice of the Wild Roar Burger, Buffalo Burger and the Elk Burger.

No. 3, Smashburger - Be Relevant Locally

When Smashburger enters a new market, it customizes its top offerings to the local tastes. Whether in Las Vegas, through its Sin City Burger, or in the form of its Fresh Mex Burger (inspired by the San Diego Burger) – offered this month as a limited-time offering at all of its U.S. restaurants – the Denver-based chain builds burgers, sandwiches and sides that can hit a high note with guests across the country and even internationally.

In its recent Wednesday opening in the Alberta province in Canada, Smashburger debuted its Calgary Burger: smashed, fresh, made-to-order, 100 percent Certified Angus Beef, topped with Canadian seasoned grilled onions, pepper jack cheese and applewood smoked bacon, and finished off with lettuce, tomato and Dijon-mayonnaise on a Kaiser roll.

In Calgary, it will also offer McKay's milkshakes and Traditional and Mushroom Poutine. It's hard to get more relevant than that in a city that's outside one's own country. And it's just a repeat of what Smashburger has done in the Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and New York markets.

Differentiation is key for better burger chains, as Forbes' 2011 America's Most Promising Company has proven. Smashburger reported sales of $118.7 million last year, a 71.5 percent increase, no small change for a chain that started a little over two years ago.

(See related story, How Smashburger Offers Local Flavors in its Markets.")

"Everything on the menu is meant to complement the burger experience,” says Jourden. "Simple but creative sides, craft beer and indulgent milk shakes are common complements to better burgers."

Top Five Chains and reported/estimated sales for 2011²:

  • Five Guys, $950.6M;
  • Fudruckers, $278.1M;
  • Smashburger, $118.7M;
  • Backyard Burgers, $109.5M; and
  • Farmer Boys, $95.0M

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¹,² Chains are ranked by 2011 annual system sales and all financial, unit data is from Technomic's Top 150 Fast Casual report.

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Copyright: Kandessa Media. All rights reserved.

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