A Tale of Three Burgers

“It was the best of burgers, it was the worst of burgers, it was the burger of value, it was the burger of expense, it was the burger of service, it was the burger of incredulity, it was the burger of quality, it was the burger of waste, it was the burger of hope, it was the burger of despair, we had condiments before us, we had ketchup packets before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the burger was so far like the present meal, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being eaten, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

I am almost certain that I eat more burgers than the average person.  I am certain that I eat more burgers than I should.  Health concerns aside, I find a great deal of variety in the burger realm.  Burgers are hip again and boutique burger joints seem to be popping up all around me.  A burger war has broken out in Kansas City and I live right in the middle.  The two finest burger places in town (and probably the world) happen to be blocks away from my home.  Even when I have decided on having a burger, there are distinct reasons for choosing between burger joints based on quality, service, and value.

This post is going to expand upon a previous post titled, “Understanding Restaurants: The Guest’s Perspective.”  If you have not read that post, you may want to visit it to understand the background to this post.

I frequent three specific burger joints for three very different reasons.  Each one balances two of the three specific attribute guests seek (quality, service, and value) while coming up short on the third.

The Westport Flea Market: Quality and Value.  If you have never had a market burger, you are missing out.  My aunt took me there for the first time when I was a teenager. I have loved the flea since the 80s and so has Kansas City.  22 years in a row voted best burger in town.  They bring in their meat and bread from the best local purveyors.  They set up an entire condiment bar for you to garnish your burger.  The atmosphere is fun and lively.  They have games and TVs all around.  The burger itself is phenomenal and under $10 for a 10 oz burger and fries.

The shortcoming is service.  You walk to the counter to order your food and pay.  Then you order and pay for drinks at the table.  When your order is ready you have to walk up to get it.  They don’t take credit cards, which creates a hassle anytime I go in with a group.  All the employees are great and work hard (especially Becky behind the bar), but the system inherently requires more work for the guest.

Blanc Burgers and Bottle: Quality and Service.  Blanc takes burgers to another level.  One of the best and most creative culinary minds in KC decided to use burgers and his canvas and the results are incredible.  The burgers are contemporary and challenging.  They think outside of the box with a culinary expertise that allows them to pull off feats most of us would never think of.  Their following is rabid.  They recently won the best burger contest burgerbusiness.com beating In-N-Out (overrated) in the finals.  The service is usually quite good and I cannot think of any staff that looks like they are having more fun at work.  Brian, the general manager, seems to foster this running from table to table smiling like the Mayor of Burgerville. They also have a lineup of over 40 non-alcoholic sodas from around the world, which I am working my way through.

The shortfall is value.  This means looking at value solely as price.  I understand that premium ingredients cost more, but I generally save high dollar meals for steaks and not burgers.  Still I find myself there weekly to satisfy my craving for fresh cut shoestring fries drenched in truffle oil.

McDonalds: Service and Value.  McDonalds will never win a taste test with either of the two restaurants above.  I don’t need to elaborate on the value portion of McDonalds because I would imagine everyone reading this is familiar with their menu.  The service aspect here is a little different.  If the Flea gets poor marks on service, this is the exact opposite.  Not only do I not have to get up to get my burger, I don’t even have to get out of my car.  In addition, my McDonalds (Rainbow Blvd for the locals) has a secret weapon named Antoine.  This guy seems to always be working.  He knows me by name.  He knows where I work and asks me about it every time I drive through.  He is more upbeat and positive than I am on my best days.  This guy works at a job most of us would avoid like the plague, yet is the epitome of customer service.

The shortfall is quality.  Do I really need to elaborate?

In the end, there is no clear-cut winner.  Each excels in different areas and each has carved out it’s own niche in the market. Every restaurant has strengths and weaknesses.  Restaurants fail when they lose focus on what they do well and try to be all things to all guests.  Knowing the strengths of your restaurant allows you to understand why guests choose you over the competition.  You can try to improve the weaknesses, but doing so by sacrificing your strengths alienates your guests and will spell disaster for your restaurant.  Understanding your restaurant’s strengths means knowing your guests knowing is half the battle.

This post has made me hungry for a burger.  Where will I go?  Check back tomorrow to find out.  One thing is certain, to paraphrase Dickens shamelessly one more time:

“It is a far, far better burger that I eat, than I have ever ate; it is a far, far happier belly that I have than I have ever known.'”

Now it is your turn.  I know there are a few locals reading this.  Leave a comment and let me know which you like better.  Is there a darkhorse?  BRGR?  Chef Burger?  P. Otts?  54th Street?  Leave a comment and let me know what your favorite is and why.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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