Burger King Taste & Five Guys Execution

Two restaurant brands choosing substance over style

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor

Steve Wiborg (left), Sam Chamberlain

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- "Our brand isn't the 'king.' Our brand is the flavor. It's the taste of our product. … Taste is 'king'."

Steve Wiborg, the new chairman and president of Burger King North America was asked, "What are you sure of?" In his time in the driver's seat of the Miami-based company, he's made it clear he's not a fan of kitsch advertising campaigns that take the focus away from the taste.

Sam Chamberlain, chief operating officer of Five Guys Burgers, meanwhile, eschews traditional advertising altogether, preferring instead to invest its marketing budget back into its employees.

"The two best sales people we have are our employees and our customers," Chamberlain said during a general session discussion at CSP's Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Which one is right? It may not matter.

"It's okay to be only 70% right, if you are 110% sure," said Deutsch Inc. partner and CMO Michael Goldberg, who led the session. "Our biggest competition is really inside. Doubt is the biggest enemy."

Goldberg espoused making your brand more than a sign over the door. "[Your brand] is a compass to guide your business," he said. "It's the lens through which everything should be decided, through the view of the brand."

A Taste of Burger King

In its choice to focus on taste, Burger King considered its entire menu and new directions it could take to support the brand.

"If you're going to be about taste, then it has to be about everything on your menu," Wiborg said. "It made us look at every single item [we sell]." For a new product such as its smoothies, Wiborg insisted on real-fruit, hand-blended products.

The chain also introduced new uniforms, added digital menu boards and sped up its remodeling efforts. With 99% of BK's retail outlets run by franchisees, Wiborg recognized the need to keep them engaged and make the changes affordable. To that end, Burger King made sure franchisees had access to the necessary capital, lowered the costs of remodeling where possible and partnered on incentives.

Five Guys' Focus

Five Guys, on the other hand, is less interested in what's new and more focused on maintaining quality.

"We're fanatic about hamburgers and French fries, and we want to deliver perfect product every time," said Chamberlain.

Five Guys used its five original owned and operated sites as its incubator for 18 years before branching out into franchising. The focus today remains on the original limited menu--no salads, no chicken sandwiches, no onion rings.

"It comes back to discipline," Chamberlain said. "[In the restaurant business], we're trained to give the customer what they want, but we're willing to push back a little."

Goldberg questioned whether that limited focus might harm Five Guys going forward. Chamberlain doesn't think so.

"To remain successful, we need two things to happen: 1.) Consumers need to continue to like hamburgers. And history suggests that won't be an issue. 2.) We need to continue to execute our brand as best we can," he said.

In 10 years, how many new products might be on the menu? "Zero."

But the brand does have plans to grow. With its first restaurant opening in England this spring, "Ten years from now, we will be a global brand," Chamberlain said. "We don't have a target number of units we want, but we will have as many units open as we can successfully operate."

By Steve Holtz, Online News Director & Beverage Editor
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