Friday, January 30, 2009

Fast-food zen: Think small for bigger checks

The big burger chains are going small so their tabs can grow larger. Let me explain, Grasshopper.

With Jack in the Box joining Burger King, McDonald’s and Hardee’s in experimenting with mini-burgers, already a staple in casual dining, the era of what McDonald’s calls the “fourth tier” may be the upon us. Value menus bring in the bargain hunters. Premium offers are targeted at those sports who might spring for something special, like BK’s premium-priced Angry Whopper. Sandwiched between those pricing strata are the chain’s workhorse options, like burgers and chicken sandwiches.

Now comes the fourth tier of sliders, as (we) aficionados call the mini-burgers. Last year, with the phenomenal success of its Snack Wraps, McDonald’s demonstrated that deal shoppers would pop for a few cents more if the trade-up landed an even better bargain than the cheap eats on the dollar menu.

The mini sandwiches, which are often sold in packs, carry that strategy a step farther. McDonald’s Snack Wraps and the knock-offs that followed were all priced around $1.29. Burger King has priced its BK Burger Shots at $1.49, for a pack of two.

Jack in the Box is similarly selling its new Mini Sirloin Burgers in a three-pack.

McDonald’s Little Tasters are apparently sold one at a time. But they feature such premium touches as being served on a mini-ciabatta roll. The chain hasn’t revealed the pricing to those of us on this side of the pond.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder when Wendy’s will fire up a slider experiment of its own. The chain is certainly no stranger to minis. In the late 1980s, it tested a 2-oz. option called the Hot ‘n Junior. Might we see a reprise?

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