Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bourbon burgers further blur the lines

Be careful where you stand in today's restaurant market, because the ground appears to be melting. Turf that once defined a segment is oozing into other realms, blurring consumers' perceptions of where they can get a certain product and what they'll likely pay. That's good news if you're a fast-food concept catching consumers on the way down, but more reason to whine and thump your chest if casual dining is the ground you've homesteaded. Witness, for instance, the advent this week of fast-food whiskey--available just as a flavoring at this point.

Ribs or burgers flavored with bourbon or Jack Daniels were once the signatures of casual dining. Indeed, T.G.I. Friday's Jack Daniels grill menu was undoubtedly one of the most successful undertakings of its time.

But as of today you can get a Kentucky Bourbon Burger at Carl's Jr. Yesterday, Burger King unveiled its Bourbon Whopper, one of the new sandwiches showcased at the chain's new Whopper Bar, itself a deliberate encroachment on casual dining's turf.

I don't have the prices of the new burgers, but presumably they're a significant step down from the charge on casual dining menus. It's Carl's Six Dollar Burger mentality, carried to the next logical product.

Then again, turnaround is fair play. One of casual dining's big successes in recent years has been the introduction of sliders, the little burgers that were once a mainstay of the quick-service sector. Now the big fast-food chains like Burger King, Jack in the Box and McDonald's are copying the casual dining specialists who copycatted fast-food brethren like White Castle and Krystal, the originators of sliders.

Similarly, casual dining made a grab for traditional quick-service turf when it moved chain by chain into the take-out market, cleverly differentiated from the fast-food variety by the name "curbside takeaway."

Ironically, if the industry was smart, it'd stop stealing ideas in-house and try to, um, catch some inspiration from today's true foodservice successes, the supermarket/takeout shop hybrids like Tesco's Fresh & Easy and Walmart's Marketside. They've hit on some Harry Potter formulas that could make life extremely difficult for restaurants, regardless of whether they're competing on price, convenience or even quality. They're the innovators whose ideas should be plundered--er, complimented, I meant to say, as in imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.


Beth said...

Carl's Jr. & Hardee's have positioned themselves for years as having sit-down restaurant quality burgers at a reasonable price. We even ran a series of commercials showing guests at a fancy restaurant paying $14 for what they thought was an upscale burger when in fact it was our Six Dollar Burger. It wasn't until after they paid did we let them in on the ruse. I would say that Carl's Jr. & Hardee's owns the premium-quality positioning for fast food. And yes, I am their PR person.

steakman said...

All Corporate PR Shills, please leave your party at the door. Also, How about an original idea idea instead of bashing high end competition. See Long John Silver trying to compare to red lobster. Pizza Hut finding and fooling stupid italians into saying their lasagna was as good as any they have had. You know what would be refreshing? a concept that doesnt compare and just touts the attributes of its products without having to take a shot at their competitors.
Wanted: Fresh ideas for an industry that thrives on me too/copy cat marketing.

Sincerely, Steakman