The past few years have been difficult for Burger King.
Missteps during the pandemic have caused the chain to fall behind its competitors. In recent quarters, Burger King has caught up, and now the company hopes a major investment in restaurants and advertising will help drive growth and propel it ahead of its peers.
Over the next two years, Burger King, which is owned by Restaurant Brands International (QSR), plans to invest $400 million in brand enhancements – $250 million will go to updating the technology of the restaurant, kitchens and renovations, and $150 million in advertising and digital products. Franchisees will also invest in brand enhancement.
A key part of this plan? Remind customers of Burger King: The Whopper.
“What we really want to do in the short term is reintroduce America’s love affair with the Whopper,” Tom Curtis, president of Burger King North America, told CNN Business. The plan is to make sure the workers are well trained to make the best Whopper possible, and the kitchens support consistency and ease of preparation.
The fast food giant will also look into advertising its signature burger.
“I think we haven’t talked about it enough. I just don’t think we’ve celebrated it enough,” Curtis said. “And I can’t wait to put him back in his rightful place as a lead actor.” Through advertising, Burger King wants to remind customers that the Whopper is flame-grilled and customizable. But other tweaks could also be in store, Curtis said.
The brand is “evaluating whether or not there are changes to the Whopper that could make it a better product,” he said. But the team also don’t want to risk playing with their best-known offer. “[We’re] kinda in the camp of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Curtis said.
During the pandemic, restaurants have had to quickly adjust their business models to deal with disrupted supply chains, closed dining rooms and increased demand for delivery. Burger King didn’t adapt very well.
“Over the past few years during the pandemic and coming out of the pandemic … [Burger King US] didn’t do a great job of adapting our business to the environment,” RBI CEO Jose Cil told CNN Business. “We didn’t simplify.”
During the pandemic, many restaurants quickly streamlined their menus to streamline kitchen operations when delivery orders suddenly skyrocketed. Workers scrambling to fill online orders could at least avoid complicated preparations.
But Burger King did the opposite.
“We actually complicated things,” Cil said, “we added menu items…that were more difficult and not necessarily intuitive and typical for us to serve.”
Specifically, Cil talks about the Ch’King, a hand-breaded chicken sandwich the chain launched last year. The product “created a ton of operational bottlenecks,” Cil said.
The problems set Burger King back as competitors progressed. In the second quarter of this year, sales at American Burger King restaurants that had been open for at least 13 months rose only 0.4%. Sales at American McDonald’s (MCD) restaurants that have been open for at least 13 months jumped 3.7% during this period.
Burger King recently retired the Ch’King, replacing it with the Royal Crispy Chicken sandwich.
The Ch’King “was a great product that was difficult or difficult for teams to execute,” Curtis said. “The best thing for the guest is the great flavor and consistency. So our Royal Crispy Chicken, which we just launched, offers both.
As Burger King continues to work on other menu innovations, it will need to balance ease of execution with items that excite customers, Curtis added.
To help drive restaurant sales and traffic, Burger King is making other improvements, including giving restaurants a more modern look.
The chain plans to remodel about 800 restaurants over the next two years.
The idea is to have consistent branding, but with custom layouts that make sense for the environment, Curtis said. A Burger King in a city may be smaller, with a greater focus on digital ordering. In a rural town, there could be more seating.
Burger King has already started updating its image. The brand changed its logo last year, changed packaging, uniforms and signage for the new look. A few years ago, he shared what renovated restaurants might look like: three-way drive-thrus, hamburger pick-up lockers and take-out counters.
The company also wants to make it easier for customers to use the chain’s mobile app, revamp its rewards program with personalized digital offers, and make delivery and takeout orders more convenient.
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