According to anthropologists, Western society was built on wheat and beef, so it’s really no surprise that burgers have become a defining aspect of American cuisine. As a country, we eat more meat than any other in the world.
Burger concepts are perhaps the most well-known type of quick-service restaurant in the U.S.. From McDonald’s to Burger King to Wendy’s, the old guard of fast food has staked their claim around the beef patty.
But today new players are coming in to disrupt the old way. From In-n-Out to Shake Shack and beyond, today’s diners can expect a lot more than a listless piece of meat between two pieces of bread. From organic add-ons to high-quality, local beef to creative sauces,
Here are three successful “better burger” concepts and what you need to know about them:
In-n-Out Burger is both one of the oldest “better burger” concepts and one of the most sought-after. The chain does a great job with their burger, which has developed a cult following to the point where people whisper about off-menu options like, “animal style,” which are, by their own admission, not exactly top-secret, but still give diners a feeling of having an “in.”
In-n-Out works hard to keep their distribution centers close to their restaurants, and no outlet is more than a day’s drive from where the food is produced. As they have expanded, In-n-Out has decided to avoid either franchising our going public the way many of its brethren do, largely because they want to protect the quality of their food.
They have also done an excellent job with employee relations, building a management program that encourages workers to stay on and build careers with them. Learn more about what they’re doing right in our blog post here. Currently, In-n-Out is limited to the American Southwest region.
What you can learn: Treat your employees well, stay close to your food sources and focus on quality over excessively rapid growth.
2. Shake Shack
Shake Shack has reached iconic status in New York, where people still wait in hour-plus lines for the famed patty and crinkle fries—not to mention those milkshakes. With a throwback vibe and a contemporary flavor palate, Shake Shack has done well for good reason.
The chain started out as a lowly hot dog cart in Madison Square Park and grew to dozens of locations in the U.S. and worldwide. They went public in 2015 to enable their continued expansion.
Shake Shack had a bit of a rocky start when they first started to expand, with a few complaints about the food quality, but they quickly got those issues under control and have been well-received in the many markets they are now in. The average location now rakes in $4 million, twice what McDonald’s does in a given month.
What you can learn: Start small and test your concept. Focus on product quality—it matters.
3. Epic Burger
While less well-known than In-n-Out or Shake Shack, Chicago-based Epic Burger is taking the better burger concept to the next level by producing a “cleaner burger.” The mini-chain, which only has seven locations as of now, runs on a tagline of “A More Mindful Burger,” and focuses on serving up a burger with a healthier profile.
Their strong sustainability message and lack of reliance on preservatives have fueled their success as a local QSR and put them in a great position to take on the burger giants in a consumer climate that really cares about their own health and that of the “Meatless Mondays” movement and a growing concern for the environment will eventually change the fast food landscape.
She says, “To me, Epic is really well grounded in a growing percentage of the population’s attitude about meat and meat consumption. [It’s] this idea that when we do eat meat, we want to eat meat that we trust and that we consider safe, especially when it comes to ground beef. We want to feel good about it.”
What you can learn: Pay attention to broader consumer trends and look for opportunities to build a business that caters to the preferences of the modern eater.
Even if you aren’t a burger chain and aren’t thinking about opening a burger chain, there’s a lot these three QSRs can teach. The focus on quality, on treating employees well, on environmental consciousness and on simply understanding your customer better is very important. These factors can’t be ignored if you want to stay competitive in the age of the foodie.