The world's first Burger King Whopper Bar opens in Florida

As we forewarned in October, the very first Burger King Whopper Bar opened Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, at Universal Orlando's CityWalk complex. The new concept, which the number-two chain intends to roll out in five more locations in 2009 and up to 500 overall, does away with the harsh institutional decor and seating of a traditional Burger King in favor of rounded a counter, an open kitchen, fewer menu options, and much less floor space.
The new store takes off on the chain's old "have it your way" slogan and is built around giving customers the ability to customize their own burgers. A list of some 22 toppings choices, including smoked bacon, guacamole, and A.1. steak sauce, takes up the slack left by paring the menu down. Sort of like the bar at a sushi restaurant (but without bar seating), there's someone on the other side of the counter (a "Whopper-ista" at a "visible toppings theater"... groan) who loads orders up, like at a Subway. Although this Burger King is smaller, the box for the sandwich will be bigger. Some early photos of the unit under construction have surfaced on an Orlando attractions fan website.

Also making up for the shorter overall menu is a "Bar Favorites" section of choices, which contrary to the name includes new burgers called the Bourbon Whopper, the Pepper Bacon Steakhouse XT, and the Three-Cheese Steakhouse XT.

Burger King's marketing folks have explained up the idea as a "pimp my burger" concept, and that the easier greys and reds of the unit's color scheme convey a sense of sophistication, if that's the word for a burger joint. I'd say that's pushing it. At the CityWalk location, the new Bar was installed along with a Panda Express and a Moe's Southwest Grill, so I'd call it "Pimp My Food Court" instead.

But the concept is a plus for Burger King. Whopper Bars have the distinct advantage of serving a diminished menu and taking up smaller spaces, which costs less in rent and supplies. Burger King wants to use the Whopper Bars to expand into high-traffic, low-floor space locations such as in stadiums and on cruise ships. McDonald's already has a similar concept, the McCafe, but Burger King's will serve the chain's namesake instead of mostly coffee.

Now may not be the optimal moment to launch the new concept. Universal Orlando's attendance is down, and making matters worse, Burger King exec Peter Smith just overshadowed the positive press push over the announcement by unceremoniously dumping $1.2 million of his company stock, which one analyst called "a little alarming."

Regardless of his confidence in the new concept, it's still a much better idea than Burger King's disgusting Flame body scent.

Update: According to photos by Dewayne Bevil, an Orlando Sentinel reporter who was there, prices for a Whopper meal (sandwich, small drink, small fries or onion rings) start at $6.29, and a 3-Cheese Steakhouse XT meal is $7.99. That's steep, but remember that this pilot location is part of a theme park complex.

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