Fast Food's Slow Fail: Why Burger King Will Never Be Great Again

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Burger KingDid you hear that Burger King hired away Hamburglar from McDonald's (MCD)?

It must have. How else could one explain how the new BK menu looks suspiciously similar to what the folks manning the fryers under the golden arches are serving up?

Yes, the new BK menu is a lot like the old Mickey D's menu.

The fast food chain will introduce smoothies, available in both strawberry-banana and mango flavors -- just like you-know-who. A new chicken entree wrapped in a soft flour tortilla and garnished with lettuce and either honey mustard or ranch is a dead ringer for the snack wrap at McDonald's. Don't even get me started on the caramel frappe!

Pretty sneaky, Hamburglar.

Have It Your Way

Things aren't going well at Burger King these days. Wendy's (WEN) -- which has its own unique problems -- actually overtook the home of the Whopper to become the country's second-largest burger chain by sales volume last year. BK had been cemented into second place since 1972 until the red-haired girl seized the throne.

The silver lining here is that retail investors aren't paying the price for BK's fall from grace. Brazilian private-equity firm 3G Partners acquired the fire-grilled burger specialist in late 2010.

It was clearly a bad bet, as a meandering chain that seems to be down to copying the leader even as it swaps out its silver medal for a bronze one probably won't be popular with investors.

We'll find that out soon enough. Burger King announced on Tuesday night that it will combine with London-listed investment vehicle Justice Holdings. The move will eventually find Burger King returning to the New York Stock Exchange.

Don't expect a warm welcome from investors when the move is complete.

Copy cats are nothing new
There's nothing inherently wrong with copying the top dog. Burger King had no problem aping McDonald's Sausage McMuffin when it needed a new breakfast sandwich a couple of years ago. Wendy's and BK continue to update their fries to see if they can match the appeal of the shiny shoestrings at McDonald's.

There's also nothing desperate about tweaking the menu. Wendy's reformulated its signature burger back in September for the first time in its 42-year history. It probably wasn't the reason for the chain passing Burger King, but it obviously didn't hurt. Even McDonald's isn't afraid to mix things up. The fancy coffee and fruit smoothie beverages that BK is adding now seemed daring when they were put on the menu by Mickey D's two years ago.

However, the unoriginal nature of the menu tweaks at a time when franchisees are getting frustrated isn't going to get BK growing again.

You may be stuck with this one, 3G Partners.

This One's for You, Guys

Unlike the family-friendly McDonald's with its Happy Meals or the female-friendly Wendy's with its signature salads, BK has targeted young male diners.

Roll past the drive-thru menu and snapshots of multi-patty burgers tempt young carnivores who aren't watching their waistlines or cholesterol counts like their fathers must.

However, the competition for these taste buds is intensifying. Virginia's Five Guys is opening hundreds of new locations a year. West Coast icon In-N-Out Burgers is taking baby steps eastward, expanding into Texas last year. If you live in a major metropolitan city, you're probably within range of at least a half-dozen gourmet burger joints that have opened up in recent years. All of these concepts are angling for the BK diner looking for a better-quality meal.

BK knows that this may be it. If its new menu doesn't help it woo the steadier traffic numbers that McDonald's and Wendy's have been pulling over the years, this may be the end of the line.

Burger King is also turning to an ambitious store makeover to refresh its brand, but that will require getting franchisees to buy in. In an effort to get store owners to commit to the new plan, BK is offering a 50% discount on the annual $50,000 franchise fee for operators that go through with the remodeling.

Some of the Burger King stores are even starting to add Coca-Cola (KO) Freestyle machines -- the type that are starting to pop up at upscale burger joints -- that let thirsty patrons mix and match dozens of flavored soft drink combinations.

It may not be enough. The market may be too competitive, and the chain itself so stale that even photocopying the Mickey D's cookbook and sprucing up its restaurants may not bring back sales.

Hamburglar have swiped the playbook, but only time will tell if he remembered to take the spectators.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

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154 Comments

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Alex Darkland

What pretty much killed BK for me was; They don't have a value menu, the meals are pretty overpriced; Second, when we (my girlfriend and I) last went to the (now shut-down) nearby BK (Glendale / Peoria, AZ), the cashier kept interrupting my GF when she was ordering just the Whopper Jr. "No pickles, onions, or to..." "Do you want the meal??" "No pickles, onions, or toma..." "Do you want the meal?" I said `no' since I only had $10 for both of us. She finished ordering, and the cashier marked it down as a meal, $7+ for her meal.

For us both, McDonald's (I know, not healthy) has better deals, and easier to get to (75th & Bell Rd.).

March 07 2014 at 9:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

I can pretty much tell you exactly why BK is going down the tubes. In many of the BK's, you go in and order and the burger taste like it was cooked 3-4 days ago and sometime's same with the fries.
The place I NOW go is BACK to Hardee's. For yr's, Hardee's had done what BK is doing now, however, today Hardee's is the ONLY Large Chain fast food (in my area) that actually make's your food fresh as you order it, they've also added mexucan food to their menu and the beef that they use in their burritos is excellent. I'd love to have the recipe for their burrito beef....I also like that Hardee's will ruen any item into a combo unlike Taco Bell where you have to buy item by item. Taco Bell acually lose's money by NOT offering combo's, as in order two Tacos and turn ot into a combo rice, beans and drink for another $2.50 or something like that.
If you want fresh, go to Hardee's.
I love Krystals, but same problem as the rest, food taste so old and now way over priced...Krystal used to have the best burgers and definetly the best Chili, but some ding aling changed their chili recipe in the late 70's and runined it. Krystal, go back to the grill working 24/7 & lower the burger price's a bit and YOU will be number one in no tme...Krystal is the White Castle of the south.

April 18 2012 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
eastadam

Hey, lets not forget that McDonald's does it's fare share of copying as well. Do you really think the introduction of their Angus burgers, 6+ months after Hardee's/Carl's JR thick-burger arrived with their widely talked about commercials, was just coincidence? Bk also got Angus burgers as well, so they are both feeling the heat from us who sometimes don't want paper thin tasteless burgers. Do I still buy $1 McDoubles as a snack. yes, but if I want a really burger Hardee's has beaten them both in my book., & their fries are the best as well. I just wish the company would pick one name for the whole country.

April 18 2012 at 3:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Grace

I gave BK a second chance today. Total losers. MCDonald's wantabees. Let me tell you there were 9 dirty uncleared or cleaned tables. The straw, napkin, and catsup dispensing area was full of spilled catsup and the straws were laying on that tiny counter both wrapped and unwrapped. Ugh!! Next our order was half cold. We had to ask twice for one of the specialty drinks. Oh yeah, there were all of 10 people in the business with 7 of them already seated when we walked inside. It took more than 10 min to get our cold order and 12 more minutes to get our specialty drink. Naw they do not get a third chance. And it is cheap cheating to copy a rival franchise. Ethics are lax and embarrassing with this outfit. Shame on you..

April 08 2012 at 12:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
VICKY

If they would change their funky gizzley meat and go back to REAL ground chuck, they might improve their business. There used to be nothing better than a juicy whooper with cheese from BK. Now, I will not eat there because it is just plain GROSS!

April 05 2012 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
angelsue133

Burgar King and McDonalds needs to be closed permit. Worst food ever ! Hardees already closed in some areas.

April 05 2012 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jperin913

I like BK's new fries since they are a bit like the old Wendy's fries. I still haven't forgiven Wendy's for getting rid of my favorite fat fast food fry. So now I refuse to go back to Wendy's with those poser fries with the skin still on them. And sea salt.......really? As if the health quality of the salt is the reason I pick a bag of fries.

Give me back my original Wendy's fries little red-haired girl.........gggggrrrrrrrr

April 05 2012 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
whiskyworm

ever tried five guys burgers??? It certainly feels like you are paying five guys

April 05 2012 at 3:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to whiskyworm's comment
David

yes, but they are good but messy..... and yes, expensive.

Let me surprise most of you with one of the BEST burgers ever and I was shocked, try Denny's burgers...I coup;d NOT believe that burger came out of a Denny's....Not saying denny's food is bad but they are best known for breakfast.

And to all of the vegans posting, you keep your vegan and I'll keep whatever it is I want. I don't need you or anyone else, especially government to tell me what I can and cannot eat....I have no problem w/ veggies and I could bery easily become a vegan, except that I LOVE my meat...

April 18 2012 at 4:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

Years ago, I mean many years ago, BK was my favorite. They change the bun and it sunk the burger, just like that. It was probably in the 70's .

April 05 2012 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment
kv37

I remember that also. Whoppers WERE delicious. Lots of toppings on a huge fire-grilled beef patty and bun to match. So juicy you had to always get extra napkins. They WERE wonderful!

April 05 2012 at 3:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
karenbllf

Last time I had BK I saw them re-fry some fries that had been in the tray pass the time limited have not gone back

April 05 2012 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply