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One of the most popular catchphrases of the 1980s—“Where’s the beef?”—began the infamous burger wars, where McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King competed to grab the consumer’s attention. But Burger King’s new marketing focus does not involve any such catchy phrases. Burger King’s latest effort involves a complete overhaul of 12,000 locations to make them seem more upscale than the usual fast food restaurant.

The new interiors will feature brick walls, red flame chandeliers, television screens, and industrial-inspired corrugated metal accents. In the first restaurants that have undergone the remodeling, sales climbed by 12 to 15 percent. Completely rebuilt stores enjoyed sales boosts of as much as 30 percent.

But change always comes at a price. Approximately 90 percent of Burger King outlets are franchises, which means the franchisees have to pay the remodeling costs of $300,000–$600,000 per restaurant. Franchisees are contractually required to update their restaurants as directed by the corporation. The promised sales increase may help, but such massive expenditures may be particularly challenging at a time when money is tight and the lending market even tighter.

Although the new stores have prompted increased sales in the short term, analysts remain skeptical that a business with such an ingrained image centered on basic fast food, best eaten quickly or at a drive-through, can really change customer perceptions. Unfazed, Burger King seems to have no such worries.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much are you willing to pay for fast food, and would you be willing to pay more if you could get it in a more upscale atmosphere?
  2. Will the redesign encourage new customers to visit Burger King rather than, say, McDonald’s to see the new flame chandeliers for example?

Ashley Heher, “Burger King Hopes to Build Style and Traffic,” Boston Globe, October 7, 2009.