Fast food chains aren't fooling anybody in trying to be fancy

McDonald's New Zealand launched a gourmet burger service in 2015.

McDonald's New Zealand launched a gourmet burger service in 2015.

OPINION: When we were kids, the only place to get a burger was McDonald's. Since then, the Golden Arches have drawn serious competition.

Gourmet burger joints are popular all over the world. You know the kind: brioche buns. Angus beef patties. Sweet potato chips.

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Growing up, burgers were dirty and simple. A fatty slab of meat, piece of plastic-y cheese, indescribably fluffy yet somewhat soggy bun.

They were a treat and a pleasure; something reserved for Friday nights with your parents, or, a bit later, 4am with your uni friends before the night bus home.

Now we have options. Yes, you can still get the $4 number with the ketchup that bleeds through the packaging. You can also spend four times that much: a $16 burger from a posh joint might get you some Wagyu beef, proper greens, bacon, avocado, and homemade relish.

So the big international chains are innovating.

In Europe, McDonald's offers table service, and in France this week it was announced cutlery would be offered in a 10-branch trial, in a bid to revert back to Gallic table etiquette. 

In Japan in 2015, McDonald's repurposed common menu items to create a fancy full-course menu, featuring a platter of patties, vichyssoise made with French fries, and iced tea in a wine glass. 

KFC has jumped on board too, trialling deluxe experiences in Australia complete with quinoa and alcoholic beverages, and hipster restaurant makeovers to add exposed brick walls, subway tiles and low-hanging industrial lighting in the UK.

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Ridiculous, right? It's as is traditional fast food joints don't understand their purpose. They offer cheap, bulk-made, no frills food. They are consistently average, and that's why customers love them.

Like Starbucks, you know exactly what you're going to get, no matter where you are in the world.

If greasy and dirty fast food is what you're craving, it will hit the spot every time. And you don't even care about the garish fluorescent lighting.

But the big fast food boys are trying to be posh.

They want to offer competitive menu items and experiences so to persuade customers not to go the smaller, gourmet burger restaurants. Like they're trying to trick you into thinking fancy cutlery, table service, and booze make for a legitimate gourmet experience.

The BBC wrote this week that it's all about the race towards the "better burger". Everybody wants a piece of the gourmet pie: it's affordable indulgence, a dining delicacy that won't put a dent in your bank balance.

Gourmet burgers are, of course, not new. They're just now available at bona-fide burger bars at a decent price.

Years before the venison and plum burger on sesame artisanal bun was on offer via high street gourmet burger joints, something like it was a stable at fine gastropubs and swish restaurants across the Anglosphere.

I'm not saying I think the fast food chains are wrong to try and be fancier. Brands need to evolve and give consumers what the market is demanding.

But if I could sit down one-on-one with the marketing managers of these chains, I'd tell them one simple thing: just do what you do best, because you're not fooling anybody.

 - Stuff


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