Right around lunchtime this afternoon, my dog Andy the Barking Schnoodle lost his mind. That could only mean one thing: Someone was at the door. In the Rosenwald household, that’s usually a food delivery driver, and that driver is usually handing off pizza or Chinese.
Today the driver handed me a Whopper, fries, a Diet Coke, a salad and a Hershey’s sundae pie. The smell of fries on my doorstep was a rather new and perplexing aroma.
Burger King is testing delivery at about 10 locations in Maryland and Virginia, and I decided to test it at my house. Once the food finally got here, it was pretty darn good: The fries were hot and crispy, the Whopper was fresh and unsoggy, the salad was pretty and delightful and the pie — I was too full for that.
My opinion: The burger giant, at constant war with McDonald’s, might be on to something, if you’re into this sort of thing — massive amounts of calories and fried food procured with very little effort. Ordering the food, which I did online, was as easy and quick as ordering diapers from Amazon.com.
Fast food burger delivery is new to me and new to America, but it is popular in Asia and parts of Europe. Burger King officials told me they want to translate that success to the American delivery market, which since the beginning of time has been dominated by pizza.
The business rationale: Consumers aren’t getting less busy, and their appetite for hamburgers — with even famous chefs such as Bobby Flay opening burger joints — seems insatiable. Being in the fast food business probably gives executives an iron stomach, which is what they will need to take on the likes of Domino’s.
“Pizza is what people think of first when it comes to delivery, and they have done a wonderful job at it,” said Jonathan Fitzpatrick, the company’s chief brand and operations manager. “But really there is no good burger delivery in the United States. That’s our challenge to try to do that.”
The company is targeting busy families, and it has tweaked its menu to offer meals that can feed a small army. Options include 10 cheeseburgers and 20-piece chicken tenders ($14.49), 40 piece chicken tenders and two drinks ($10.99), as well as your standard Whopper combo with fries and a drink ($6.38).
Burger King picked the D.C. region as a test area because of a good mix of demographics — we’re urban, we’re suburban, and we have a lot of working families. The company says it is using special thermal packaging to wrap the food and haul it, and the goal is to get it — hot and fresh — to the customer’s door within a half hour.
They certainly failed on the second part for me.
I ordered around 11:30 a.m. and was told in an e-mail that the food would be there by noon. Yay! Noon came, nothing. Then 12:15 p..m, nothing — just Andy the Barking Schnoodle staring out the front window anxious for someone to bark at.
Finally, at 12:30 p.m., Andy spotted the driver climbing the front steps with my lunch. The delivery containers the driver carried looked similar to what pizza is delivered in. I said, “Smells good.” He said, “It’s fresh.” I went inside to chow down.
I opened the burger container but only saw the lower half — the patty topped with pickles, onions and ketchup. The other half, with the bread top and lettuce and mayo, was hidden behind a trap door. The reason should be obvious to even amateur burger eaters: putting the whole sandwich together for even a five-minute drive would result in a soggy mess.
Nice move, Burger King.
I thought the fries would be lukewarm, but they were hot and crispy. The chicken for the salad was packaged separately in a thermal wrapper — another nice touch. The soda was bottled, which was fine with me, even though I usually prefer fountain drinks. I handed Andy a milkbone and stuffed my face.
(For dinner I will cleanse my innards with some grilled fish.)
Warning to Burger King: Not everyone will be delighted with your innovation. Who comes to mind? Nutritionists, for one. New York University nutritionist Marion Nestle, author of “What to Eat,” was rather horrified to hear of fast food delivery when I called to ask her about it.
“Oh, how convenient of them to do this,” Nestle told me. “So thoughtful. This is just so American. It takes a few calories to get into a car, drive the car, get out of a car — this will save all that annoying activity, and now the only activity you will have is to get off the couch and pay.”
But Burger King executives bristle at such criticisms. They are in the business of providing convenience and meeting customer demand. If people want to eat fast food, and delivery is more convenient, so be it. Fitzpatrick pointed out that healthy options are there for the choosing: salads, apple fries, bottled water.
“At the end of the day, it’s about consumer choice,” he said.
And if enough consumers in the D.C. region find Burger King worthy of their dollars, Fitzpatrick said national delivery could be next. You hear that, Domino’s?
“We need to go through the winter, see how it works, iron out any tweaks,” he said. “I think some time by the spring of next year we will be able to put our heads together and see if this thing has the legs that we think it will.”
Will you try Burger King delivery? Go here to see if it’s available in your neighborhood. If you have already tried it, what’s your review? Let me know in the comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now I have to go eat my pie.
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