Couch potatoes of the world can find something new to cheer about. If sitting at the drive-through at your local Burger King isn’t working for you, a few stores in Virginia and Maryland are now home delivering meals — for a $2 charge on a minimum order of $8 to $10. Burger King is is trying out home delivery in an effort to boost slumping sales and regain its position as the nation’s # 2 fast-food giant. This is of an experiment, chains usually use discounts and other incentives at the start of the year to counter a seasonal sales slump.
During the fall, the Miami-based chain started testing delivery at four restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area. The company plans to expand the test to 16 more locations before deciding whether or not to make it a large-scale effort. Customers can order online or by phone. Although home delivery is widespread for some fast foods — like pizza — it is much harder to do with burgers and fries can get soggy very quickly, so fast delivery is key. Jonathan Fitzpatrick, the chain’s chief brand and operations officer, notes that Burger King has developed new packaging technology “which ensures the Whopper is delivered hot and fresh, and the french fries are delivered hot and crispy.”
“There are some real food-quality issues here,” said Ron Paul, president of the research firm Technomic. “But there’s no question that consumer expectation for having things delivered has risen.” In some markets, Amazon.com delivers books the same day they’re ordered. Groceries are being delivered more often. And retail giants, such as Target, even offered home delivery of fresh-cut Christmas trees.
To promote its home delivery, Burger King has established a dedicated web page that makes it easy for customers in the right area send in their orders. Delivery is available between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. and does not include breakfast food (including coffee), milkshakes or fountain drinks. The drivers will “try to deliver” within half an hour.
Writing for MSNBC, Marisa King notes that “Why delivery? Burger King has run a delivery service outside the U.S. for many years and has had great success with it all across the globe including in Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Columbia and Peru, according to a company spokesman.” But another reason for Burger King’s foray into delivery service could be that it’s about to be unseated by Wendy’s as America’s No. 2 burger chain (behind No. 1 McDonald’s) for the first time since Wendy’s was founded in 1969.
According to Burger King, it will use “new delivery packaging technology, in conjunction with thermal bags,” that will keep deliveries fresh. In a major metropolitan area like New York City, delivery service from big box retailers down to the local corner bodega is all but expected. Hundreds of restaurants have signed on to Web delivery services such as Seamless and GrubHub as a hassle-free way to transport food to customers’ doors. Grocery delivery sites such as Fresh Direct and MaxDelivery.com have thrived in the Big Apple as a convenience for busy shoppers who want to avoid crowds.
Carmen Lobello of Death and Taxes magazine, takes a more negative note. “While totally unnecessary, given that pizza home delivery has been standard for years it’s almost a wonder it’s taken so long for burger joints to catch on. Though not quite. One of the main problems with Burger King’s food — other than taste and ingredients — is that there’s a huge difference between a fresh fast food burger and fries and one that’s been hanging out in a bag for thirty minutes. The moment the temperature of a BK meal passes from hot to room temperature, it transforms from food into garbage.”
Domino’s, whose business is 70 percent delivery, is watching with a smile. “We wish them luck,” spokesman Tim McIntyre says. “There is a reason that not all pizza places deliver: It isn’t easy.”