Menu Innovations | August 2013 | By Lori Zanteson

Built by Design

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In fact, customers are responsible for some underground menu items that have evolved at Which Wich. Fans created a Waldorf salad by tweaking a couple of ingredients in one of the bowl salads; a cheeseburger ’wich; a California roll ’wich; and a pepperoni pizza ’wich, to name a few.

Despite all of the possible creativity, the most popular item at Which Wich is the Turkey Wich, a traditional turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mayo base that can be built up or down as desired. Meanwhile, the gyro with tzatziki sauce is the No. 2 best seller, followed by the Wicked and the Thank You Turkey, with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

Built Custom Burgers is a new fast-casual concept from The Counter, the Los Angeles–based full-service build-your-own-burger chain of 37 restaurants. Guests move from station to station, selecting a protein, cheese, toppings, sauce, and style (on a bun or in a bowl, salad-style), as well as sides and drinks.

Guests expect quality ingredients and a better burger, says Mike Costello, director of marketing, and the variety of an ever-changing menu with “a new featured cheese, topping, and sauce that rotates regularly so guests can have a different Built experience each time they visit. Last week, it was Manchego cheese, roasted sea salt corn, and sweet sriracha sauce. This week it’s soft-ripened Brie, grilled pineapple, and sesame ginger dressing.”

Still, customers lean toward tradition, he says. “Lettuce, red onions, pickles, and tomatoes still rule the day,” Costello says. “For cheese, it’s Cheddar and American.” But Costello says customers will often mix things up by adding something new to their familiar standbys, such as fresh jalapeños or sliced cucumbers.

While he acknowledges there’s no “magic number” of ingredients to offer guests for the optimal customization experience, Costello believes the choices should be “substantive and differentiated. Otherwise, what’s the point? Where’s the excitement?”

But the success of the finished product really depends on the burger, he adds. The toppings, cheeses, sauces, and buns don’t matter at all if the burger isn’t grilled properly.

Customers at Aramark’s Burger Studio, a student-created concept on college campuses around the country, rave about the quality and flavor of its Angus beef burgers, says Michael Gilligan, development director of Aramark Higher Education. Burger Studio features touch-screen ordering kiosks where customers build their own burger. They choose from among 30 toppings and sauces, four types of cheese, and three premium toppings: bacon, guacamole, and fried egg.

“The most popular toppings are the traditional mixture of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and ketchup,” Gilligan says. “But bacon is a big seller, and so are the options such as caramelized onions, chipotle mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, and honey mustard.”

A monthly promotional option gives new energy to existing items on the menu by presenting them in a different way or in a new flavor profile.

“Our recent Pepper Relish burger used the daily burger patty, but added a cherry pepper relish for a spicy-sweet kick that customers loved,” Gilligan says.

The build-your-own burger bar at Cheeseburger Bobby’s seven Georgia locations is a major differentiating point for the brand, says Jay Bandy, director of operations. Guests can order a burger or a double burger from the menu, which is what about 75 percent of them do, or they can order a partially built burger from the menu that they finish off themselves at the ingredient bar. There are seven specialty burgers, which include the Bobby’s Bacon Cheeseburger; Bobby’s Black & Bleu Burger, with Swiss cheese and blue cheese crumbles; and Bobby’s Chili Cheeseburger with chili and Cheddar cheese.

Burgers are cooked to order within five and a half minutes and are served open-faced to customize at the self-service burger bar. Guests can choose among toppings and sauces, and they also have the option to season their burgers and side orders of fries or onion rings with a choice of several different salts—jalapeño salt, barbecue, salt and vinegar, Cajun, or low sodium. “It’s the variety that people like,” Bandy says. “It allows folks to customize and add a different flavor.”

Burger-bar ingredients rotate to include items in limited-time-offer burgers, which are available three to four times a year. The Baja Burger, a summer LTO the brand brings back due to its popularity, has chipotle mayo, guacamole, chili, and Pepper Jack cheese. Limited-time offers “help us eliminate the complexity of the menu,” Bandy says.

Though the number of ingredients is only limited by space in the burger bar, Bandy says, it’s possible for customers to have too much choice, as people are indecisive. “We sprinkle out and in based on the season,” he says. “We give the guest as many choices as we can execute well.”

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