BK debuts Whopper Bar concept, eyes on-site arena in plan to beef up growth

BK debuts Whopper Bar concept, eyes on-site arena in plan to beef up growth

ORLANDO Fla. Burger King Corp.’s [3] new Whopper Bar brand extension, which opened at Universal CityWalk here March 10, provides a smaller footprint and more limited menu than traditional units, a cost-effective package that the company hopes will appeal to existing and new franchisees. —

The No. 2 burger chain foresees the Whopper Bar, which serves limited proteins but a variety of 22 toppings, as a good option for sports stadiums, casinos, cruise ships, airports, theme parks and shopping malls, according to Chuck Fallon, president of Burger King North America. —

“It’s really for any limited-space venue, especially where there is a captive audience and the potential high-impact volumes,” Fallon said. —

The first Whopper Bar covers about 700 square feet, notably smaller than the 3,500 square feet of a traditional Burger King unit or 1,000 square feet for a mall location, and shares seating in a food court space with a new Moe’s Southwest Grill and a Panda Express. —

“We’re expecting this to be very cost-effective,” Fallon said of the company-built store. “We’re expecting this to have a very attractive return on investment. We’re excited about the buzz we are getting. The feedback from franchisees is good.” —

Officials expect the Whopper Bar to cost between $600,000 and $800,000 to build, or about 30-percent less than the smallest Burger King prototype. About 90 percent of Burger King’s 11,700 units are franchised. —

The next Whopper Bar is scheduled to open at a shopping mall in Munich, Germany. Fallon said domestic franchisees are also eyeing Whopper Bar. “We have conversations going on the Mountain region, on the West Coast and in the Northeast,” Fallon said. “I’d love to have another two or three of these by the end of the year.” —

He said labor costs are similar to a traditional unit, but the operation is pared down. —

In addition, some check averages are higher because of the additional 50 cent costs of such toppings as guacamole, smoked bacon, pepper bacon, cheeses, mushrooms, grilled onions, “angry” onions—introduced systemwide with the Angry Whopper earlier this year—and crispy onions. —

The Whopper Meals range in price from $6.29 to $7.39 for the Original Steakhouse XT Meal. On-the-house toppings include pickles, onions, jalapeños, burger relish, onion rings, barbecue sauce, bourbon-flavored sauce, Parmesan peppercorn sauce and Thousand Island dressing. A Tendercrisp chicken sandwich is $6.49. —

The Whopper Bar is “designed to deliver the ultimate ‘Have It Your Way’ experience,” said Russ Klein, president of global marketing, strategy and innovation for Burger King. The décor package is red, black and gray; and the kitchen is open to the ordering area. —

The Whopper Bar also “serves as a unique ‘innovation lab’ for new burgers,” Klein said. —

David E. Tarantino, an analyst with private-equity firm Robert W. Baird & Co., recently initiated coverage of Burger King and is enthusiastic about the efficiencies achieved with the company’s smaller units. —

“Worldwide development should be supported by better returns on capital for newer units, as BKC has developed a more cost-efficient building design—introduced in 2005—that incorporates 50 percent less seating and can be built on half of the land of the traditional building format,” he said. “Costing up to 25 percent less and driving average unit volumes of about $1.5 million, the new designs have driven an estimated cash-on-cash return in the 26- to 33-percent” range. —

Tarantino said Whopper Bar’s simplified menu “could provide another high-return vehicle for long-term expansion.” —

Fallon said the Whopper Bar went from idea to fruition in less than a year after a German unit started serving a limited menu out of a back window. —

“That germinated and was massaged and ended with the opening of this Whopper-only concept,” he said. —

Fallon said the operation is much like a production line. —

“The meat is cooked, placed on the bun and moved forward to the front part of the counter where the guest is ordering,” he said. “The production line is not that dissimilar from a current Burger King, but there are a vast number of condiment options.” —

Crewmembers have updated uniforms, and heavy-duty Whopper fans can craft their own BK-inspired duds at the nearby Burger King Studio kiosk. —

Fallon said he expects the Whopper Bar to evolve in time. —

“We can replicate this as it stands or we can enhance it as we go forward in this footprint,” he said. —

Universal Studios was chosen for the first unit because of proximity to Burger King’s headquarters in Miami as well as a longstanding relationship, Fallon said. —

“This hit the sweet spot of what we were trying to achieve: captive market, high-traffic area, limited space, opportunity to create some buzz, close to home so we could keep a very good eye on it,” he said. —