M Burger makes the most out of tight quarters

M Burger makes the most out of tight quarters

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ newest restaurant in its headquarters city of Chicago, M Burger, already is dishing out 1,000 burgers a day in an eight-seat space encompassing only 400 square feet, which doesn't count the line routinely snaking out the door and around the block.

Because space is so limited, LEYE keeps the menu small, offering just the requisite burgers, fries and milk shakes, plus a chicken sandwich and chopped chicken salad, as well as the Nurse Betty, a vegetarian sandwich. But the tight quarters also have the multiconcept operator thinking big operationally, as M Burger is one of the first restaurants to embrace operating off an Apple iPad.

“We’re trying to get rid of all the clipboards and paper trails back there [in the kitchen],” said Tim Hockett, one of LEYE’s corporate chefs. “We don’t have the space for it.”

M Burger, which opened in early April, has as much as possible of its back-office information on the hot new gadget, storing recipes, training videos, schedules and product inventory, Hockett said. LEYE will continue to explore new possibilities for iPad-enabled operations as Apple keeps developing new applications for the device, Hockett added, including possibly controlling all the restaurant’s music or eventually synching up with its point-of-sale technology.

All the important information contained on the iPad is backed up on an off-site server using the iDisk program, but even if something happened to the device, help is nearby. M Burger is just around the corner from the Michigan Avenue Apple store, and already the restaurant has become “Apple’s second break room,” Hockett said.

M Burger is housed in the former pastry kitchen for Tru, LEYE’s fine-dining flagship, and the inner wall of M Burger has windows looking into the kitchen of Tru. The former private-party space now cranks through about 1,000 customers a day at an average check of $8.50, which is bolstered by the fact that about two-thirds of guests order milk shakes.

“The idea for M Burger came out of what could we do for Tru,” Hockett said, “not necessarily what we could do with this space.”

M Burger — named for Michigan Avenue and the way LEYE’s managing partner of Everest and Brasserie JO, Frenchman Jean Joho, pronounces the dish, “emburger” — has been one of the most effective marketing tools Tru has ever had, Hockett said. The toughest seat to get on a Friday or Saturday night at M Burger’s is one of the four along the wall looking into Tru’s kitchen.

“It’s the ultimate open kitchen,” Hockett said. “The staff at Tru likes the attention. They get to provide that ‘wow factor’ for 1,000 people a day.”

Scott Barton, president of LEYE’s fine-dining division, sees a lot of Tru customers among the lawyers and medical professionals from the nearby Northwestern University Hospital working through the line at M Burger.

“What that says to me is that everybody wants a quick and simple bite to eat,” Barton said.

Lettuce Entertain You owns, manages or licenses more than 80 restaurants in eight states.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]