After dining rooms first closed due the pandemic, many restaurant operators launched DIY burger kits that proved appealing to homebound consumers and salvaged sales lost to the lockdowns.
Despite their success, many operators have since discontinued cook-at-home burger kits. Although, with just a handful of brands that launched them at the outset of the pandemic still offering them, and others that have launched burger kits for the first time, it’s clear the pandemic continues to push operators to innovate and pivot at a record-setting pace.
“It was a way to increase sales and visibility,” George Frangos, co-founder and president of Farm Burger, said of DIY burger kits. “There was an explosion out of the gate and everyone has it. Then there’s a diminishing return.”
The grass-fed burger chain started delivering its Backyard Cookout Kit to sheltering-at-home Atlantans just before Memorial Day, and then removed the kits from the menu at summer’s end.
“It did well,” said Frangos. “[But] it ran its course.”
The kits for six came complete with uncooked grass-fed beef balls, sesame buns, aged white cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, sauce, and kale slaw ($35, $45 with dessert popsicles).
Similarly, in the Spring Denny’s began testing a make-at-home Classic Cheeseburger Meal Kit ($19.99).
“Denny’s tested Meal Kits in the early stages of the pandemic as a way to help our guests access quality food to prepare at home,” said John Dillon, chief brand officer for Denny's. “This program also continued to keep our franchisees serving their communities by offering grocery products while there were significant early challenges in some areas with grocery retailers.”
Photo: Farm Burger DIY Burger kit
Then in late Spring, when groceries were more readily available, the family dining chain pivoted to meet consumers’ new demands and launched ready-to-eat shareable Family Packs for groups dining at home.
“We’ve found very strong appeal here,” said Dillon. “[Consumers are] busy juggling so much at home these days don’t even have to worry about assembly or cooking to have a family meal —everything is taken care of.”
Opened up supply chains also promoted Aventura, Fla.-based Smokey Bones Restaurants to nix its Burger Basics meal kit, which featured four raw beef burger patties with brioche buns, sliced cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickles, ketchup and mustard ($24.99).
“We saw a sharp drop off in burger kit sales once grocery supplies normalized,” said Hal Lawler, chief operating officer of Smokey Bones Restaurant. “The value of the kits were a direct result of proteins not being readily available in grocery stores while restaurant companies had a direct line to their distribution centers.”
Put on the menu in March and then removed at the end of October, Georgia-based Grindhouse Killer Burgers “Grind at Home” burger kits featured eight uncooked patties, a pack of Martin's potato rolls, eight slices of American cheese grilled onions, signature Grindhouse sauce, shredded lettuces and pickles.
“It was a pandemic special,” said Alex Brounstein, owner of Grindhouse Killer Burgers. “We got too busy to handle it now.”
Yet, for select brands that introduced DIY burger kits in the early months of the pandemic, little has quelled customers’ desire to cook up their signature burgers at home.
Among those brands is Shake Shack, which began offering its ShackBurger cook-at-home kits via Goldbelly on March 31. The kit includes eight burger patties made from the fast-casual chain’s custom Angus Cream Co. Meats beef blend, Martin's Potato Rolls, American cheese, custom ShackSauce, and step-by-step cooking instructions ($49).
“We launched our Goldbelly kits as a way to make Shake Shack more accessible during challenging times,” said Mark Rosati, Shake Shack culinary director. “We also wanted to offer our guests the ability to recreate our famous ShackBurgers in the comfort of their own home while also adding a new dimension of fun to the experience.”
Photo: ShackBurger cook-at-home kit via Goldbelly
While Shake Shack declined to disclose sales figures, Rosati said the team is “very happy” with how the kits are performing.
This summer Lettuce Entertain You’s L. Woods Tap and Pine Lodge in Lincolnwood, Ill. added to its menu as a cookout addition a beef burger kit for four with cooking tips from the restaurant’s chef ($50).
While sales of the kits are less than they were in the height of barbecue season, Samantha Brauer, Divisional Marketing and Community Relations Manager for Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants, said the kits remain on the menu and continue to sell.
Going beyond beef: plant-based meal kits
Seeking to appeal to non-meat-eaters stuck at home and those looking to offset pandemic weight gain, a number of operators have launched new plant-based burger kits.
In October, Planta Restaurants, a growing collection of plant-based restaurants in Toronto and Miami, began offering a vegan burger kits for nationwide shipping. Each kit includes lentil-based vegan patties, buns, queso, mayo and dill pickles ($65 for six; $100 for 12).
“The Planta burger is a best-selling, signature item and given the increased time spent at home,” said Steven Salm, founder and CEO of Planta Restaurants. “We saw this as a perfect opportunity to offer a burger kit that guests can craft themselves.”
While the chain offers a number of menu items for nationwide shipping, Salm said the burger kits have consistently been one of the top sellers.
Also serving up non-meat burger kits is Shouk, a Washington, D.C.-based fast-casual restaurant serving modern Israeli street food. In November, Shouk began offering a frozen version of its popular Shouk Burger, available online for delivery or pick-up.
Shouk Burgers are available in packs of two patties ($8) and come with heating instructions and serving suggestions. Customers can also order add-ons from the Shouk pantry, including harissa mayo, pickled turnip and cabbage, almond feta, and more.
The future of meal kits
As the pandemic rages on and the majority of Americans continuing to work and school from home, operators offering burger kits expect to continue quickly innovating with DIY options and other types of at-home meal solutions.
“Shake Shack has always championed innovation, and now more than ever, we need to find new ways to connect with our guests,” said Rosati. “By having our burgers available on Goldbelly, we are able to create and maintain a new avenue for our guests to enjoy Shake Shack.”
Farm Burger’s Frangos said the Backyard Cookout Kit has almost created a new kind of LTO category for the restaurant.
“We’re always thinking of what’s next these days, not your typical in-restaurant experience,” he said. “I see the takeout kits as something we’ll continue to offer.”