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Few foods performed well during the pandemic, but burgers remained a must-have meal. While pressing concerns forced many restaurants to forgo burger innovation, operators are once again beginning to experiment with extravagant takes on America’s favorite sandwich.
Luckily, burger LTOs continue to register high appeal and excitement with consumers. According to Datassential’s 2021 Burger Keynote, nearly 80% of consumers report they eat burgers away from home at least once a month. Additionally, Technomic found that 48 percent of consumers report trying an LTO menu item every month, with 30% of consumers ages 18 to 44 trying an LTO every week.
Below are four burger trends, recent real-world examples from restaurants, and inspiration for creating your own over-the-top burgers.
THE TREND: Premium Meat Combos. Using upscale meats is one of the most favored mega trends among consumers, with over 40% expressing interest, according to Datassential.
ON THE MENU: SWAG Burger, BurgerFi
BurgerFi launched the SWAG Burger, featuring a double Wagyu and brisket blend burger patty topped with charred jalapeños, candied ghost pepper bacon, sweet tomato relish, pepper Jack cheese and hot steak sauce. The SWAG Burger, which stands for Spicy Wagyu Burger, was a limited time offer that was originally slated to end in May. However, it was extended until the end of June, followed by the decision to make it a permanent item starting the first week of July. Available nationwide, it quickly became a top-selling premium burger on the chain’s menu.
DIY INSPO: The options for burger blending are endless—from short rib and brisket to Black Angus grass-fed beef and lamb. Consider a Southwest Burger featuring an adobo-seasoned ground chuck and chorizo patty with house-made roasted pepper mayonnaise, chipotle jack cheese, and sauteed peppers on potato roll.
THE TREND: Flavor stacking. Increasingly, chefs and restaurants are taking the most impactful flavor trends and piling them all on top of a burger.
ON THE MENU: Mesquite Butter Bacon Cheeseburger, Sonic Drive-In
Rich layers of flavor upon flavor are stacked in the Mesquite Butter Bacon Cheeseburger, a recent limited time offer at Sonic Drive-In. The Southwestern-style burger is made by first searing a beef patty with smoky, creamy mesquite butter and glazing it with barbecue sauce. It is then topped with crispy bacon, two slices of melted American cheese, lettuce, grilled onion and pickles, and served on a toasted brioche bun.
DIY INSPO: They say butter makes everything better, and when it comes to burgers, chefs and burger connoisseurs concur. Layers of flavor are the signature of the Huckleberry Brisket Cheeseburger, a steak burger marinated in huckleberry dressing, seared in butter and then topped with cheddar cheese, shaved brisket, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and served on a bun slathered with mayonnaise and red onion jam.
THE TREND: Top-shelf Toppings. With nearly 20% of Gen Zers saying toppings are the most important component of a burger—compared to just 13% of the overall population—it’s a no-brainer to top burgers with exceptional ingredients sourced from local purveyors, artisans and growers.
ON THE MENU: Wagyu Sirloin Burger, Gordon Ramsay Burger
Perhaps the most extravagant burger launch of late comes from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who is offering a new burger for $106 at his eponymous burger restaurant inside Harrod’s department store in London. The burger features a Wagyu sirloin beef patty topped with truffle pecorino cheese, fresh black truffles, mayonnaise and Cep mushrooms. Part of what makes the burger work is the combination of Ramsay’s celebrity status—he’s the ultimate buzzmaker—but also the fact that he champions top-shelf ingredients sourced from local providers, artisans and growers.
DIY INSPO: Seek out suppliers of exceptional ingredients unique to your restaurant’s locale. For example, showcase made artisan cheeses, such as the tangy, full-flavored blue used in this Black and Blue Steak Burger.
THE TREND: Next-level Aïoli. Ketchup is still king when it comes to burger condiments, but other creative condiments are squeezing their way in. Aïoli—the traditional emulsified garlic and oil condiment—is proliferating on burgers, and next-level versions, such as harissa aïoli, are fast-emerging, according to Datassential.
ON THE MENU: French Bistro Burger, MOOYAH Burgers and Fries
Last spring, fast-casual better-burger chain MOOYAH Burgers and Fries invited still-stuck-at-home consumers to “travel” to France with its French-inspired Bistro Burger limited time offer. Part of the chain’s #ouiloveit campaign, the burger featured a quarter pound of certified Angus beef topped with melted provolone cheese, spring mix lettuce and—most importantly—a creamy aïoli with herbes de Provence and lavender syrup.
Finally, when done well, burger LTOs not only build buzz and bring back existing customers, they can also attract consumers who will buy other menu items, and, ultimately, come back again and again. Yet, to menu burgers well, many operators are discovering they don’t need to hire a celebrity chef, be a major chain or have access to a well-resourced R&D department. Instead, they have discovered they can turn to trusted foodservice manufacturers to help them develop their next, next-level burger LTO.