Burger King did badly with the pandemic and this is its plan to recover

Burger King did badly with the pandemic and this is its plan to recover

New York (CNN Business) — The last few years have been tough for Burger King.

Missteps during the pandemic caused the chain to fall behind the competition. In recent quarters, Burger King has been trying to catch up, and now the company is hoping that a huge investment in restaurants and advertising will help drive growth and put it ahead of its peers.

Over the next two years, Burger King, owned by Restaurant Brands International (QSR), plans to invest $400 million to enhance the brand: $250 million will go to technology upgrades, kitchens and restaurant remodels, and $150 million million to advertising and digital products. Franchisees will also invest in improving the brand.

A key part of that plan? Remind customers what Burger King is all about: the Whopper.

“What we really want to do in the short term is reintroduce America’s love affair with the Whopper,” Tom Curtis, president of Burger King North America, told CNN Business. The plan is to make sure workers are well-trained to make the best Whopper possible, and that kitchens support consistency and ease of preparation.

The fast-food giant will also be leaning toward advertising its flagship burger.

“I don’t think we talked about it enough. I just don’t think we celebrated it enough,” Curtis said. “And I’m looking forward to putting her back in her rightful place as our headlining act.” Through advertising, Burger King wants to remind customers that the Whopper is grilled and customizable. But some other tweaks could also happen in store, Curtis said.

The brand is “evaluating whether or not there are changes to the Whopper that could make it a better product,” he said. But the team also does not want to risk playing with its best-known offer. “[Estamos] a little bit in the field of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Curtis said.

what went wrong

During the pandemic, restaurants had to quickly adjust their business models to deal with disrupted supply chains, closed dining rooms, and an increase in delivery demand. Burger King did not adapt very well.

“Over the last few years during the pandemic and coming out of the pandemic… [Burger King Estados Unidos] it didn’t do a great job of adjusting our business to the environment,” RBI CEO Jose Cil told CNN Business. “We don’t simplify.”

In the pandemic, many restaurants quickly scaled back menus to streamline kitchen operations when delivery orders suddenly spiked. Workers struggling to fulfill online orders could at least avoid complicated preparations.

But Burger King did the opposite.

“We actually complicated things,” Cil said, “we added menu items … that were more difficult and not necessarily intuitive and typical to serve.”

Specifically, Cil is talking about the Ch’King, a hand-breaded chicken sandwich that the chain introduced last year. The product “created a ton of bottlenecks operationally,” Cil said.

The problems pushed Burger King back as competitors advanced. In the second quarter of this year, sales at US Burger King restaurants open for at least 13 months increased by just 0.4%. Sales at US McDonald’s restaurants (MCDs) open at least 13 months increased 3.7% in that period.

Burger King recently retired the Ch’King, replacing it with the Royal Crispy Chicken sandwich.

The Ch’King “was a great product that was difficult or challenging for teams to execute,” Curtis said. “The best thing for the diner is great flavor and consistency. That’s why our Royal Crispy Chicken, which we just launched, offers both.”

As Burger King continues to work on other menu innovations, it will have to balance ease of execution with elements that excite customers, Curtis added.

Remodels and rewards for upgrades

To help drive restaurant sales and traffic, Burger King is making other improvements, including making restaurants look more modern.

The chain plans to remodel some 800 restaurants in the next two years.

The idea is to have a consistent brand, but with custom designs that make sense for the environment, Curtis said. A Burger King in a city may be smaller, with a greater focus on digital ordering. In a rural town, you might have more seats.

Burger King has already started updating its image. The brand modified its logo last year and changed packaging, uniforms and signage to the new look. A few years ago, he shared what remodeled restaurants would look like: three-lane drive-thrus, burger pick-up lockers and takeout counters.

The company also wants to make it easier for customers to use the chain’s mobile app, revamp its rewards program by offering personalized digital offers, and make delivery and takeout more convenient.