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Burger 21 bets big on nonbeef burgers

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Burger 21 in Tampa, Fla., is winning over more than red meat lovers with a menu split down the middle between beef burgers and poultry, fish and veggie alternatives that include a Black Bean Burger, Ahi Tuna Burger and Chicken Parmesan Burger. While it’s no longer all that strange for better burger chains to offer a veggie-based alternative in an effort to win over the “veto vote,” Burger 21 says its diverse offerings are making the joint more attractive to the growing number of consumers who eschew red meat.

Some 40% of burgers ordered at Burger 21 come from the nonbeef side of the menu, and 69% of the chain’s revenue comes from sales of nonbeef items, says Dan Stone, franchise-development vice president for Burger 21 management company Front Burner Brands. This makes the alternatives even more important as the chain grows beyond its five Florida stores. Two years ago, Burger 21 shifted into serious growth mode, and it has since signed six franchise agreements to open 11 units in six markets.

I spoke to Stone to find out more about the menu and its role in the regional chain’s national growth plans.

There were a few stories this week about restaurants downsizing their portions to cater to customers’ healthy dining goals and help companies control commodity costs. Are portions an issue for Burger 21, or are you focused mostly on diversity of ingredients?

Within the past five years, we’ve started to see demand for small plates and snack-sized items in the industry. This trend has been primarily driven by guests’ desires. Noting this trend and as part of our effort to provide significant menu variety, Burger 21 opened in 2010 with one category of smaller items — sliders. Due to the popularity of those sliders, we decided to begin to offer a weekly slider special that has allowed us to capitalize even more on the small-portion trend. Our Two-Pack Thursday slider special offering two sliders and fries for $5 allows guests to enjoy even smaller portions of our regular slider four-pack.

Through guest feedback, we also recognized a demand for smaller burgers and introduced a smaller-portioned “little b” 4.5-oz. version of our beef burgers. To add the little b option, we reduced the weight of our standard burger patty by 1.5 oz. and developed a smaller brioche bun to provide the same great flavor profile as our regular 6-oz. burgers. Guests like this option because of the lower price point and it also opened the door to allow guests to try additional items from our menu. Smaller burgers encourage guests to add on fries and a drink or a shake to their orders, which helps boost sales.

As the chain expands to new markets with franchises, will Burger 21 tailor the menu to local tastes? Will franchisees have input when it comes to creating menu items for their local customers?

We will likely add some regional modifications, like adding slaw on some of our burgers in the Carolinas based on local tastes, but the core menu will be the same at every location. Maintaining brand consistency across the Burger 21 system is a major focus.

Does Burger 21 post nutritional information on the menu or menu boards?

Not at this time, but it is something we may provide in the future.

Does the menu note which items are vegetarian/vegan?

We do have a section of our menu that highlights veggie burgers, as well as a category of fresh salads (some with meat and some without). Additionally, we offer a separate gluten-free menu.

How important are the veggie and nonbeef alternatives for counteracting the “veto vote”?

Our menu variety is the key to counteracting the veto vote. Our comprehensive and varied menu features 21 chef-inspired burger creations ranging from hand-crafted, freshly ground Certified Angus Beef to chicken, turkey, shrimp and tuna burgers, veggie burgers, made-to-order salads, all-beef hot dogs, hand-breaded chicken tenders and an extensive shake bar including hand-dipped floats, shakes and sundaes, as well as a gluten-free menu. With so much variety, Burger 21’s offerings appeal to all audiences and ages, particularly females, who often cast the veto vote when selecting a restaurant.