McDonald’s and Burger King remain two of the most popular fast food restaurant choices for those looking for food on the fly. Both of these establishments serve a variety of hot sandwiches, fries, and sodas as well as offering some healthy alternatives, such as salads and fruit. However, whether they call it a Whopper or a Big Mac, the components make it a hamburger, that most American of American fast foods., In order to choose between them, one must look deeper than the menu. Both Burger King and McDonald’s offer their customers quick, easy, and inexpensive meals, but they show marked differences in their approach to food preparation, customer service, and advertising. If one compares the menu boards of Burger King and McDonald’s, many of the same items appear on each: burgers, fries, sodas, chicken nuggets and sandwiches. In an effort to appeal to those wishing to watch what they eat, salads now appear on both menus.
The biggest difference between the restaurants is the way they dress the burgers. While Burger King prefers lettuce, tomato , ketchup and a dollop of mayo, McDonald’s reaches back to classic Americana by using ketchup, mustard, onion and pickle. With a nod to healthy eaters both now offer a selection of salads and wraps that differ mainly in their dressing. But; the differences in each one’s approach to food preparation go deeper than dressing. If you visit the company websites, each boldly declares they are committed to quality. Burger King’s website features a changing banner at the bottom. The larger type and different font color immediately draw the eye. This banner tells the consumer how committed Burger King is to healthy food, with statements like, ” We have created a nutrition advisory panel consisting of outside experts in nutrition and health.” and ” BKC is the first Quick Service Restaurant chain in the U.S. to announce that it limits sodium in advertised kids meals.”
They want consumers to know they prepare their food with their health in mind. While Burger King’s links focuses on calories and nutritional requirements, McDonald’s website focuses on healthy choice from a different angle. They emphasize ingredients, not calories and sodium levels. “Our goal is quality food above all else. From the potatoes that become World Famous Fries to the fresh produce in our salads and the 100% pure beef in our burgers, we’re committed to serving you the very best.” They provide a link to their partners, the farms that provide the ingredients for their food. Customer service for both restaurants has devolved into menu wars. With a desire to satisfy and attract the largest percentage of the fast food buying public, each consistently introduces “new” menu items. Usually these “new” items are slightly altered versions of rival restaurant’s choices. For example, McDonald’s has its cult classic, The McRib. Times Business & Money section ran an article in May of this year discussing Burger King’s version of this popular sandwich.
“The battle for the boneless rib sandwich supremacy is on…” (McDonald’s McRib Has a Challenger: Burger King Rolls Out its Own Boneless Rib Sandwich”, Tuttle, 2013) ran the title of the article. Burger King introduced its version of the McRib just this summer and, like McDonald’s, has it available for a limited time only. This “limited time only” strategy seems to work well for both restaurants. Each restaurant now has its own seasonal set of menu choices in the hopes of creating cult classics that people will return for season after season. In the battle of the menu staples, the burgers, the ill fated MCDLT, slated to go up against the Whopper, died a slow a painful death. McDonald’s learned its lesson with the MCDLT and now sticks to its own dressing style. Though that battle was lost, however; the war continues with new varieties of the old standards. McDonald’s now has a bacon BBQ quarter pounder going head to head with Burger King’s Carolina Whopper.
The Bacon Habanero Ranch burger offered by McDonald’s does not yet have a Burger King counterpart, but Burger King has triple a whopper. McDonald’s, so far, only has doubles. In the last few years, the trend toward healthy fast food has added another facet to the menu wars. After losing sales to more “healthy” fast food like Subway and Baja Fresh, the scramble ensued to put suitable healthy choices in the viewing publics’ eyes and then, hopefully, in their stomachs. Salads and wraps now feature prominently on both menus. Those in the know predict lettuce wrapped versions of the signature burgers are not far behind as each tries to outdo the other in choice and variety.
Advertising strategies and focus differ greatly between the two restaurants. Who could ever forget Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar? Now relegated mainly to advertising Ronald McDonald House and the occasional grand opening, these iconic figures have been supplanted by the catchy, “I’m Loving it!” The ads feature happy healthy people who love eating at McDonald’s. That wrap promises the consumer, he will not only forget his troubles, he will attract a mate. Fast food eating never looked so good.
The newer McDonald’s ads look jarringly familiar, reminiscent of Coca Cola’s, “Teaching the World to Sing” in the 90’s. They realized real people sold more burgers than cartoon characters. Burger King, on the other hand, took much longer to retire their cartoony king with the oversized head. Those ill fated creepy king in the bedroom commercials linger, unwanted, in the collective memory. Now looking for its own catchy jingle, to haunt the minds of consumers, Burger King’s advertising department lags a bit behind the powerhouse that handles McDonald’s. Nevertheless, they continue to try.
Burger King and McDonald’s continue to compete for those consumer dollars with similar weapons, just slightly different ammunition. From bold statements of their commitments to serve, their ever escalating menu wars and their search for the perfect slogan, both restaurants want business. They both claim to have the perfect burger. They just prepare it a bit differently, have a different slant on how to serve it, and market it with their own, presumably unique, style.