When it comes to the burger, the menu mainstay that can, at times, seem almost impenetrable by trends and sways in customer demand, Jamie Schweid, the executive vice president at the family-owned fourth generation ground beef purveyor Schweid & Sons, says operators simply want more. And not just additional juicy product to craft for patrons, but also information to help them keep pace in a seemingly endless race to stay ahead.
Burgers, Schweid says, are a constant conversation starter with his restaurant partners. “One of the biggest requests that we received was, ‘What else can we do with a burger? What else is popular with a burger? What’s on trend in the burger world?’” he explains.
Initially, Schweid understood his burger bias would cloud his judgment. There was simply no way to present a handbook for a subject that has no foreseeable limit. It’s one of the things, he adds, that make burgers so unique and prominent, and it was the reason he decided to put together the Burger Trends Report for the first time in the company’s 37-year history. They compiled the data, based on sales figures, from around 12,000 customers, mostly single-unit operators and independent restaurants.
“As opposed to me, or someone else in the office generally stating our opinions, we wanted to provide a source to our customers to provide them with information to make informed decisions,” Schweid says. “But also, the other side of this is to give them recipe options or menu options they can add that maybe they’re not utilizing at this point.”
Surprisingly, however, the data provided an immediate head-scratcher. According to the study, 38 percent of restaurants reported the brioche bun was the highest seller. “I’m a potato roll guy myself,” Schweid comments. “I thought the plain white and the potato roll would be the No. 1 and No. 2 most requested.”
Another surprise: In “The most popular additional proteins being served on burgers” category, Canadian bacon chimed in at 6 percent. The heavy hitter? The indisputable bacon at 97 percent.
Schweid was also somewhat taken aback by the “What temperature are customers asking for the burger to be served at” breakdown. Medium topped at 57 percent, while medium well was 30 percent, medium rare 8 percent, and well 6 percent. He credits the diverse customer base and regional choices, where some past state laws required burgers to be cooked at least 160 degrees.
The results for another burger study—Food Genius’ Menu Trends and Insights report—were quite different. The study pulled information from 63,483,789 items at 359,180 locations from a total of 93,304 menus. Broken down into four price segments, the four-dollar sign category, which is mainly the independent and full-service sector, provided some interesting notes. The information came from items on menus, not sales, and clashed on many ends with the Schweid & Sons report, bringing to light the idea that picking the right ingredients and combinations can be a difficult task. Or, perhaps, what’s on the menu isn’t always what people are ordering. Eli Rosenberg, the co-founder and vice president of marketing, says it could also have something to do with the way independent restaurants simply write their menus.
“Burgers are obviously a very widespread type of item, found across segments, cuisine styles and are pretty ubiquitous across the country,” Rosenberg says. “What that tends to mean is that what is on menus doesn't change very much, so this report looked a lot like the last burger report we did. The biggest overarching theme is that, across categories of components, it seems like higher-priced menus provide less-descriptive terms. Meaning that you are probably more likely to get a more complete description of the burger on lower or mid-priced menus, than you will find on a higher-end menu, where the description might be sparse.”
One example is Wagyu beef, which came in at 13 percent as the second highest protein found in burgers. In the Schweid & Sons report, it was at 1 percent.
“I think Wagyu beef is one of those weird things that people may have heard is ‘better’ or higher quality, but don't know much more than ‘it’s more expensive, but worth it for the flavor,’” Rosenberg says. “You have to remember: This data is not what is the most-ordered, but what is the most-menued, so it might be that when a chef at a higher-end restaurant decides to put a burger against other higher-end items, he knows he has to step it up in terms of cuts to be able to fit with the rest of the menu.”
Differences can be found up and down the two reports. As far as similarities, Rosenberg and Schweid share a similar perspective on burger basics, agreeing that restaurants should explore new options whenever possible.
“I think that chefs in the full-service segment shouldn't be afraid of using the burger platform as an area of experimentation, a place where they can combine new and exciting flavors and see what works,” Rosenberg says.