Pimp my burger: Burger King mimics sushi bar, but with Whoppers

On Tuesday, Burger King will open its first "Whopper Bar" at Florida's Universal CityWalk, the Orlando-based shopping and entertainment complex. The new restaurant represents a major change in both the style and service structure of the 51-year old brand.

A year ago, when Burger King (BKC) first discussed this move, Russ Klein, the company's president for global marketing, strategy and innovation, referred to it as "Pimp my burger." As with the popular television show Pimp My Ride, Whopper Bars enable customers to personalize a mass-produced product.

While the outlets will offer a "Bar Favorites" menu, with items like the Bourbon Whopper and Pepper Bacon Steakhouse XT, the highlight of the concept lies in its interactive nature. As in a Subway restaurant, customers will be able to watch their sandwiches being prepared and direct employees on which of the 22 topping choices to place on their burgers.

The Whopper bar concept is designed to include elements of other "bar" oriented areas, like sushi bars, salad bars, or juice bars.

In addition to conveying personalization, the bar idea also suggests a certain level of sophistication. This fits in well with the venues that Burger King is scouting for its Whopper Bars.

The small size of the bars, combined with their sleek red, black, and gray design, makes them ideal for cruise ships, stadiums, casinos, and other places where space is at a premium and appearances are vital. With a reduced menu and no seating space, the Whopper Bars will be less expensive to run, yet, ironically, more attractive to many customers.

Burger King is not the first fast food restaurant to attempt a major image shift. Recently, Arby's made some major changes in its roast beef sandwiches, offering burger-style toppings to position itself as a healthier alternative to more traditional burger restaurants. As in the case of Arby's, part of the reason for Burger King's reboot might lie in disappointing revenue. Burger King's Q2 profits dipped eight percent, amid a recession that should, if anything, be benefiting the chain as customers flee from more expensive dining options. While not devastating, the drop in profits clearly is inspiring Burger King to amp up production of the Whopper Bars.

Burger King plans to open six more of the bars by the end of the year; ultimately, the goal is to have 300-500 units of the bars operating nationwide.
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