Burgers are widely known as America’s favorite food. We eat an astounding 50 billion burgers annually — an average of three per person every week. Burgers might be even more American than apple pie, and I can’t think of any celebration more fitting for the franchise industry than National Hamburger Month in May.
Why do we love burgers so much? They’re the cornerstone of the American cultural experience, particularly for the working class, because they’re affordable, convenient, and delicious. Many people don’t know that the original “Hamburg steak” in Germany, a beef patty fried with onions and garlic, was a food for the rich. It only became a meal for the masses when meat grew more affordable, and entrepreneurs began serving it between two slices of bread as a quick bite for factory workers in the U.S.
Today, hamburgers are the lifeblood of the quick-serve restaurant industry. Burgers were the first food served under the quick-serve model, and they remain the most popular option at these establishments today. Without burgers, all of us who make a living off this industry would have very different lives.
Recently, a franchisee I spoke to at a Burger King franchise conference touched upon something that resonated with me. He shared that he’d taken over the business from his father, and he and his sister had increased store sales volume significantly since the transition. I congratulated him and asked how they’d made it happen.
He told me, “There’s one thing I keep in mind, and everything else falls into place. Being poor is expensive, and the people who regularly eat at our restaurants don’t have a lot of discretionary income. They’re scraping for hours at work, managing repairs for their cars, and trying to buy the things their kids need. When they go to a restaurant, they want a clean space, fairly priced food, reliable quality, and most importantly, to be treated with respect.”
It wasn’t the answer I expected, but his words resonated with my upbringing. We were middle class, but paying for everything was still a balancing act for my parents. When we went to a quick-serve restaurant, it was a special treat. We also didn’t have the luxury of choosing anything on the McDonald’s menu; Dad would tell us our options up-front, listing the most affordable items.
The last thing any family wants, under those circumstances, is to be looked down upon for their limited means. Even when we couldn’t afford everything we wanted, going to a quick-serve restaurant was still exciting, and we wanted to feel good about our experience. That’s what our occasional visits there provided. The tasty, hot food, good service, and clean surroundings gave us dignity.
I truly believe my clients are successful because they improve the lives of our country’s hardest workers. When they’re struggling to keep things together, an excellent quick-serve restaurant can make them feel important and respected. A simple burger can ultimately take on a much more significant meaning.
So, here’s to America’s favorite meal and the people who provide it. All this burger talk has made me hungry, so I’m going to grab a couple of beef patties on a sesame seed bun.