Hamburgers Going Gourmet (MCD, WEN, SONC, JACK)

During the recent Great Recession, the big fast food chains like McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD), The Wendy’s Co. (NASDAQ: WEN), Sonic Corp. (NASDAQ: SONC), Jack in the Box Inc. (NASDAQ: JACK), Burger King, and others launched low priced menu items for cash-strapped customers. Dollar menus were all the rage.

Now that the economy is improving, there’s a burst of demand for high-end, high-priced burgers and there are plenty of smaller companies moving to cash in on the trend. Burger prices that start at $10 or so include condiments like truffles, onions caramelized in wine, and expensive cheeses. Bloomberg News cites the CEO of upscale chain Umami:

Consumer awareness, especially around burgers, is evolving. These gourmet burger chains hit a certain psychographic — somebody who is very quality conscious, who is willing to explore and get out of their element.

And get out their wallets. The owner of another gourmet chain, Short Order, put it this way:

The days of eating $50 steaks are probably over. … Consumers are stepping down, without having to go to a Burger King.

We noted earlier this week that the top 500 restaurant chains in the US posted revenue of $242 billion in 2011, with McDonald’s topping the list at $34.2 billion in sales. How long until we can order a Big Mac avec Brie?

Paul Ausick

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