Friday, December 06, 2013

Tomfoolery at Burger King

Recently received some new coupons in the mail.  Thought I would try them out with a visit to Burger King (1804 St. Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa) for lunch today.

I arrived at noon to an interesting location to get into.  The restaurant sits on a small hill with a weird "U" shaped parking lot that is somewhat shared by a Tim Horton's location directly opposite the Canadian Science & Technology Museum. The parking lot entrance off of St. Laurent Boulevard forces you to drive first past the LaserQuest, then the Tim Horton's and finally to the parking for the Burger King.  Yes, each store seems to have it's own mini reserved parking section in a small weird looping parking lot.  It's like the three buildings could not get it together on a mutually shared parking lot with easy access in and out from St. Laurent even with the fully signalized access.

The Burger King has a small raised concrete patio that sits overlooking the parking lot.  But where is the front door?  Does it face St. Laurent Boulevard? Do you go up the concrete steps to the patio and inside?  Which is it?  The latter option.

If you can figure out how to get in through the confusing parking lot orientation and figure out the entrance, you'r in!  I arrived to a sparsely attended restaurant location which is quite surprising as I approached the counter and placed my order, according to the receipt, at three seconds before 12 noon.  This is a little surprising considering it was lunch time on a Friday in a restaurant on bustling St. Laurent Boulevard across from a major museum within one of Ottawa's largest industrial areas. Yes, it is in a prime location for Friday afternoon lunches with industrial workers, museum attendees and others right at their doorstep.  Yet there was perhaps at most ten customers at a time in this Burger King location during my meal there.

I walked up to the counter, handed over my coupon for a free upgrade to "Gratifries" when I order any combo meal that I received in the mail last week.  I was willing to try the new "Gratifries" as Burger King's regular fries quite frankly than the original cardboard fries or even their slightly newer fries they had on my previous visit at another location. I was looking forward to Burger King's version of krinkle cut fries that were crispy on the outside yet soft on the inside.  Would these fries be able to even hold a flame to my beloved and often missed Nathan's Famous crinkle cut fries found at Coney Island? I would soon find out, but back to ordering.

The Burger King employee behind the cash stared at the coupon and looked back at me and said: "We've actually changed our fries to the Gratifries so there is no need to upgrade."

So why would Burger King then send out the new coupons and include this free upgrade when, really, it is not an upgrade but an improvement of the Burger King french fry experience?  That question was not meant for the guy wearing the fast food robes behind the counter, so I didn't press the issue.

The Order: 1 Whopper Combo with Medium Gratifries and 1 Medium coke

The food was prepared and on my tray within three minutes.  Not bad for Burger King or any other fast food restaurant.  On to the condiment stand.  The bulk ketchup dispenser did the usual fast food condiment station, empty, not even a squirt into the little paper cup.  You would think with the slowness of the customers coming through the door one employee could have at least ambled over about an hour before to ensure the ketchup dispenser was sufficiently fueled for the main serving time of lunch.  But, strangely, Burger King can't do that.   I returned to the front counter and requested some "to go" ketchup packets and indicated the dispenser was empty.  No problem, the ketchup packets were placed on my tray.  But, during my meal at this location, I don't think the bulk ketchup dispenser was ever refilled even despite

Now to find a clean table....

"Clean table" being the two operative words.  I walked towards the windows overlooking the passing cars on St. Laurent Boulevard.  There is about eight tables on that end all in booth seating formation.  I passed by seven of the eight of them.  Why? The seven were either completely dirty with ketchup or other mystery stains or, at the very least, had crumbs on them.

I do realize that fast food outlets do have issues with clean tables due to customers using them then leaving trash, food remnants and whatever.  But this Burger King was an average size location with few customers working their way through.  So apparently the tables had not been cleared and wiped for some time.  But at least the eighth table was a charm and I sat down.

The Whopper was encased in a large traditional cardboard clamshell package.  Optically it looks like the marketers at Burger King are trying to make the Whopper seam large by placing it in a large cardboard clamshell package.  Opening up the cardboard package revealed the burger half wrapped in traditional fast food style burger wrap wax paper. I guess this is to protect the finely manicured fingers of Burger King's upscale clientele from the toppings oozing out or, heaven forbid, the precious little fingers from touching the hamburger bun. But I'm still wondering why they continue to screw around with the packaging.  Hasn't the Whopper been the same for over 10 years?  You would think they would have this down by now and not mess with it.

Tastewise the Whopper was like you would find at any Burger King in the past decade, perfection in temperature, composition in toppings and the patty being a decent size.

The french fries? Sure the taste was an improvement over the past Burger King rendition of fries. The fries were crinkle cut with a nice golden shade.  Inside they were softer potato as promised.  As good as Nathan's Famous Crinkle Cut fries? No, but not still pretty good.  A little ketchup and they an excellent accompaniment to the Whopper burger.  Quantity it was disappointing, the size was supposed to be "medium" but it felt like a McDonald's small.  I commented on the quantity issue of Burger King's fries in my previous post as well.  Burger King can simply not afford to skimp on the size of the fries as McDonald's is easily beating them hands down in the current burger wars and the skimpiness on the fries is merely one reason. At least Burger King is moving forward with better quality fries and, hopefully, these crinkle cut fries will last beyond a "limited time".

Overall, this Burger King location is full of tomfoolery.  The weird layout of a parking lot on the way in, the confusion of where the front door is, the useless coupon of a free upgrade in fries when the fries are now standard and much more are all issues that need addressing.  Sure the parking lot may not be the location's ability to change but surely the useless coupon for an upgrade, lack of ketchup at the dispenser and cleanliness of the tables can be remedied.  With tomfoolery like this in terms of attention to detail, it is no wonder Burger King is slowly loosing the fast food burger wars to the likes of Harvey's, McDonald's and Wendy's.

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