Why Shake Shack and BurgerFuel are the UAE’s top premium burger joints

There is more to a burger restaurant than just the bun and meat. Consumers today need the whole experience to be top dollar, says retail consultancy Retail Access.

Mirchelle Pamintuan takes customer Glenn Gawler's lunchtime order at BurgerFuel in Mirdif City Centre, Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
Powered by automated translation

A burger may just consist of a bun, salad and slab of meat – but how it goes down with consumers depends on much more than that, according to a retail consultancy. Retail Access, which specialises in interior design concepts for shops and restaurants, says the Shake Shack and BurgerFuel chains rank as the favourite premium burger joints in the UAE, but not just because of how their products taste.

That is according to a research study it conducted late last year, based on “mystery shopping” visits and amalgamated reviews of 30 casual dining restaurants. It found that the quality of the food on offer and the price – with the average burger meal in the UAE costing Dh34.70 – are just two factors in how consumers rate such chains.

Retail Access, which has an office in Dubai, does not work for any existing burger restaurants in the UAE, but carried out the research for a client looking to enter the market. Here, Hugo Van Der Schaegh, director for consultancy at the firm, made the case for why the retail experience – including everything from the decor to how you queue up to pay – and the emotional response to a brand can be just as important as the product itself.

Burgers are delicious. How can the restaurant experience be as important as that?

If you look at Shake Shack today, it’s not only about the food – it’s almost a fashion store. There’s an industrial look and feel, with the metallic profile. You go to Shake Shack because you are trendy, you are “in” – and there’s also a good burger on offer. That’s the positioning, it’s really clear what they are doing in terms of the unique selling point.

What can other retailers learn from that?

To not only focus on their product. Your unique selling point and your competitive advantage can be something else. It can be the experience and the mood of your brand. Even if your product is not bringing innovation, the angle you take to sell it can be innovative and unique. Everybody does burgers, and a great burger for you or me could be completely different according to our own taste. But if you manage to get an angle that is not about the product, but a trend or fashion angle, then you can please a much broader client.

How does your firm advise on this?

We either improve or create a shopping experience. Our clients know their products very well, and we are not here to tell them what the products are. The product is one thing, but the overall experience is made up of many more touch points: the pay pads, the wrapping of the product etc.

Is the customer always conscious of such things?

It’s not always obvious, and the consumers do not feel it or analyse it right away. It depends on how the brand is communicating to the client. For example, what BurgerFuel does really well is that their shopper journey is extremely consistent with their brand positioning. They engineer every single step: when you are outside, you see a fancy vintage car; inside you see magazines about cars; the name of the product is the “Hot Rod” burger.

Do you think we will see more premium burger outlets in the UAE?

I think the two strong trends for burger joints will be the freshness of ingredients – and maybe organic – and also the social aspect. There’s a kind of community that you want to build around your brand, using social [aspects] and fashion.

Tell us more about your work for clients in the UAE.

We recently opened Rossovivo in Dubai airport, a fresh Italian restaurant. The location they had was difficultbecause it was at the end of the concourse, quite hidden behind pillars. So [we developed] the shopper journey model to make this outlet stand out.

What is the biggest mistake UAE retailers make in shop design?

The UAE used to be a very easy market for retail. Basically, the more you put on the shelves, the more you sold. But today, the UAE is becoming such a competitive market that you have to offer more than just the product. At some point the retailers always want to display more products per square metre of the store. But we tend to tell them to put less products and add to the experience. So there will be a better visibility on your product and you will have a competitive advantage over other retailers.


Follow The National's Business section on Twitter