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Gourmet Burgers Are a Booming Trend

Gourmet Burgers Are a Booming Trend

The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Lura Dannenbrock has her Denny’s lunch order down pat. A “Better Burger” 100 percent seasoned beef patty, hand-pressed, grilled, with Swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms.

“They’re a very good value for the price, but I also want it to taste good,” said Dannenbrock, dining recently at the Denny’s restaurant at Blue Ridge Cutoff.

Americans have long craved the humble burger, turning it into a sizzling $100 billion dining category annually. But in these bleak economic times, it turns out consumers are shelling out more for higher quality, bulkier burgers that go beyond the traditional toppings.

Diners who may have been ordering the occasional steak or more expensive dish are downsizing to burgers but still want quality meat. Others may just recognize a good meal deal when they see one.

This premium burger segment is heating up with fast-food, fast-casual, mid-scale and upscale operators trying to capture a growing portion of the patty market, according to Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade publication.

Nationwide, the number of restaurants overall offering burgers has increased by more than 4 percent since 2005, but in the fine-dining category, burgers jumped nearly 19 percent during the same time span, according to data-research company Datassential.

During a down economy, diners look for value and comfort, said Maeve Webster, a managing director for the Los Angeles-based company. “Absolutely, comfort food takes center stage,” she said.

“I don’t want to say we were ahead of the ball by any means, but it worked out that way,” said Joe Bacarro, owner of Big Bam’s, specializing in burger toppings, in Shawnee, Kan. “We wanted to offer something unique.”

Denver-based Smashburger, one of Nation’s Restaurant News’ five 2009 Hot Concept Winners, concentrates on cooked-to-order 100 percent Angus beef burgers, smashed (thus the name), seared and seasoned on the grill.

Premium patties also are popping up on the midpriced menus of Applebee’s Grill & Bar (A-1 Steakhouse Burger with cracked peppercorn and crispy onion straws) and Chili’s Grill & Bar (100 percent USDA-choice ground chuck, fresh-never-frozen, hand-formed in the restaurant).