Former Michelin starred chef Ed Halls decided to leave the world of fine dining behind to open the UK's newest burger joint, Griddle and Shake. In a very competitive market, Griddle and Shake differentiate themselves by offering a fully customisable menu, and have their sights set on expansion.
QSR spoke with Ed to learn more about the burger bar and their plans.
QSR: The burger market is exceptionally competitive - what makes your offering unique?
Several things make us unique. First of all is the fact that we offer completely customisable burgers - everything is individualised from the type of meat, down to the choice of bun and toppings. Second is the emphasis we place on the provenance of our food. All our meat has a red tractor label, our thick shakes are made with real dairy ice cream, our buns are all premium quality etc. This costs more, but to us is really important, as is the fact that we use more expensive compostable packaging (Vegware). Thirdly, we’ve built the business around people. It’s core to our philosophy that people feel good about Griddle & Shake, be they the guys that serve behind the tills, that make the burgers or come in to try our food. Finally, we offer incredible value for money with no additional charges for what are completely customisable burgers. You can get a burger, hand cut fries and shake for £9.50. I don’t know anywhere else that offers our quality of product at that price point.
QSR: How have you made your brand look and feel different?
In a number of ways. Obviously our offering is unique. But beyond that, we also place a lot of focus on communication with our customers. Our values and mission statement are written in large letters above our cooking station for everyone to see. We want our customers to know that our mission is to make the best burger on the high street, be the best place to work, and take care of the world we live in. We also set out clearly our values of excellence, fun, entrepreneurial, honesty, empowerment and social responsibility. Making this transparent to everyone who enters our environment is a great way to keep us honest and engaged with our customers.
The environment also stood out as being equally important as the food and service when I was researching the market. That’s why our interiors are really different and quirky compared to your standard burger joint. We’ve made bespoke cow milking booths people can sit in, we have USB and charging points, we have a casual seating area which has fake grass and a tractor hood as a table. We have a lot of different elements that make us somewhere you want to be.
QSR: How do you process orders quickly when everything is customisable?
When researching the market before opening I went to several US ‘better burger’ chains, and noticed how many people were leaving before ordering because they just didn’t understand how the process worked, and those that did make an order were slowing up the process by not deciding what they wanted until they were at the tills.
To mitigate this risk we’ve put in a maitre’d (what we call a Guest Champion) to explain our concept to clients, advising them of what they need to choose and the options available to them, so that when they are ready to order, the process goes smoothly.
This is quite a new concept for the UK market so we need to make sure people know how it works.
It takes an average of 8 mins from ordering to receiving a burger though it can be as quick as 5 mins.
QSR: Where do you see yourself fitting within the burger market?
We drew inspiration from the US ‘better burger’ restaurants like Shake Shack and Five Guys. But what makes us different is that we have a foot in different areas- in fast food, fast casual, and gourmet burgers. I honestly don’t think we have a direct competitor to what we do. I describe us an improved and different Five Guys. We offer restaurant service in a fast casual environment.
QSR: What plans do you have for Griddle & Shake? How many outlets do you plan to have over the next 12 months? What are your overall ambitions?
We’ll be looking to open our next site in the next 12 months once we have bedded down this first restaurant. Our ambition is to have 3 sites open within the next 2.5 years. We’d look to open these restaurants in big, vibrant top 10 cities with large student populations. So we’d look to areas like Leeds and Manchester. After that, I’m not sure geography would stumble us. I think we could get up to 20 outlets within 7 years.
We’ve built strong relationships with our suppliers such as Bidvest, Vegware, Pepsi and Fairfax Meadow. They’ve been a great help as we’ve been starting out, and our supply chain is set for larger roll out.
QSR: What have you learnt since opening and what changes are you going to make?
We’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how well our staff have performed. I’m so proud of how they’ve done. We’ve also been thrilled with the feedback. We’ve been getting 5 star ratings which is wonderful.
We had some really experienced people work with us to open up this first outlet so there haven’t been any surprises that have really shocked us so far, which in itself is nice!
QSR: What trends are you seeing in customers?
I think value is very important to people. Not necessarily price but definitely value. We see that people are starting to spend a little more. According to the research we’ve read, the burger market is due to increase from £2.9 bill last year to £3.3 bill in 2019. Alongside that increase, we see that customers value choice and customisation. We see it everywhere from MOD Pizza, to all the new burrito bars. The way we are responding to that is to give guests a visual choice. Not to just read their options from a menu but to see their options in front of them and choose them as they go along.
We’re also seeing students eat out a lot more. When I was doing research before opening Griddle & Shake, 70% of the people I spoke to walking out of the competition were students, and over half of them ate out every day. They eat out more than any other demographic, which offers a huge opportunity.
QSR: Which of your competition do you think gets it right and why?
I think Five Guys does a good job, and I’d also point out Byron Burger.
QSR: What headwinds do you see facing the industry?
Competition is a huge market dynamic. If I look at Nottingham, the past 6 months alone has seen an explosion of fast food and fast casual establishments. As an independent start up that is a challenge for us. I also see that customers are becoming more demanding as they get more choice. We are responding to this by offering customers choice, but I think that a number of more established businesses will find it tough as business models and customer appetites have changed. Being ahead of the trend will make a difference.
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