Nandos has tried to cash in on the Gourmet Burger mania sweeping Pakistan especially Karachi with the arrival of Hardees by coming up with its own version of a Gourmet Burger.
Traditionally, Nandos has a very conservative approach to launching schemes compared to KFC and Pizza Hut who launch schemes at the drop of a hat. Only once in a blue moon does Nando’s come up with a new product or scheme.
Their last big product was the Espetada Rustica and that was almost two years ago. And now Nandos has come up with the Gourmet Burger.
We went in to review the new burger. Although Nando’s has been offering a couple of burgers ever since it launched in Pakistan, the new offering is obviously to jump on the gourmet burger bandwagon initiated by local restaurateurs who brought home the concept of this premium burger from abroad.
The burger costs Rs.475, with taxes it comes out to be Rs.551. We took one of their designer drinks as well called Citra which cost Rs.140 as opposed to the normal soft drink. All in all, the bill per person came out to be Rs.713.
Compare this with any of the other gourmet burgers available in town and this will come out to be one of the most if not the most expensive gourmet burger in both foreign and local brands. Only Gun Smoke fares worse than this on the price. At Hardee’s you can have an appetite busting meal at that amount. At GBC which is the latest local gourmet burger option in town, the total burger meal costs about Rs.550 on an average.
On its own, the burger is delectable. It comprises of a grilled chicken breast loaded with onions and smeared with sweet aubergines and hummus. The size of the burger is the first thing that catches you off-guard. It’s way too small for a gourmet burger especially at this price. Although Nando’s has done well to throw in two sidelines for good measure, fries and coleslaw, those two are pretty much the category standard at least in the local gourmet burger segment. Although these two sidelines are fixed, the staff is flexible enough to change it to any sideline on the menu. We chose the spicy wedges and the coleslaw.
The coleslaw was sumptuous. Although it didn’t conform to the industry standard of being sweet, being on the savory side, it was really something.
The designer drink Citra was a concoction of sprite, citrus and what not. Not bad really, but at Rs.140 plus tax is asking too much for a drink with no real fruit or any expensive ingredient in it.
Verdict: It’s a good enough burger and combined with the sidelines it will satiate the appetite of the average person. However at the end of the day it’s a simple burger and as such categorizing it under the gourmet segment is doing injustice to it.
Hardee’s love affair with Karachi is still in its honeymoon period as Karachiites continue to flock to the joint in droves, willing to spend an hour or more of their life in queues just to get their hands on something that’s mere fast food.
That’s the power of Hardee’s brand. Our second visit was at 20:00 hours on a Monday night and we had to wait almost half an hour to get in. By the time we got out an hour and a half later, the queue had ballooned to alarming proportions so much so that the police force was working in tandem with the private security guards to keep the crowd at bay.
And this is happening 10 days after Hardee’s opened up. Of course the mayhem would subside with time as well as with the launch of Hardee’s defence outlet slated to open sometime later.
This time around we tested another two of Hardee’s burgers. The Super Star Burger Rs.480 and the Santa Fe Chicken Rs.380.
Hardee’s Super Star Burger is just that- a real super star. This burger beats all the other Hardee’s offerings hands down. It’s that good. It’s big, it’s sumptuous, and for the first time we felt the charcoal taste in the beef patty which was missing in our previous excursion when we tried their jalapeño and Swiss mushroom burgers.
The double decker has all the elements that make up a genuine hamburger – double patty with double cheese, onions, jalapenos, the complete works, and will put any gourmet burger to shame. It’s that good. And the thing that makes it stand out is the charcoal essence that tantalizes your taste buds in a way no other local gourmet burger has been able to emulate in this part of the world.
The only fault we could find with it is how to eat it! The bun just disintegrated after a couple of bites and then it was an uphill battle trying to keep it together while maintaining your own composure.
In contrast, the Santa Fe Chicken burger that we tested isn’t anything to write home about. It comprised of a standard chicken fillet which couldn’t even fill the complete size of the bun, mayo, a solitary and an oversize lettuce leaf that was almost twice the size of the burger and irritating to handle.
Strangely, there was neither cheese nor onion in the burger! This is all the more perplexing when you take into account the fact that Santa Fe is the premium chicken burger of Hardee’s, the most expensive of it all. And yet it didn’t have even these necessities of a burger.
This is something that Hardee’s will have to really look into, if they want to continue to make chicken burgers, although they really don’t need to, with their beef burgers having attained stardom status the world over.
But if they do intend to continue, they really need to introduce some sort of differentiation into it.
Why not a charbroiled chicken burger? At least that way they would be able to offer something uniquely apart from its chicken contender KFC and to an extent McDonald’s. Otherwise, with their current crop of chicken offerings, they’re not going to challenge even the local gourmet burgers, let alone the big Whigs.
This time around we had better luck with the ketchup as we get hold of the ketchup guy before he could slip away as he did in our previous outing. But by and large ketchup continues to be a problem. It’s true that ketchup is not for free in foreign franchises in the First World, but then, we’re not living in that world, are we? And if KFC and McDonald can adapt to the ground realities of the Third World, so can Hardees.
Now, coming to their management efficiency, one shrewd tactic they’ve employed to reduce the decision-making time at the counter is to give the security personnel the menu to hand out to the customers waiting in the queues so that they can decide what they want to eat beforehand and not waste time at the counter.
One major problem Hardee’s going to face later when the euphoria dies down is the clarity of their pricing or rather lack of it.
The glitch in the afore-mentioned tactic is that the prices are not mentioned on this menu. Or on any menu for that matter. In fact the only time you’ll see the prices are on top of the counter. And then on your bill.
And the bill is itself is one complex jumble of figures. Instead of quoting the same combo meal price as written on the counter, Hardees has broken down the combo meal price with beverages mentioned separately with separate price.
What this strange costing does is give the impression that Hardees is cheating by charging the beverage twice, first by including it in the combo meal where it is mentioned as well, then putting it again at the bottom of the bill.
Although in reality they’ve broken down the combo meal pricing into two parts and not charging double, most of the customers will be suspicious of this bizarre billing, more so because they’ve included yet another header at the bottom –GST.
It would be far better if they just incorporate the GST and all the intricate pricing components into one big whole to avoid any consumer backlash. At the moment, a consumer backlash has a very bleak possibility but as the infatuation with the brand wears down, a more transparent and clear pricing would be needed to convert that initial crush into mature love.
The price itself is, of course, not the problem. People here spend like crazy on eating out; they just don’t want to be taken for a ride.
There was a problem with Fanta. It tasted, well, something straight out of a hospital. When we complained to the manager, he told us the proportion of syrup in the Fanta mixture had gone wrong and told us to avoid it. It would have been better if they had put a notice near the fountain soda warning people about this problem. Nothing grandeur, just a small note.
Coming back to the menu, you would be amazed to find not a single avenue online that is showcasing Hardee’s offerings in Pakistan. Although the brand has been around for quite sometime, they’ve yet to come up with a website that does just this. Although the domain name has been booked www.hardeespakistan.com, no work has been done it.
Yes, there are separate facebook pages for Hardees Pakistan, Hardees Lahore and even Hardees Karachi, but there’s no menu on any of them. In fact if you search for Hardees menu online within Pakistan, you’re most likely to land on Restaurants Uncut itself. Although you’ll find a tossdown link to Hardees menu, it doesn’t go anywhere useful.
Although Hardees claims to offer Wi-Fi as mentioned on the bill, there was no Wi-Fi available.
Hardee’s continues to mesmerize Karachiites with an array of burgers that will give the existing foreign brands and the local gourmet burger brands a run for their money. How long will this passionate love affair last is anybody’s guess, but as long as Hardee’s continues to churn out new scintillating burgers instead of relying smugly on past brand laurels, it stands a real chance of converting the affair into a successful marriage that lasts.
The end result was a big splash opening whose consequences are still being felt till the writing of this review with unending queues managed by private security guards backed up by police lurking in the shadows to handle any untoward incident.
Whether Hardee’s received the same maddening response when it opened first in Lahore is hard to say, but Karachi seems to be infatuated with Hardee’s big time.
The opening day, Hardee’s was closed to the public at large, launched by none other than Boom Boom Afridi and open to only celebrities.
From the second day, pretty much the entire Karachi descended upon Hardee’s located in North Nazimabad and you had to wait anywhere between 1-2 hours just to get in.
How long the euphoria will take to die down is hard to say, but for now it still rages on. Even now, five days after the opening, expect to spend some time in the queue if you arrive at an odd hour and a full hour at the peak timing.
However, once you get in, the going gets easier as the staff is ultra-efficient at getting your order through in spite of all the mayhem.
So, is it worth all the commotion? Ten years ago, Hardee’s would have conquered Karachi’s ‘Burgerville’, having just McDonald’s to contend with. However, now with myriad premium and gourmet burger joints springing up all over the city, each one claiming to offer the ultimate hamburger, the competition has really toughened up with razor-thin margins of error.
If you don’t give me the immaculate hamburger, I won’t return. Ever. That’s what all these choices have empowered the consumer to think.
Unlike KFC and McDonald which have forayed into quite a few delicacies that have nothing to do with their brand essence, Hardee’s is sticking to its brand essence- charbroiled burger.
Although Hardee’s is offering quite a few chicken burger options, the main emphasis is on the beef burger with most of the varieties revolving around this basic premise. For instance you could take one of the beef burger, let’s say jalapeno burger, and have as many as three varieties of it: single patty, double patty or a single fat patty they refer to as the thickburger.
Then they offer the option of making your own burger by mixing together any of the burgers from the main menu. However, this option wasn’t available when we visited. Another thing missing was the onion rings.
The biggest competitive advantage Hardee’s has, that will definitely create a yawning gap between Hardee’s and KFC / McDonald, is the offer of free soft drink refills. Pakistanis love to have their soft drinks unlimited and Hardee’s has got its consumer insight spot on.
Think about it. How much drink can you expect an average consumer to drink?
500ml, more or less. And yet the goodwill this simple yet shrewd tactic generates would be enormous. And since the refill option is left to the customer himself via the mountain fresh, there’s very little possibility of it going to waste. Simply brilliant.
The combo meals that Hardee’s is offering all comprise of unlimited refrills along with fries at a mere additional cost of just Rs.100.
The biggest shortcoming has to be the ketchup. Unlike KFC and McDonald’s where you can have all the ketchup in the world on your own, Hardee’s just had a guy appear at the outset of your meal who offered a few satchets of Knorr ketchup and chili sauce which were duly consumed in no time but the guy was nowhere to be found when you needed him again.
Along with drinks, ketchup is another thing that Karachiites relish to consume by the truckload and by taking away this freedom which almost all the other fast food franchises offer, Hardee’s is just making it difficult to endear itself to the food junkies of Karachi.
Coming to Hardee’s forte, we tried four of their offerings:
The Jalapeno Thickburger, the Swiss Mushroom Burger (Single), Swiss Mushroom ThickBurger, and the Buffalo Chicken Burger. Each burger has its own unique taste. Of course the two Swiss ones have the same taste, it’s just the difference of patty thickness. If you’re feeling ravenous, avoid the single Swish Mushroom Burger as it’s just not fulfilling.
If you’ve had Hardee’s before, you know what it is. If you haven’t, don’t expect a gourmet burger a la Gun Smoke or GBC or even Roasters.
Hardee’s is just that – a fast food. As such the patties are your usual frozen ones – some say they’ve been imported from Dubai – which get charbroiled duly in a matter of seconds and voila! You’ve your burger. It’s a no-frills operation akin to a car assembly line where all the parts get assembled in the most efficient manner and the least possible time.
Both the Jalapeno and Swiss Mushroom Burger were good, as good as you can get from a mass-produced burger. Nothing wrong with the combination, you’ve got all the elements that go into making a hamburger, only that a freshly prepared patty (relatively speaking) has all the condiments working together to tantalize your taste buds. This enhanced flavor can never be replicated in a fast food chain product – no matter how great that brand is.
Same fact holds true here as well. However, if you can just forget the gourmet burgers around town, Hardee’s would definitely appeal to your olfactory buds.
The problem is, charbroiled means to broil over charcoal, but there’s not an iota of charcoal essence felt in the taste. It tastes like your standard machine-grilled burger.
One thing Hardee’s can definitely do is try to come up with an arrangement where the patty is seared. This is one of the most effective techniques that the local burger joints use to ooze out that extra bit of flavor. And if they can ensure a piping hot burger unlike the other branded burgers, all the more good.
Hardee’s is still in its infancy stage to accurately predict how much of the market share its going to grab from the KFC, McDonald and the numerous local gourmet burger joints.
Only when the dust settles down from the current mayhem will a clear picture of the competition emerge.
Ever since Gun Smoke catalyzed the gourmet burger mania back in early 2000, there has been a rat race to jump onto this bandwagon. Every fine-dining restaurant is compelled to offer at least one type of burger as if its very survival depended on it. Okra and Olivetto are just two examples to boot.
Pre-Gun Smoke, the burgeoning café-sque restaurants, viz Copper Kettle and Arizona Grill did offer the proverbial hamburger, but there was no real focus on the category.
When Gun Smoke came all guns blazing (no pun intended), all of a sudden everyone wanted to cash in on the craze, so much so that even premium ice cream parlors like Hot Spot and Gelato Affair wanted to have a piece of the action. And in the wake of this competition, the pioneer of the category Mr. Burger, suffered big time, more so because of its own lethargy to step up to the competition.
So why is everyone rushing to come up with his own burger joint?
Because everyone thinks they’ve got the recipe for the ultimate gourmet burger, the likes of which have never been seen in Karachi and as such they can dominate the premium burger scene in spite of the cutthroat competition.
At least that’s what Gourmet Burger Company’s owner Mr. Zahid Usman believes. Having lived in the US for six years, he said he couldn’t find the genuine hamburger anywhere in Karachi and his yearning for the real thing led him to launch GBC.
Asked why start out with a delivery service instead of going the full monty, he replied that he had been burnt once with a restaurant on Khayaban-e-Sehar and he wanted to test the waters with a small set-up before expanding the operation.
We asked him why the delivery service was limited to just DHA, Clifton and the adjoining areas (as stated by the staff before he arrived), Zahid Usman negated the statement, saying that delivery was confined to those areas only initially and that now almost the entire Karachi is covered, provided that the order is minimum Rs.1000 and a delivery charge of Rs.50 will be added to the bill.
Delivery service aside, it’s a good thing GBC has opened a diner. Although it’s one of the tiniest diners you’ll ever find in Karachi, with a very Spartan décor, the main benefit is that location, smack in the middle of Khadda market just adjacent to the popular Red Chili with OPTP just around the corner. What this will do is propel the brand from being just a niche brand known and endeared to just a select group of people to diverse segments of the market.
GBC owes much of its fame to a Facebook Group called SWOT where GBC has been talked about and recommended as well quite a lot. However not all of its reviews on that forum are raving like the one below written by the group owner Nezihe Hussain:
“Well so we SWOTTED Gourmet Burger Company – new dine-in facility. Nice cozy diner atmosphere…the tables not made for us with legs…long one I mean and it needed a little more chilling (AR and NK gave suggestions to improve that so we move on) – the service first – since attended by Adeel (the owner) it was obviously top grade. The food – we ordered 1 Classic GBC burger, 1 Classic GBC burger with wasabi (special addition) and jalapenoes, 1 Chili Cheese Burger, 1 Chili Hot Dog, 1 masala fries, 1 starter of chicken strips (yes before someone says it – we manage to eat quite a bit) the verdict – ever thing was very nice fresh and tasted good. The problem is that its not Gourmet Burgers…they are better than fast food chains but wish they had not set the standard that high by calling it “Gourmet”.”
This is in fact one of the less critical reviews on that SWOT group. Initially when GBC came out with the dine-in option, social media was abuzz with either their appalling service or the quality of their buns.
We didn’t face any of these lapses – service was quick and prompt and the buns were alright, although nothing extraordinary about them. They could really tinker with their buns, differentiate them in some way to support their gourmet claim.
One thing we did feel or lack thereof, the ‘piping hot’ factor. Yes, burgers are not supposed to be served that way but when you’re griling a burger patty, shouldn’t the heat within last a little longer until the customer has had bitten into it? Of course, in the case of delivery that feeling cannot be replicated, but when you’re serving right then and there….
To cut a long story short, we felt our burgers were a little on the cold side and that the taste could have been enhanced if they hadn’t been that way.
GBC is very much conscious of its minimal dine-in option and to make it as accommodating as possible, they’ve put a hand sanitizer on the table along with the sauces and all. Now it may not be a big deal, but the concern GBC shows for the hygiene of its customers will only add to the brand goodwill especially since we haven’t come across a single restaurant or fast food joint that shows this much concern.
Another little differentiation is the use of imported Heinz ketchup. Again not a big deal, but with Knorr and other local brands being used by even the most popular fast food joints, this little consideration surely adds to the brand equity.
Although the brand essence of the place by virtue of its very name is that of a burger, surprisingly there are only six varieties of burgers on offer, out of which a mere two are beef.
Apart from them, they offer the usual items that are typical of a café – from pastas to quesadillas to fajitas to crepes to flavored fries and what not.
We strongly suggest cutting down on any item that does not add to the core competency and put its entire weight behind the brand’s forte – gourmet burger.
Extending the brand essence just dilutes the brand – no matter at what stage of its PLC the brand is. And GBC is still in its infancy stage – all the more reason for it to be hammering on its true essence.
Yes, in the short run it does help to offer everything under the sun, but brand-building is a long term endeavor and it pays rich dividends if you stick to the basics.
Although you do see mega brands extending their essence like hell, they attained this stature by sticking to what they did best, and now are being sucked dry by aspiring brand managers trying to make a name for themselves.
Okay maybe matching Gun Smoke’s plethora of burger varieties maybe taking things a bit too far, but something definitely needs to be done with the current burger varieties which are just too few.
We tried three of their offerings, both the beef burgers and a chicken burger.
The Italian Grilled Chicken Burger priced Rs.395 comprises of a flame grilled chicken breast marinated in Italian spices and topped with creamy Italian dressing, lettuce, tomato and onion.
We’ve no idea what these Italian spices were, but the result was one hell of a scrumptious burger. We did feel that the chicken breast was from the starved plains of Africa – it was that thin – and we let Mr. Zahid know as much.
The Gourmet Chili Burger on the other hand had the fattiest patty of the three burgers. It also happened to be the most expensive item on the menu at Rs.400, more so than even the pastas.
It comprised of flame grilled prime ground beef coupled with chili con carne and loaded with the usual condiments – cheddar cheese, mustard, mayo and the salad.
Chili Con Carne is a one of those strange dishes whose origin is disputed. The dish derives its name from the Spanish chile con carne, “chili pepper with meat” and is basically a sort of spicy stew comprising of ground beef, tomato and beans.
The Gourmet Classic Burger priced Rs.350 is pretty much the same as the chili version, the only change is the type of patty used. It’s your standard hamburger.
Incredibly, none of the burgers have jalapenos or even the option of adding them.
What about the size and value for money?
The size of the two beef burgers were your standard size, not humungous but enough to satiate your appetite, although the size of gourmet chili’s patty made it more than fulfilling. If quantity is what you’re after, in this price range you can get a better deal at Latte Lounge which we recently tested which offers coleslaw.
Gourmet Burger Company has no sidelines in the offing other than a generous helping of fries. When we pointed out this fact to Mr. Usman Zahid suggesting the inclusion of either coleslaw or garlic sauce, he was adamant that the gourmet burger anywhere in the world apart from Pakistan is not served with any such sideline. And if someone is indeed interested in them, they can buy the sauce separately. However, we didn’t find either any sauce or coleslaw on the menu.
So where GBC’s burger stand in the comity of burgers? GBC’s burger stands apart from the lot and your appreciation of its offering would depend upon which of the two ‘burger’ schools of thought do you subscribe to. And here by burger we mean the hamburger.
The first school holds sacred the beef patty that is firm and succulent so that when you bite into it, the juice oozes out tantalizing your taste buds. And the firmness of the patty ensures that your jaws have to work at it.
The second school of thought preaches the virtues of a patty that is made from ground beef loosely held together so that when you bite into it, it literally melts in your mouth- more of a minced meat version.
GBC follows the second school of thought, and if this is what catches your fancy, then it’s gonna be “Love at First Bite”.