Burger King hopes home delivery will boost falling sales

Burger King (BKC), trying to regain its place as the nation's second largest fast-food chain, is trying out home delivery in an effort to boost sales. This is just one of a number of unexpected experiments going on right now. Chains usually try discounts and other moves at this time of year to counter a seasonal sales slump.

This fall the Miami-based chain started testing delivery at four restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area. The company says it will expand the test to 16 more locations by Jan. 23 before deciding whether or not to make it a large-scale effort. 

According to the company website, deliveries cost $2, and there is a minimum order of $8 to $10, depending on the market. Customers can order online or by phone. The restaurant is delivering meals such as 40-piece Chicken Tenders and two bottled drinks for $10.99 and four large sandwich combos for $23.99. (However, if you're hankering for a milkshake or a breakfast sandwich, you're out of luck. Shakes, fountain drinks, milkshakes, coffee and breakfast food are still in-store only.)

While home delivery is common for some fast foods -- like pizza -- it is much harder to do with menus like those offered by Burger King. Burgers and fries can get soggy very quickly, so speedy delivery is key.

Jonathan Fitzpatrick, the chain's chief brand and operations officer, says Burger King has developed new packaging technology "which ensures the Whopper is delivered hot and fresh, and the french fries are delivered hot and crispy."

Wendy's was expected to dethrone Burger King as the nation's second-largest fast-food chain in terms of sales at the end of last year. According to market-research firm Technomic, Wendy's U.S. same-store sales were forecast to rise 1.1 percent in 2011, while Burger King's U.S. and Canada same-store sales drop 3.9 percent. While both chains still trail McDonald's, this would mark the first reordering of the industry's top three since Wendy's was founded in 1969.

While Burger King's effort is notable, it isn't the only thing new on the fast food grill. White Castle is trying out selling beer and wine at some new eateries in Indiana. (Burger King is already offering beer at a Miami Beach outlet.)

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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.

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