Burger King's $9 Rib Meal: A Lesson in How Not to Move Upscale

Last Updated May 20, 2010 6:10 AM EDT

And now, a break from the $1 menu wars: Burger King (BKC) has introduced a new menu item, Fire-Grilled Ribs, that goes for as much as $8.99 for an eight-piece meal. This attempt at snagging higher margins and increasing average prices likely isn't going far, since fast-food diners don't intuitively think of Burger King as a place for ribs -- or as a place to pay $9 for dinner.

To start, ribs don't have much positive association in the world of fast food. Think McDonald's (MCD) and its much-reviled boneless McRib sandwich, which left the menu in 2005, after more than 20 years of widespread ridicule. Few others have even attempted the dish at fast-food price points.

Now, here comes BK with a bone-in, honest-to-gosh rib dish made possible by a new high-tech broiler the company started using earlier this year. It's going to take a mountain of marketing just to convince consumers that it's real, actual pork ribs. And more marketing to make them want to eat ribs at this price while they sit on plastic chairs in a garishly lit fast-food joint.

The pricing problem here is that for a dollar or two more, they could be eating Baby-Back Ribs at Chili's, in a more relaxing, pleasant sit-down dining atmosphere. The price is too close to what you'd pay for a casual-dining meal. If I've got $9 and want to spend it on ribs, I likely have a couple bucks more to eat better-quality ribs elsewhere. Look for BK to knock a dollar or two off the price with promotions to widen that gap.

Then there's the dissonance between BK's incessant hawking of its $1 menu items and five meals for $5 deals, and this offer. BK is creating clashing messages here -- it stands for value, or it stands for better quality food. It'll be hard to stand for both.

Photo via Flickr user JasonLam

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.