[Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted on our previous blog and has been relocated here and backdated.]
My inaugural post promised an occasional burger review, so I will be doing that soon. However, before we dive into the greasy ground beef deliciousness, I must make a few general remarks about my reviewing strategy and overall burger philosophy.
There are, in my mind, five primary tiers of burgers. They are as follows:
1. Fast Food Burgers
- Cheap, quick, edible. The workhouse of burgers.
- These are the McDonald’s, Whataburgers, and Sonics of the world.
- Whole meal is usually less than 8 bucks.
- Fast food burgers places are often defined by the presence of a drivethru window. Nothing says “I’m not putting much effort into this meal” like not even bothering to get out of your car.
2. Fast Casual Burgers
- More expensive than Tier 1, generaly 8-12 dollars.
- Usually counter service
- Examples include Five Guys and Mighty Fine
3. Premium Burgers
- The crème de la crème of browned cow meat on a bun.
- Most expensive category, burgers can cost upwards of 12-15 dollars
- These are served in real sit-down restaurants with table service and waitstaff.
- Example: Hopdoddy
4. General Restaurant Burgers
- These are burgers from places like Chili’s or Applebee’s or your local hometown diner that don’t focus on burgers, but do serve them
- This tier is considered comparable to Tier 3 due to price and table service; however, quality can obviously vary widely with the quality of the establishment
5. Shut Up and Eat It Burgers
- This tier is what you eat when you are starving and nothing else is available
- Includes burgers from concession stands at football games, Comic Con, and truck stops
- Prices usually wildly overinflated, but quality is reliably low
- You are lucky if it doesn’t give you botulism
The tier system is an important but oft-overlooked aspect of burger ratings. Each tier serves a specific purpose and has different goals. A Tier 1 fast food place like McDonald’s is trying to put out a decent product cheaply and quickly, while a Tier 3 place like Hopdoddy is tries to provide a high quality meal experience, complete with ambiance and amiable service. If you pay 2 dollars for a burger, it is simply not going to taste as good as a 14 dollar burger, so comparing the two directly is unfair. It would be like comparing the acceleration of your $20,000 Honda Accord to a $200,000 Ferrari and then criticizing Honda for making a poor product. Honda and Ferrari both make good cars, but Honda sells cars that fulfill a different need than Ferrari. Ergo, the features and pricing structure reflect that.
Burgers are the same way. Each tier of burgers should be judged individually on how well they meet the needs of the specific tier within the budget constraints of that tier.
I am not a fan of reviews that condense the entire dining experience down to a single rating because that does not reflect the complexity of the issue. I see reviews on Yelp that say things like “Burger was great, did not like fries. One star.” This review does not reflect the quality of the burger. Perhaps if you want only a burger and no fries, then this place is perfect for you and deserves five stars. Thus, I will rate the burgers, peripherals, and atmosphere of each place separately. However, it seems to be human nature to want to reduce everything to a single score so that things can be ranked. So, as a concession to readers who don’t want to sift through a detailed analysis of each category and just want to look at the final conclusion, I offer a composite overall score which consists of a weighted average on a scale of 1 to 10.
The categories burgers will be scored on are below, along with the corresponding weight each contributes to the composite score.
Taste: If a burger doesn’t taste good, this race is over when the gate opens. Taste gets the heaviest weight with 50%
Construction: Nothing is more irritating than trying to eat a burger that is falling apart. A good burger should be sturdy, and the condiments and vegetables should be carefully arranged for maximum taste. Weight is 15%
Peripherals: This mostly means fries, but also includes beverages or other specialty sides that may be offered. Fries are in integral part of the burger experience, so they get a sizeable weight of 25%.
Atmosphere: The actual food is not everything in a meal, and the atmosphere matters more to some people than other. I tend to lean towards the camp that would eat in an outhouse if the food was good enough, but I do think the environment should get some consideration. Atmosphere gets a 10% weight.
You might notice I did not cover service. Service can be included in atmosphere to some extent. However, in my opinion (and I realize not everyone will agree with me here) service tends to be a binary experience. Either my burger was prepared correctly and delivered in a prompt fashion, or it was not. It is a pass/fail situation. I don’t require a lot of small talk or empty pleasantries from the waitstaff, so long as they are efficient. Service is also difficult to judge because it can be very hit and miss at even the best places. You might be at a restaurant that has 20 great servers, and you get a terrible one, or perhaps that person just happens to be having a particularly bad day. Thus, I do not think one incident of bad service should sink an establishment’s score, but it does warrant a small ding. The service will be scored on a pass/fail basis. Those places that provide prompt adequate service will receive 0.1 points added to the final composite score. Those places that fail in the service category will have 0.1 points subtracted. This will serve to distinguish places with good service, but will also ensure the focus of the score is primarily on the food. Note that points for good service will still be awarded if there is a mistake in my order if it is corrected quickly and politely.
As a final note, some food reviewers advocate that food should be ordered “as is” from the menu, without modifications. This is supposed to guarantee that the food you review is most true to the chef’s original vision. I appreciate this philosophy, but I will not be following it. The primary reason is that I hate onions. I really really despise onions. If there is an onion on my burger, it automatically gets 0’s across the board and the restaurant is immediately blacklisted. They do not pass “Go,” and they do not collect 200 dollars. Thus, I will be ordering all my burgers without onions, and also in many cases without lettuce. Some people argue that is not truly representative of the restaurant, but I disagree. I have an idea of what a good burger tastes like to me, and so I will order the burger that I think most closely achieves that. That burger most definitely does not include onions. Lots of people have different preferences on onions, pickles, mustard, etc., and a good burger should be able to accomodate those varied tastes. If you think the entire burger hinges on a single slice of onion, then that is a problem. Also, I am paying for these meals myself, so I will order them they way I want them, and then I will review that configuration of burger. Each consumer and reviewer always has different tastes, so if we have similar tastes, these reviews will be helpful. However, if we have vastly different tastes, then my reviews may not mean much to you anyway, and that is okay. Such is the nature of culinary reviews.
Well, I think this concludes my philosophy on rating burgers. Maybe some day I will describe what I think constitutes an ideal burger, but for now I will rate burgers periodically when I find one that I think is worthy of a post. Happy burger hunting!