Miami-based Burger King Corp. aims to find out as part of a test that includes home delivery of its burgers, french fries and other products. The test began last fall at four of the restaurant chain’s Washington, DC, locations and is being expanded to about 16 restaurants by the end of January.

The move is one of several being undertaken by some of the nation’s largest fast-food chains in an effort to provide additional value to consumers with a goal of providing a boost to the bottom line.

In the markets the Burger King home-delivery service is being offered it carries a $2 delivery fee and a minimum order of $10. Customers must live within a 10-minute drive of the Burger King restaurants, and orders typically are delivered within 30 minutes of being phoned in or ordered on-line.

Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer for Burger King, said the company has developed a proprietary thermal packaging technology that ensures customers receive food that is hot when it arrives.

“Burger King has successfully provided delivery service around the world for many years,” Fitzpatrick said. “With Americans striving to find convenience in every facet of their daily lives, we thought the time was right to test this first-of-its-kind program in the US market. The customer feedback we have received has been very positive so far, especially in regards to the quality of the food.”

The home-delivery test comes at the same time that Burger King is rolling out Coca-Cola Freestyle fountains in all of its company-owned restaurant locations. Coca-Cola Freestyle provides more than 100 sparkling and still beverage brands from a single freestanding unit. The available drinks include flavored waters, sports drinks and low-calorie beverages, Burger King said.

Broadening beverage choices
Burger King is not alone in the installation of the self-serve touch screen soda machines. De Soto, Kas.-based sub sandwich and pasta chain Mr. Goodcents Subs and Pastas has featured the machines since last fall, and St. Louis-based burger chain White Castle introduced them in December.

“Coca-Cola Freestyle allows us to serve our guests so many beverage options that we’ve never been able to offer before,” said Jamie Richardson, vice-president of corporate relations at White Castle.

White Castle has extended its innovation beyond the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, though. The restaurant chain in limited franchised locations is offering beer and wine in the dining room between 11 am and 11 pm daily.

Like White Castle, Seattle-based Star-bucks Coffee Co. has announced plans to bring wine, beer and additional food offerings to a handful of locations in Atlanta and Southern California by the end of 2012. The stores, along with several others recently announced for the Chicago area, will be the first extensions of the evening day-part concept outside of the Pacific Northwest.

“Building an evening day-part is a natural progression for us as we are always looking for ways to evolve and enhance the Starbucks experience based on what our customers are telling us,” said Clarice Turner, senior vice-president of US Operations. “We’re pleased with the response of our customers to the introduction of wine, beer and premium food at several of our stores in the Pacific Northwest, and we’re excited to see how the idea translates to other markets.”

As part of an enhanced menu, Starbucks said the locations will serve snacks, small plates and hot flatbreads as well as wine and beer. The wine and beer list will be selected to reflect local customer tastes and preferences, and will be refined over time, the company said. In addition to providing a product assortment not traditionally found at Starbucks, the stores will incorporate flex-ible seating to accommodate in-dividuals and small groups as well as larger parties that want to host community meetings or other events such as book clubs.

Transformation at Taco Bell
Meanwhile, several months after David Novak, chairman, president and chief executive officer of parent Yum! Brands, Inc., Louisville, Ky., promised “some major news coming” for the company’s Taco Bell chain, a flurry of innovations has been revealed.

“What we really think is going to get Taco Bell moving and back on the growth track is more category innovation,” Novak said.

That innovation includes an updated menu that focuses on fresh ingredients. The test marketing has begun in Louisville and Bakersfield, Calif., with a so-called Cantina Bell menu that includes $5 tacos, burritos and bowls featuring black beans, cilantro, rice and grilled corn salsa.

Speculation has Taco Bell positioning its menu to better compete with such restaurants as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Qdoba Mexican Grill, which focus on fresh ingredients, but in an interview with Reuters, Greg Creed, CEO of Taco Bell, called that “crazy talk.”

“I’m not trying to reposition Taco Bell to be Chipotle,” Creed said. “To be a more relevant Taco Bell, we can sell products that are every bit as good but cost a whole lot less. This is one of those watershed moments where we’re going to redefine what the brand stands for.”

In addition to the Cantina Bell menu, Taco Bell this month introduced breakfast in 800 restaurants in the western United States.

The 11-item breakfast line, dubbed First Meal, features traditional “back to basics” morning foods with scrambled eggs, sausage patties, bacon, tortillas and hash browns. The chain also now is offering Seattle’s Best coffee.

The breakfast menu was a long time in the making, with initial testing taking place in 2007 in 10 states. Now, Taco Bell expects the menu to be available in 5,800 domestic locations by 2014.

Signs of changing times
Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic, Inc. a Chicago-based research firm, said the moves by Taco Bell and Burger King are meant to both revitalize existing concepts and reach new customer bases.

“Quick-service chains like Taco Bell are trying to revitalize their concept, increase relevance with consumers/customers and remain competitive in the Mexican segment by competing with fast casual brands like Chipotle Mexican Grill,” Tristano said. “Their efforts will provide existing customers with better quality choices and appeal to consumers who use fast casual brands looking for a lower value price point.

“Chains like Burger King are attempting to increase efforts to reach new consumer groups with home delivery. Although their drive-thru option is already very convenient, the option for delivery will likely help the brand to leverage existing locations in more urban markets where consumers without vehicles are looking for value through added convenience. Delivery will also appeal to family dining customers who are time-strapped and prefer to spend more time with family and less time cooking dinner.”