The American business history is peppered with great rivalries. Of the many great brand wars, the fast-food business sector has witnessed an ongoing rivalry between McDonald’s and Burger King for six long decades.
Each has its loyal fan following. Both brands began their business operations around the same time and have grown and expanded over the years. What is also true is that McDonald’s has set a high standard for franchise operations that has been inspiring a lot of other brands. Having said that, both fast-food giants have seen their fair share of successes and struggles.
This article attempts to gain insight into this interesting and old business rivalry – be it their product comparisons or their business expansions.
Origin and Growth
- It began as a single drive-in restaurant in 1940 in San Bernardino, California by brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald. Originally offering a wide menu selection, the restaurant was revamped eight years later. The year 1948 witnessed a new smaller restaurant that produced higher quantities of food and offered a limited menu of hamburgers, chips, drinks, and pie. The restaurant format was efficient and quick and was named the Speedee Service System. The efficiency of service was visible in the quick order delivery of hamburgers as they were cooked earlier and heated under heat lamps. It also reduced operational costs allowing the owners to sell the hamburgers at just 15 cents, which was about half the price of competing eateries. The restaurant’s runaway success prompted the brothers to begin a franchise program.
- The turning point for the restaurant came in the form of a traveling salesman named Ray Kroc, who, after visiting and witnessing their success became a franchise agent for the owners. In the year 1955, Kroc launched McDonald’s Systems Inc., in Des Plaines, Illinois, and also opened the first McDonald’s franchise east of the Mississippi River, before buying out the McDonald brothers in 1961.
- It was the year 1953, when, inspired by the success of the McDonald’s restaurant, Keith J. Kramer and Matthew Burns founded Instant Burger King after purchasing the rights to two equipment pieces called ‘Insta’ machines. The first store was opened around a machine called the Insta-Broiler. This device turned the brand into an instant success at cooking burgers and the brand made it mandatory for all its franchises to carry the device.
- However, in the year 1959, the original company showed signs of distress and was eventually sold to its Florida franchisees James McLamore and David R. Edgerton. They renamed the company to ‘Burger King’ and began corporate restructuring, running the company as a separate entity for 8 years. They successfully expanded the Burger King presence to 250 locations across the USA before selling it to Pillsbury in the year 1967.
- The enterprising Ray Kroc quickly realized the importance of franchisees in growing the success of McDonald’s. To this end, he developed precise and exacting standards for every step of the restaurant’s operations. He also created what was later known as Hamburger University in the year 1961 as a training facility for franchisees. The restaurant’s format was also changed to include counter staff for taking orders. The first restaurant to feature the drive-through window, now a ubiquitous feature of a McDonald’s outlet, was opened in Arizona in 1975. Ray Kroc went on to introduce the Ronald McDonald clown in 1963, added its famous Big Mac Burger to its national menu in 1968, and refined its logo in the same decade. Within a decade of Ray Kroc’s takeover, the brand grew to more than 1000 outlets in the US and it began to publicly trade in the year 1965.
- The year 1967 saw McDonald’s foray into the international market as it began global expansions. By the early 21st century, there were approximately 34000 McDonald’s outlets operating in more than 115 countries and territories.
- When Pillsbury acquired Burger King, the brand had grown to 274 outlets in the USA with an estimated value of USD 18 million. However, the challenge Pillsbury was facing was the inconsistency within the franchise framework with a lack of contractual restraints and controls on the franchise operations. The turning point for Burger King came when Pillsbury hired Donald N. Smith, a McDonald’s veteran, to revamp the company structure. He immediately initiated various changes like new franchise owners must live within an hour’s drive from their outlets, corporations were not permitted to own franchises and franchises were not allowed to operate other chains. These and many other significant changes including new menu inclusions to attract specific demographic resulted in the Burger King sales figures increasing by almost 15%.
- However, following his departure from the company, the brand underwent many changes and some serious legal battles as Pillsbury struggled for survival. Eventually, Pillsbury along with Burger King was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in the year 1988. This proved to be a turning point for the company as the restructuring and the resulting changes affected by Grand Metropolitan resulted in Burger King’s growth and expansion. Over the years, the brand has changed multiple hands, eventually ending up with TPG Capital and 3G Capital. The menu of Burger King is similar to McDonald’s with both brands offering similar flavor burgers, French fries, and drinks.
- Being fast-food restaurants, it comes as no surprise that both brands offer French fries on their menu. As globally popular as this fried bit of potato is, the difference is in the consistency of flavor. Over the years, Burger King has continuously introduced changes in the way they cook their fries as well as the shape. Unfortunately, not all the attempts have been successful. McDonald’s on the other hand, has maintained an operational consistency in the cooking, seasoning, shape, and cutting of their fries earning the moniker – ‘crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.’ This is the reason McDonald’s has always been ruling the market with their French fries. Both brands offer options in available sizes of the product, however, differing in quantity.
- Both the brands are known for their burgers and each has its loyal customer base. However, when it comes to burger preparation, consistency, and coordination is the key ingredient. McDonald’s sesame seed plump bun accompanied with the burger patty, slivered onions, mustard, cheese, and pickles, all brought together with just the right balance and seasoning rates just a tad bit higher than Burger King’s slightly smaller burger bun. What also makes the difference is the out-of-balance ratio of the pickles, onion, patty, and sauces. The brand needs to be attentive to the quality consistency as well as the seasoning of their patty.
- This is another crowd pleaser as chicken nuggets are one of the best and in-demand breakfast menus in both these outlets. Both brands have succeeded in creating chicken nuggets that are succulent and flavorsome. However, Burger King’s ghost pepper chicken began trending worldwide as it was released in the year 2021. This particular flavor of chicken nuggets by Burger King scores higher than the chicken nuggets from McDonald’s.
- As far as the menu goes, a 2022 survey states that the customer service provided by Burger King is outstanding as is their customer engagement and their advertisements are highly entertaining. These are backed up by improved and consistent burgers and fries. On the other hand, McDonald’s menu offers many healthier options and serves better coffee and drinks than Burger King. Suffice it to say, that both brands serve some common items on their menu while differing in tastes. While one brand may be doing better than the other in terms of business, both brands rank high as the top fast-food restaurant chains.
- McDonald’s and Burger King are both global fast-food giants enjoying high popularity and demand. Additionally, being in the fast-food industry gives a certain amount of insulation against business irrelevancy. As time passes, both these brands will continue to compete against each other, no doubt coming up with menu items that will continue to tantalize customers’ taste buds.
Which fast food chain has a larger global presence: Burger King or McDonald's?
- McDonald's has a larger global presence compared to Burger King.
Which fast food chain has a long history, with the first restaurant opening earlier: Burger King or McDonald's?
- McDonald's has a longer history and opened its first restaurant earlier than Burger King. McDonald's was founded in 1940. On the other hand, Burger King was founded in 1954.
When was Ronald McDonald clown introduced?
- Ray Kroc introduced the Ronald McDonald clown in 1963.