I went to Burger King for the first time in 19 years — I can see why it’s losing out to McDonald’s

Burger King Newcastle
I went to a Burger King in Newcastle city center, and it was very quiet for a Saturday night.
  • I went to Burger King for the first time since 2002.
  • The chain's been rolling out plant-based and gourmet burgers to lure in more customers.
  • The restaurant I went to was pretty quiet but the McDonald's just around the corner was heaving.
I last went to Burger King on the way back from a family holiday in 2002, when the chain was giving out "Jimmy Neutron" toys.
Customers line up at a Burger King drive-through window June 12, 2001 at a restaurant in Federal Heights, Colorado
A photo of a Burger King in Federal Heights, Colorado, in 2001.
My parents didn't take me to fast-food chains often as a child, and as I got older, my friends preferred to go to McDonald's when they fancied something quick to eat or after a night out. This was because it was cheaper and there are more McDonald's restaurants in the UK.
A McDonald's restaurant sign is seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Del Mar, California April 16, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A McDonald's restaurant sign is seen at a McDonald's restaurant in Del Mar, California
But I went to Burger King in November to try out its plant-based Whopper, breaking my 19-year spell by visiting the chain for only the second time. Burger King unveiled a new logo earlier this year, but the restaurant I went to in Newcastle, northern England, hadn't updated its yet.
Burger King Newcastle
I went to a Burger King in Newcastle city center.

Source: Insider

What I did notice, though, was the stripes around the bottom of the store windows, designed to look like its flagship Whopper burger.
Burger King Newcastle
I went to a Burger King in Newcastle city centre.
I went at around 7 p.m. on a Saturday night. The McDonald's right round the corner was rammed full. But Burger King — arguably tucked slightly further away from Newcastle's main shopping and drinking areas — was very quiet.
Burger King Newcastle
I went to a Burger King in Newcastle city center, and it was very quiet for a Saturday night.
A few people were sat down eating, but most seemed to be standing around waiting to collect their orders.
Burger King Newcastle
I did, however, see a few delivery drivers come in to collect orders.
Burger King Newcastle
Burger King was heavily promoting its vegan burgers in store, as well as its halloumi fries. Fast-food chains have been competing for a bigger share of the plant-based market, and McDonald's recently launched its McPlant in the UK.
Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper
I tried Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper.

Source: Insider, Insider

There was also a sign advertising its two new "gourmet" burgers, which the company rolled out in October. Its focus on plant-based and gourmet food suggested that it was trying to move away from its image as just another cheap fast-food joint.
Burger King Newcastle

Source: Insider

Though the burgers were more expensive than at McDonald's, one advantage Burger King did have was a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine with unlimited soft drinks. But I got my food to-go, so it seemed like I was paying for something I couldn't use.
Burger King Newcastle
You could order at a cashier but the restaurant had a lot of digital kiosks, too.
Burger King Newcastle
Burger King's digital kiosks.

Source: Insider

The prices were considerably higher than for comparable meals at McDonald's. Like at other fast-food chains, I noticed that Burger King was encouraging customers to order its burgers as part of a meal with fries and a drink ...
Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper
Burger King's digital kiosks.
... or add extra toppings. I was surprised that adding bacon was a suggested customization for the plant-based Whopper.
Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper
Burger King's digital kiosks.

Source: Insider

As you'd expect from a fast-food chain, the service was really quick ...
Burger King Newcastle
I went to a Burger King in Newcastle city centre.
... but I looked around the restaurant while I waited. Despite the retro orange and brown color palette, the interior seemed quite modern.
Burger King Newcastle
I went to a Burger King in Newcastle city centre.
Burger King started revamping some of its stores in 2021, and the Newcastle restaurant looked nothing like the mock-ups for its new design.
Burger King
Burger King is revamping its restaurants.

Source: Insider

The redesigned restaurants will have a designated section for "walk up" orders ...
Walk up Burger King
Burger King is revamping its restaurants.

Source: Insider

... as well as designated food lockers for customers who order on Burger King's app. More advance orders could have helped reduce congestion at the Newcastle store I went to, where people were standing around waiting for their orders to be ready.
Burger King

Sources: Insider, Insider

I liked how my burger came wrapped in paper, making it easier to eat on-the-go, unlike other fast-food companies that serve their take-out burgers in boxes.
McDonald's McPlant Burger King plant-based vegan Whopper
I tried Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper.
I'd never had a Whopper before. When it arrived, my plant-based Whopper was much larger than expected.
Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper
I tried Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper.
The burger came with lettuce, onion, ketchup, tomato, vegan mayo, and pickles. Its patty tasted a little more meaty and barbecuey than McDonald's vegan McPlant burger. The fries, however, disappointed me. While they were chunkier than the ones at McDonald's, the portion was smaller and they weren't as salty.
Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper
I tried Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper.

Source: Insider

Interestingly, Burger King classes its meat-free Whopper as plant-based but not vegan. This is because, while the patty is plant-based, it's cooked on the same broiler as its meat namesake.
Vegan plant-based Whopper
I tried Burger King's Plant-Based Whopper.

Source: Insider

McDonald's has around 1,300 restaurants in the UK, while Burger King has just over 500. Globally, McDonald's has close to 40,000 restaurants and Burger King has nearly 19,000.
McDonald's Westminster
There are 20 McDonald's restaurants within a two-mile radius of Westminster.

Sources: McDonald's, BBC, McDonald's, Restaurant Brands International

And none of the Burger King restaurants in Newcastle city center appeared to be open 24 hours. A staff member told me that the one I went to closes at 10 p.m. each day.
Burger King worker
A Burger King worker in Putrajaya, Malaysia.
McDonald's, in comparison, has a lot of 24-hour restaurants in Newcastle. And in a city famed for its nightlife, this seems to make sense.
McDonald's opening times
McDonald's locations in Newcastle.
At McDonald's, comparable total global sales were up 12.7% in the third quarter compared with 7.9% at Burger King, including a drop in the chain's comparable US sales.
Burger King London
A Burger King in London.

Sources: McDonald's, Restaurant Brands International

I was impressed by my plant-based Whopper, but how deserted the Newcastle restaurant was on a Saturday night shows how people are shunning the chain in favor of cheaper deals at McDonald's.
Burger King Newcastle
I went to a Burger King in Newcastle city centre.
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