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Five Guys: Good, But Not the King

Isaac Stein ’12
Staff Writer

After Totally Kool went “totally out of business,” the arrival of a burger chain at 534 Post Road East was definitely something to be welcomed.

After Burger King left the Westport area a few years ago, McDonalds was given unquestioned domain over the local hamburger market.

Unfortunately. Capitalist economists say that a lack of competition leads to an inferior end product.

Being a burger aficionado myself, I’ve been waiting for years for a serious competitor to knock McDonalds and its salty hamburgers off their high horse.

Therefore, I was overjoyed when I learned that Five Guys Burgers and Fries was the new restaurant selected to fill the competitive void.

Over this past summer, I took a trip to Virginia. So, like some other Westport residents, I’ve had prior encounters with the food of this D.C.- based chain.

My experiences in the Mid- Atlantic led me to one conclusion – Five Guys produced better hamburgers than any other chain restaurant I’ve ever been to. The meat was uniformly fresh, the bread had a crisp texture, and the toppings were all free. Beyond this, the restaurants themselves were kept immaculately clean.

It has been said that the Roman Empire collapsed because it expanded too far, too quickly. Unfortunately, I find the Five Guys Empire guilty of the same failing tactic.

When I stood in line a few weeks ago at the Westport variant of Five Guys, I noticed that the only aspects of my D.C. experience kept intact were the pricing and free toppings.

When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the long wraparound line to order. At least 30 people stood in front of me, and each person was taking at least a few minutes to have their order processed. It was going to be a long wait.

As I progressed slowly through the line, I noticed Five Guys’ all-too-apparent décor. Propaganda posters proclaiming how the chain has “The Best Five-Dollar Burger a Man Can Eat” were a bit strange. If this restaurant really is better than its competitors, why would it feel a necessity to boast?

As I sat down at a nearby table to unwrap my grilled prize, Irealized that my feet were making crunching sounds on the floor. As I looked down, pounds upon pounds of discarded peanut shells littered the sticky surface. Not really appetizing before a big meal.

The burger itself was quite good – just not as good as I thought it would be. It was hot, and the beef definitely had good flavor, but the bun was soggy and they went a bit heavy on the grease.

I say this not just because the patties were oily, but also because the wrapper was drenched. The fries were sub-par, but they’re mostly irrelevant because a burger joint should be judged based on its hamburgers, not its fries.

Aside from the mediocre fries, long waits, and unsanitary eating conditions, I still enjoy Westport’s spin on a Five Guys burger. It definitely serves the purpose of tasting better than McDonald’s. However, it is quite disturbing that Five Guys totes its food as a value.

Five dollars for a hamburger isn’t really a value, no matter how you put it. Five Guys claims on its website that “[its employees] do not discount the price of their product because they are unwilling to sacrifice the quality of [their] product.”

At an eating establishment where it is quite easy to drop $15 on lunch for hamburgers and a drink, the quality claim is a bit over the top. I’m willing to pay a premium for truly great food in a nice setting, but not if both of those conditions aren’t met.

Despite the arrival of a Westport restaurant that actually serves tasty food, better burger value can be found in neighboring Norwalk. Burger King, which now offers two Whopper™ sandwiches for $4, definitely has the edge price-wise on Five Guys. For 40 percent of the cost, the customer also gets significantly more beef by weight.

In terms of taste: if BK wasn’t good, it couldn’t call itself the King.

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  • F

    five guys employeeJun 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    how are peanut shells on the floor not sanitary? you said there were prob 30 people in line which means they were really busy and dont have time to sweep the floor. if you went back after the rush the floor would have been clean. also, its the customers that put the shells on the floor. five guys does not advertise so of course they can boast all they want within their store. five guys is better than the king.

  • C

    Captain ObviousMar 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    @ jeff: You sir, are an idiot!

  • J

    jeffMar 12, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    say what? Burger king better than FIVE GUYS? you must be joking. Are you? Is this a joke, or a real article?