13 May 2019

'Third Wave' Burgers and the Macca's dilemma

| Alex Tricolas
Brodburger. This is Canberra

Judging by the amount of new burger joints opening up, it’s fair to say that we are getting perilously close to attaining Peak Burger in this town. Just last week, Grease Monkey opened on Lonsdale Street, and plans are afoot for a new burger place right across the road.

Beyond that, there is hardly a kitchen in casual and not-so-casual eateries these days that isn’t offering a version of this humble sandwich; from Smoque, Brodburger and Lonsdale Street Roasters to hatted restaurants like Capitol Bar and Grill. And let’s not forget franchises like Grill’d, or the more traditional–and perhaps most honest–offer of the local take-away.

Of course, it isn’t just happening here. Some of the biggest names in Australia’s food scene have been getting in on the act for longer than our guys. Take a look at any list of burger restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne and we are talking serious burger fetish. At some point we are bound to get burger fatigue (or at the very least burger fat) but at the moment this trend seems to be unabated.

In the meantime, McDonalds, that giant of corporate franchise burger offers is retreating. Globally, they are shutting down more stores than they are opening, and completely getting out of some markets. Here in Australia, they are desperately trying to reinvent themselves with a more ‘gourmet’ version of the Golden Arches aimed at pegging back lost ground.

Their latest offer is indicative of the kind of soul searching that must be going on at Macca’s HQ, with the marketing folks thinking it a good idea to announce that their latest burger, served on a wooden board of all things, is ‘very unMcDonalds.’ Things must be getting pretty hairy if you need to crap on your own brand, right?

If we were to compare what is happening in the burger world with the coffee game, there is much similarity with the Starbucks brand’s capitulation in Australia recently, and perhaps good cause to define this trend–as the coffee world has done–by labelling the new burger movement as ‘Third Wave.’ Locally sourced free range and organic meats, milk buns, brioche buns and sourdough, house-made condiments et al.

Like the original coffee shop, the humble take-away could be categorised as ‘First Wave.’ Nothing pretentious–just a decent bun and pattie with all the salad accompaniments and extras at a reasonable price (beetroot, I love you).

Macca’s–like Starbucks–lands squarely in the corporate landscape of the ‘Second Wave.’ Served fast, with ingredients from dubious sources (and sauces), acquisition of every possible corner that remotely resembles a good location and massive marketing that includes a creepy clown to threaten kids with if they don’t eat their dinner… (Oh hang on; he’s not there to scare them? Who would have known?)

When all is said and done though, I really wish McDonalds would just stick to what they know. Fast, easy, open at weird hours, and tasty. Yes, tasty! The beauty of Macca’s is no secret. It’s something you do on occasion because it’s two in the morning and you’re on your way home and to hell with the taxi metre running while you decide on nuggets or fries; or the kids just finished their Saturday sport and this is a safe and kid friendly place to have lunchtime wrapped up.

World domination of the hamburger market may have been their ultimate goal, but times have changed and McDonalds may have to just accept a smaller piece of the pie. The piece of the pie that’s earmarked for what they do best. All this reinvention just reeks of some kind of subterfuge, coming off as the height of pretence. I don’t want Macca’s to be my go-to place for healthy food, and I don’t want Macca’s to define my lifestyle with their pseudo hipsterism–but sometimes, I really, really just want a Big Mac!

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