What do pricey burgers say about the economy?

Grill Next Door

If you've ever wondered about the spurt of interest in Canada over fancy burgers, the fallout from an event across the pond may provide some clues. British Finance Minister George Osborne was recently ridiculed for tweeting a picture of himself eating a posh burger.

The event serves to highlight a hamburger's role in the stratification of society.
It was the night before the big Spending Review, a government do that is essentially a fiscal checkup.

Seemingly hard at work, Osborne was pictured in a crinkled white shirt and appeared to be poring over some papers, complete with a burger and chips, cans of Diet Coke, coffee and water. Paints a pretty decent picture of a man working hard for the people, right?

Evidently not when the burger costs C$16 from posh burger joint, Byron, as the Sun newspaper revealed in a story titled "Shamburger." That story compared the fancier fast food to lower-priced McDonald's burgers at roughly $1.50 taxes in.

But The Economist, known for its Big Mac Index that uses a Big Mac to compare the relative strengths of different currencies, took it a step further by saying that posh burger can shine light on the "economic state of play," which it suggests is the burgernomics of fancy fast food.

Like Canada, Britain is in the grip of burger mania and lists upmarket chains like Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

"All offer fancier fare than McDonald’s, but are cheaper than dining at a full-service restaurant. And that is the basis of their appeal, as cash-strapped Britons — who enjoy eating out but have less to spend in these times of austerity and economic weakness — look for restaurants that are easier on the wallet," the Economist wrote.

The magazine went on to say the burgernomics of fancy fast-food also favour restaurant owners. "Burger joints have short, simple menus, which makes it quicker, easier and cheaper to deliver consistently good food. The relatively small number of ingredients reduces waste and makes it easier to buy in bulk, reducing costs," it says.

Osborne's tweet failed to stick with the masses. Instead of projecting a populist image, he came off as insensitive and out of touch with ordinary people. It was much buzzed-about for being a publicity stunt gone wrong. And it forced us to think about our station in life through the purchase of a hamburger.

"Mr. Osborne’s late-night take-away has thus provided a handy, if unwitting, encapsulation of Britain’s political and economic situation—and a further example of how the humble burger can make economic analysis more digestible," says the magazine.

Who knew a hamburger could reflect the state of recovering economies and societal inequality? Plausible argument for why burgers all of a sudden became fancy in Canada as well. Think hard over the past few years and recall those newspaper, magazine and online stories about the best burgers in the city. Think of that line up at, say, Burger's Priest in Toronto. (Did you have the Double Double cheeseburger or the Priest burger?)

And there are many more examples that show some hamburgers are surely being marketed to a more high-end customer rather than an average one. Compare, for a moment, Hero Certified Burger and Gourmet Burger Company with McDonald's, Harvey's and Burger King. You get the picture.

It all makes a little more sense now, thanks to Osborne. The rise of the fancy burger is a sign of the times.

In the Guardian, Osborne said that he was new to Twitter. "There I am working late on my speech, and I've got a takeaway hamburger, but it puts you on the front page of the Sun. It's an occupational hazard," he says. Maybe so, but the event wasn't completely wasteful.