I just paid my last visit to BurgerFi, the latest player to enter Central Florida’s resurgent burger market. Inasmuch as it was also my first visit to Park Avenue operation of the Delray-based chain, you can probably tell how things went.
BurgerFi joins other mid-level burger joints such as Five Guys and Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries, which I reviewed recently. I call them mid-level because they rise above the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, but they aren’t in the upscale category, such as you’d find at Fleming’s or Morton’s.
BurgerFi is certainly closer to the fast-fooders in its operation. It’s actually a fast-casual restaurant, one where you order at a counter and then take a seat to have your food delivered when ready. That part involves an interesting bit of technology. The checkout person hands the customer a device similar to a coaster-style pager like you might get at a full service restaurant to notify you when your table is ready. But rather than vibrating and lighting up to signify you should return to the host stand, the BurgerFi device lets the food runner know which table you’re sitting at so he or she can deliver your food.
The secret, apparently, is embedded in the mat in the center of each table. Guests are instructed to place the device on the mat, which somehow relays the location to the kitchen. Pretty cool.
But it was while I was waiting for the delivery of my burger, the “classic” cheeseburger, that the rest of the visit was clouded and, frankly, ruined.
I had taken one of the tables on the patio that has been fashioned in front of what was once the Orvis retails store at the lower end of Park Avenue. Both the patio and the rustic, picnic-like interior of the restaurant are decidedly downscale, but perfectly serviceable.
My table was close to a trash can -- they’re necessary, and the proximity didn’t bother me. What did bother me was that just before my food was delivered a young man who had apparently been assigned to service the trash cans approached carrying two large, already-loaded trash bags. Instead of placing then quietly on the ground, he held them high in the air and then let them drop, one then the other, so that they plopped and made a loud, trashy noise. It was the act of a petulant child who did not like chore he’d been assigned. He removed the trash bag from the patio can and then did the same high-level drop with that one.
It was at that moment that the runner arrived with my food. Seeing the look of awe on my face and noticing that I was simply shaking my head in disbelief, she asked if something was wrong. After I explained, she said she would mention something to him. Noting that she had little authority beyond bringing food to the tables, I suggested that a manager should be told. I added that I was not at all happy at that point.
Now, good servers learn to read the clues that a guest gives. They might notice a change in body language, or the sudden shift in attitude that might signal something is wrong. Then those good servers would act to rectify the situation.
However, when a guest says the words “I’m not happy” and “manager” in the same sentence, there is no need for lengthy analysis.
So while we wait for the manager to come over, let’s try the burger and fries.
From an appearance standpoint, the most notable thing about the burger is the bun, onto which has been stamped -- no, branded -- the name of the restaurant. I’m sure it’s meant to impress, but all I could think of was that to accomplish this little gimmick requires burning the bun. The burgers are a bit smallish, but the cheeseburger, which includes double angus patties, was sufficiently substantive meatwise. (The kitchen will not entertain requests to cook a burger to order -- it’s medium-well or nothing.) The burger had a slice of melted cheese and was topped with a leaf of iceberg lettuce that had more white than green surface color, and a nice slice of tomato. The only thing missing was flavor. There was none. There was no sensation of greasy meat juices, and no hint of any seasonings in the patties, not even salt. It wasn’t until I put some ketchup and mayonnaise on it -- both drawn into thimble-sized cups from industrial-sized pumps -- that there was any flavor at all.
And it was the same with the fries, an ample portion of thick-sliced, unpeeled potatoes. Good looking fries; zero taste.
It probably won’t surprise you that a manager never came over. Either the young woman didn’t tell a manager there was an unhappy customer or the manager didn’t care. I decided it was the former, and made another request to speak to someone in charge.
When I related what had happened, he apologized for the unpleasant experience. Then he asked me what I wanted. I suppose it’s a reality that many customers complain only with the goal of getting a free dessert, or having their entire meal reimbursed. Some of us have only the goal of seeing improved service and a more enjoyable dining experience for all. I told him I wanted nothing.
There was nothing about the experience that would make me want to go back. And certainly the food, which was overpriced at just under $10 for a burger and fries, doesn’t warrant putting up with being served by an army of untrained children.
BurgerFi is at 538 Park Ave. S., Winter Park. It's open for lunch and dinner daily. Here is a link to the BurgerFi website. The phone number is 407-622-2010.