Movers and shakers: a history of Burger King in the UK

Burger King is one of the largest fast food chains in Britain. Burger King entered the UK market in 1974 but struggled to develop scale until it was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1989. Grand Metropolitan purchased the Wimpy hamburger chain and converted its outlets to the Burger King fascia. Later expansion came when Granada began to convert its roadside Little Chef branches to Burger King from 1996.

Early expansion in the UK
Burger King was established in Florida in 1953. Burger King was the third-largest fast food chain in the world by the 1970s, behind only McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

McDonald’s had entered the British market in 1974 and Burger King soon followed, with its first outlet established on Coventry Street in central London from 1976.

Burger King planned to aim at a higher quality market than McDonald’s. Its range of products included the Whopper burger as well as fries, milkshakes and apple pies.

Burger King established its first restaurant outside London in Reading, Berkshire, in 1982, to take its total number of outlets to nine.

One of the earliest franchisees was Management Agency and Music, a record company co-owned by singers Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck.

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Burger King UK suffered from heavy losses in its early stages. The European operations headquarters were relocated from Zurich in Switzerland to London in 1983.

Expansion continued at a slow but steady rate: there were 14 outlets, including three drive-through locations, by 1987.

Burger King acquired eight Quick hamburger sites from Whitbread for around £7 million in 1988.

Wimpy acquisition and further expansion
Like many of the American fast food chains, Burger King struggled to succeed in the UK until it found a British partner. Burger King’s American parent company was acquired by the London-based hospitality company Grand Metropolitan in 1989.

Grand Metropolitan acquired the British-based Wimpy Hamburger business, and converted 150 counter-service Wimpy outlets to the Burger King fascia. With 180 outlets, Burger King now had scale in Britain, which offered significant economies for the business.

Burger King offered faster service, a wider product range, and better training for staff than Wimpy.

Burger King had 250 restaurants across Britain by 1994. New sites were developed at out of town locations.

Roadside services operator Granada introduced Burger King branches at its 24 sites in 1995. Granada discovered that converting a Little Chef into a Burger King had the potential to double sales.

Burger King had 465 outlets in the UK by 1997. The company held 15 percent of the British burger restaurant market by 1999. Following this period of expansion, the chain was to effectively stagnate for the next twenty years.

Burger King was implied in the horsemeat scandal of 2013, when its own investigation revealed that “trace amounts” of horse DNA were discovered in meat from its supplier in Ireland. The company immediately terminated its contract with the supplier.

Bridgepoint and Caspian Group acquired Burger King UK in 2017.

There are 530 Burger King outlets in the UK in 2021, with the vast majority operated by franchisees.

Burger King UK announced plans to list on the London Stock Exchange with a value of £600 million in 2021.

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