Just over a month ago I decided to go check out South Africa’s very first Burger King. It had been about two months since it had opened and so I figured “Sure, it’s a Saturday, but the hype must have died down by now.”

My mistake.

Burger King South Africa queue
Really people? It’s a Saturday and this is what you’re doing?

A buddy who was with me took one look at the queue and said to us “Yup, that’s about a three hour wait.” He’d already had the pleasure of walking past Burger King’s two very meaty bouncers (yes, they had security) a couple of weeks earlier when his bosses had told him and a couple of his co-workers to go pick up some food for them. When he arrived he saw the queue was about the same as it was now and asked himself whether he’d rather be sitting at his desk or standing in this queue. They all decided to join the queue.

One hour later they were still waiting.

At this point they felt that they’d waited this long, they may as well wait until they get in (the sunken cost fallacy is hard at work here). Three hours later, they finally made it through the doors. They placed their orders, waited a few minutes, collected their orders and returned to work. After three hours of queuing, they expected the burgers to be great. Unfortunately, even though the burgers were pretty good, they all agreed the burgers weren’t worth the three hour wait.

So today another friend of mine mentioned something about Burger King and I wondered if the queue was still going to be as monstrous as it was the last time I popped by. There was only one way to find out.

After work I sauntered over with the intention of scouting the place out. As I got to the area where Burger King was located, I expected to turn the corner and see a queue snaking out the door, the bouncers standing ready to apply a beat down to anyone who tried to cut in. I stepped around the corner and what do I see?

Surprisingly, nothing. No queue. I hurried closer expecting the place to be packed inside. There were quite a few people sitting down and eating but the queue was pleasantly short. Only four other people were waiting. My mission was no longer simply recon. I took a quick glance at their menu and ordered a medium Whopper meal, which seemed to be their standard burger combo. R39.90 ($4) later the cashier told me that I could get my bottomless drink from around the corner.

Burger King Whopper meal
This is pretty much what it looks like.

I made my way there to see what was on offer. Now if you’re a big fan of the local soft drinks, you may not be entirely happy. Burger King offers the less well known drinks like Pepsi (yes, Pepsi is quite hard to find in South Africa), Mirinda, Mountain Dew, and 7 Up. You won’t find Coke, Fanta, Sprite, or anything like that.

Soft drinks at burger king
These drinks, and a couple of others, were on offer in bottomless form.

While I was still deciding what I was going to have I heard the number “254” being called out. Hey, that was my order! Less than three minutes had passed since I left the cashier. Fast food hadn’t been that fast since McDonalds first opened in South Africa and they had that “one minute or you get it free” deal going.

I popped back around the corner, grabbed my food, and headed back to the drinks machine. I decided to try a bit of the Mirinda (it’s similar to Fanta Orange) which I’d last had when I was in India, which was many, many years ago. I found a place to sit upstairs which was less busy, and had a TV. Unfortunately the TV was playing football (soccer) but considering I was on my own it was better than watching the paint dry. I tasted the chips and was immediately reminded of McDonald’s fries. I quite like McD’s fries so this wasn’t a problem. I pulled out my Whopper (get your mind out of the gutter) and took a bite. It was pretty much what I expected. Tasty, but not mind-blowing. The Mirinda was OK. Not exactly my thing, but I had only poured myself half a cup anyway so I was quite happy to finish it.

My buddy who had waited three hours to get in had said to me that the food was reasonably priced, and was better than McDonald’s but not quite on the same level as Steers. For the most part, I have to agree with him. The Whopper was about as tasty as Steers’ mid-range burgers. But here’s the thing: Steers combo meals are usually quite expensive. To get something similar from Steers I’d probably have paid at least R10 more than what I paid at Burger King. There was also the fact that bottomless drinks are standard with Burger Kings’ meals which is nice, even if you’re like me and you don’t return to the drinks machine. The only thing about that might make this point irrelevant is if you don’t like any of the drinks on offer.

My final verdict? Overall I was quite happy with the R40 I spent on lunch. Service was quick, the food was good (but not amazing) and it just feels nice having the option to go help myself to another drink if I feel like it.

Just so people can understand how Burger King fits into the Grand Scheme of Take-out (TM), here’s my thoughts on how Burger King weighs up against other fast food joints in South Africa:

1st) Nandos

NandosLet’s not beat around the bush here, Nandos is the best. I love Nandos! The food is great, the service is good, and I’ve never had a bad experience there. The only downside to Nandos is that it is quite expensive relative to Burger King. But the quality is better, and because it’s flame grilled it’s pretty healthy compared to most other fast food places. So overall Nandos higher prices are justifiable. If I’m not broke (or craving a Zinger burger) I’ll be at Nandos.

Tied for 2nd) Burger King

Burger KingYes, Burger King is now my 2nd choice if I’m tight on cash. Decent food and good service. I like the fact that they have bottomless drinks, even if this isn’t a major draw card for me since I’m not the kind of person that will actually drink more than one soft drink.

Tied for 2nd) KFC

KFCWhat? KFC! Yes, KFC is bad. I know this, and my body knows this. But I just love the Zinger burger, no matter what it does to my insides shortly after being ingested.

3rd) McDonalds

McDonaldsAt a push I’ll get McDonalds. It’s a little bit cheaper than Burger King, and occasionally I just feel like having one of their burgers.

4th) Steers

SteersYou’re probably wondering why Steers is so low on the list. Firstly, I’ve never really gotten over the fact that they got rid of their delicious Chicken Tikka burger. When I was a kid my dad used to get off work early and take us all to the Steers by our school so we could get Chicken Tikka burgers. This was one of my favourite burgers ever! Then for some reason they got rid of it.

Secondly, Steers is really inconsistent. Maybe it’s just me, but I can go to the same Steers twice and the same burger won’t taste quite the same as last time. Then there’s the fact that the taste of the food can vary depending on where you go. Sadly, this means Steers is my last resort when it comes to fast food. I’ll take a KFC Zinger burger over Steers any day of the week, because even though it might kill me, at least I’ll die with a smile on my face.

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