Fast Food for Foodies: The Architecture of the Upscale Burger Joint

Zoe Cooper Zoe Cooper

In response to widespread criticism of the fast food industry, demand for higher-quality burgers has risen significantly. Consumers look for grass-fed, organic beef, made-to-order local ingredients, and artisanal condiments — and are willing to pay more for the experience. The taste for upscale hamburgers isn’t limited to the United States — restaurateurs all over the world have been quick to jump on the opportunity.

Eager to distinguish their businesses from traditional fast food chains, upscale hamburger restaurateurs turn to architects and designers to create their new brand. Perhaps the best-known example is New York food entrepreneur Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. Known for upscale restaurants including Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern, Meyer brought his commitment to quality ingredients and customer service to the fast food realm with Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. With the help of SITE Environmental Design and graphic-design powerhouse Pentagram, Shake Shack opened the market for diners in search of better burgers and has since opened over 60 locations around the world.

How have architects contributed to the concept of an upscale hamburger restaurant? What role can design play in challenging the traditional notion of hamburgers as calorie-heavy fast food? The following spaces have successfully convinced consumers that hamburgers can be a healthy, stylish meal choice:

Umami Burger by Preen, Inc., Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Umami Burger prides itself on serving house-ground beef, buns made with real butter, and a ketchup recipe that includes truffle oil as an ingredient, all in a hip, trendy atmosphere. In contrast to fast food chains that appeal to kids with jungle gyms and happy-meal marketing, Umami Burger entertains families with animal designs in the furniture and plantings.

GO Burger by CCS Architecture NY, New York

Located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the GO Burger space includes an elongated oak wood bar, intimate leather booths, and outdoor seating during the summer. This chic space event includes a separate dining room for private events.

Burger Bar Oval by FLEXO Arquitectura, Barcelona, Spain.

The chic and industrial-cool Bar Oval is Barcelona’s answer to upscale hamburger dining. Set in a renovated warehouse, the architects have stayed true to the space’s industrial character with a few updates. The orange window frames, brick walls painted white, and minimalist lighting fixtures give the restaurant a sophisticated feel.

FLIP Burger Boutiqueby ai3, Atlanta

Altanta’s FLIP Burger takes its name very seriously, from the inverted, or “flipped,” booths, to the act of grilling hamburgers themselves. Patrons can order a martini or margarita at the long bar a watch their burger being cooked. High energy graphics on the walls and funky furniture give the space a playful vibe.

Blanc Burgers by Clockwork Architecture and Design, Kansas City, Mo.

Home of the “Dark Truth” burger, Blanc Burgers is considered an early pioneer of the food and drink revolution in Kansas City, Mo. Located in the Westport district, best known for the Battle of Westport in the American Civil War, this space rebels against the dark wood tones typical of the area with a blank white space. The clean lines and hip furniture, as well as the French name, give the restaurant an air of sophistication. The menu features truffle oil and gouda cheese fries, homemade ketchup and mustard, and soda served in vintage bottles.

BurBaCa #1 Burger Bakery Cafe by Davide Coluzzi DAZ, Potenza, Italy

Set in the scenic southern Italian city of Potenza, BurBaCa #1 serves original American recipes with local Italian ingredients. The designers of the space have combined the traditional architecture of the area — complete with stained glass, wood paneling, and decorative ceramics — with faux leather seating typical of vintage American diners to create a atmosphere that feels like anything but a fast food joint.

Dee Lincoln Steak and Burger Bar by B.Russo Designs, Dallas

Located in Dallas, Dee Lincoln Steak and Burger Bar features abstract paintings, dark wood paneling, and a minimalist art installation made of wood. The gray walls, white subway tiles, and a stylish logo give this Texan burger bar an updated look.