CX Case Study: Honest Burgers

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Anyone who knows me probably knows three things about me:

1.     I support Arsenal

2.     I‘ve never drunk tea or coffee (but I do like Whisky)

3.     I spend an awful lot of time on trains.

But now, I think there’s a fourth thing to add to the list: I really, really love Honest Burgers.

I’d never heard of them before we moved to our new office in Kings Cross in 2017. But as luck would have it, the restaurant was right opposite our office. In fact, should there ever be a fire alarm, Honest Burgers is actually our meeting point. It’s strange how often we have fire drills.

At first, it was a handy meeting place with colleagues and clients. A nice restaurant, close by, with good food and quick service. But as I started going more regularly, I started learning more about the company and realised how much of what they do is what other companies aspire to. In particular – aside from the excellent burgers – there are three things I love: they’re authentic, they’re flexible, and they’re transparent.

Authentic

When you walk into the Honest Burgers in Kings Cross, you’ll notice the walls are filled with photos. Not staged shots or mass-produced prints, but photos taken by the team, of the team. The people serving you are the people in the selfies, having fun at work, and often showing what goes on behind the scenes.

The team themselves are lovely. There’s no uniform, no script, and no uncomfortable formality. They dress how they want, and the music always seems to be whatever playlist they fancied putting on that day. When they’re not busy, they seem to be enjoying each other’s company, chatting or sharing a drink behind the bar whilst they wait for someone to need their help, creating a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

When we all returned to the office after the Covid lockdowns, the team seemed genuinely happy to see us. The first time we went in (to pick up a collection), we had a long chat, about how they were, how it had been for them, and how it had affected the business. When we got back into the office and opened the bag of food, this note was inside. There was something in my eye…

Flexible

As well as the menu staples, each restaurant has a ‘local’ special, only available in that place. The special usually has something to do with the local area. Recently I went to the Baker St branch, and their special was a collaboration with a local cheese shop, La Fromagerie. It’s a sign that the owners haven’t forgotten their own roots from Brixton market, cycling to Baker Street for their beef and buying their potatoes from the local veg shop opposite.

More than that, they’re also flexible with the menu they do have, which I know because – and here comes the admission – I have a *slightly* strange order.

Honest Burgers were one of the first places in the UK to offer the Beyond Meat ‘vegan’ burger, as part of their Plant Burger. I loved it immediately. It tasted good, but it also felt better, felt lighter, and didn’t leave you needing an afternoon nap.

The only problem is, I really love bacon. So, the next time I tried it, I order the ‘vegan’ plant burger, but with real bacon. After a quick double-check to make sure I knew what I was ordering, it turned up, no problem. And now, every time I go in, they ask me if I want my usual.

This might not seem like that big a deal, but I’ve tried this in a few other restaurants with limited success. Some tell me it’s not possible. Others feel the need to check multiple times. And in nearly every case, I either end up with vegan bacon (horrific) or the bacon on the side in a dish, because the chef cannot accept this can be a real combination someone actually wants.

Transparent

So, the people are great, and the service is great. But that doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by having a culture of openness and empowerment, a leadership team that’s connected to its customers and to its suppliers, that takes a broader perspective on what matters and is ambitious to be as good as it can be.

Step forward Honest Burgers’ ‘Honest Farming’ (which I heard about by reading a booklet on one of the tables).

As the owners said:

‘When your name’s Honest Burgers, there’s a lot to live up to. We’ve always worked hard to do the right thing by our suppliers, our customers and our teams. And, after ten years, we thought we’d got beef covered. We were doing the best we could. Until we realised we weren’t… We realised the only way we can genuinely do something about our carbon footprint is by fixing the stuff that guzzles the most carbon in the day-to-day business of running our restaurants. For us, that’s meat.’

They now have set farmers they work with (all of whom you can see on their website). They buy the whole cow from them, giving the farmers a steady, long-term income to invest in more sustainable farming techniques and knowledge of where their meat is going to. They sell the bits of meat they don’t need to other restaurants, ensuring there’s no food wasted.

They’ve taken the time to build deep, trusted relationships with those farmers:

‘One of the highlights of changing how we work with farmers is hosting groups of our farmers at our restaurants. The result of all their hard work is on the plate in front of them and we can thank them properly for everything they’re doing to get it there. It matters to us that we look after the people we work with beyond our teams in the restaurants. We just didn’t think about it enough before, but we are now.’

This transparency goes further, too. At a time when organisations are putting pressure on customers to make sustainable choices and work out their own carbon footprint, Honest Burgers do the work for them, with every restaurant showing exactly where the potatoes have come from, and how far they’ve travelled.

Clearly, in writing this I’m hoping to get either a) free burgers for life or b) a seat or burger named after me in the Kings Cross restaurant. But failing that, I hope it shows other organisations how simple it can be to create a great experience for your customers, colleagues, and suppliers if you empower your team and are open about how you work.

And if you’re not happy to let your colleagues be themselves, or to tell your customers what goes on behind the scenes, then you need to ask – what aren’t you being honest about?

Thanks for reading this article, I really hope you enjoyed it. You can subscribe to my monthly newsletter below, and find me in tweet form @johnjsills, in picture form on Instagram @CX_Stories, or in work mode at The Foundation

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