Open Letter To Five Guys

five-guys-burger-and-fries-2.jpg

I recently went to one of my favorite fast food joints, Five Guys.

If Five Guys was a Youngling & Feynman client looking to grow their revenue, here’s what our advice would be:

  1. Improve the choice architecture by including 2 burger names and 2 shake names on the menu.

  2. Use marketing to permanently change the context in which FGs is perceived, from expensive fast food to cheap alternative to things like sushi.

Most of y’all are aware that we promote the possibility of massive impact by tiny changes, which is why these two ideas are ones we’d investigate first.

Why Your Business Needs More Weird Ideas — Essay Series.

Most people agree that the quality of Five Guys is significantly higher than any other burger joint.

From their renowned cajun fries to their high-quality burgers, their top-notch milkshakes, and free refills.

And literally, everything is customizable.

I did some quick combinatorics.

There are 16.368 distinct ways to order a hotdog, burger or sandwich.

6 ways to order the fries.

2040 distinct ways to order a milkshake.

And, if you limit yourself to at most 2 flavors of the soda machine then that’ll give you 559 distinct ways to create a soda.

That’s a lot of choice.

In order to make it manageable, they’ve broken it up into a few big categories. 

But I think there are still a few problems with the choice architecture.

This is always half art half science which we wrote about in The Art Of Business, Where Science And Business Depart.

But from personal experience, what I am most frustrated with is the process of ordering a burger or a milkshake.

There are 15 toppings for burgers.

And there are 8 milkshakes flavors that you can mix and match, along with 3 toppings.

This creates problems (and thus lowers revenue) for two types of customers:


The first one is a person who gets overwhelmed by all this choice and therefore just chooses inaction.

It’s very possible that this customer is now lost to a KFC or McDonalds due to cognitive overload. 

The phenomenon that too much choice decreases satisfaction and can lead to overwhelm and inaction is known as the choice paradox, coined by Professor Barry Schwartz.

The problem is that you don’t necessarily get this data because you don’t know that you lost that customer to a competitor if they didn’t come in.

This creates a survivorship bias in your data.

The second type of customer is the one who’s just lazy.

I know what I want by now but I don’t want to list 7 toppings I want on my burger and 5 things I want in my shake.

It’s not just laziness though. 

You really need to take cognitive load into account. There are reasons that some multi-billion dollar companies are built on nothing more than removing 1 step of friction out of a process. Instacart, Dollar Shave Club, Facebook and so on.

And there’s a reason that the person who puts his guitar in the living room when trying to learn to play the guitar is much more likely to develop the habit of practicing than the person who leaves it in the attic.

But there’s also menu stress. 


Those of you that follow Youngling & Feynman on Instagram are familiar with this concept.

It refers to the increase of stress and anxiety when you are ordering and you feel the piercing eyes of people waiting in line and you can practically hear them thinking ‘’Sweet baby jezus… this idiot literally had 10 minutes to think about what he wanted to order! For the love of all that is holy can you please hurry up!’’.

Well, if you’re standing there and haven’t quite decided yet what toppings you want on your burger and you now go through that 16K choice combination and the stress turns you into a bumbling buffoon… that’s not a fun experience.*

Of course, I’m exaggerating but you catch my drift.

The solution is quite simple.

You just add two burgers and two shakes to the menu.

This solves the problem for both customers.

The first customer who actually values low cognitive load over customizability can just order the Youngling burger.

These are also the types of people who prefer buying what everyone else is buying so if you run a restaurant with a large menu, try putting an asterisk next to an item which says something like ‘our special’ or ‘our customers love this’.

And the second customer who can now say: ‘’Give me the Youngling burger but with jalapenos instead of mushrooms.’’

*I’ve long recommended electronic screens to eliminate this process. McDonald’s has begun implementing those in pretty much all stores. The reason they work so well IMO has much less to do with the obvious ‘’waiting in line’’ but rather menu stress. You can now browse without feeling like you’re bothering anyone.

It’ll take some iterations to find the optimal Youngling burger but you can just look at your data on the toppings most often ordered and split test some ideas.

The second hypothesis I’d suggest testing is to change the context in which Five Guys is presented.

I constantly hear people saying it’s expensive.

Ever notice how the same ppl complaining that a $2 app is expensive while they’re on their iPhone wearing Yeezies.

Expensive is relative and I can prove it.

You go shopping and see a really expensive coat. But it’s so gratuitously expensive that you decide not to buy it.

The next day, your partner decides to secretly buy you that coat from your joint bank account and gives it to you as a surprise gift.

How’d you feel? Over the moon? Exactly.

Same coat, same money... Yet the act of it becoming a gift changed everything. Context matters to humans. Not machines.. but we aren’t machines!

So I’d change the context.

Instead of having people compare it to other fast food places, which is why it seems more expensive, I’d change the context.

You can’t compare a large menu from McD straight to FG because you get more than double the fries, the burger is much bigger and you get free refills.

So when people are comparing McD to FG it’s not an honest and accurate comparison.

If you don’t eat that much it’s fine. But if you order sides at McD because the menus aren’t that big, then you probably wouldn’t do that at FG.

So that’s a more fair comparison and decreases that price gap.

Now you’re looking at a difference of maybe $4 instead of $8.

But I’d stay away from the fast-food comparison completely.

Instead of trying to change the frame from expensive fast food to ‘Actually, only slightly more expensive if you compare it correctly!’, I’d change the context from expensive fast food to cheap dinner for two.

I’d use marketing to get people to subconsciously compare it to things like all you can eat sushi or takeaway sushi

There are situations where you’re doubting between grabbing sushi, pizza or burgers.

By stressing that via marketing, FGs can get away from the expensive fast food frame and be viewed as a 50% cheaper version (compared to sushi) to spend some quality time with a friend.

So the TLDR is this:

1. Experiment with a little tweak to the choice architecture.

2. Experiment with using marketing to permanently change the context in which FG’s is perceived.

RJ Youngling