4food, a new fast-food restaurant opening in early September on East 40th Street and Madison Avenue in New York, aims to improve the burger joint experience by pulling in the components that have made the likes of Apple, Google, and Facebook so successful.
Update: A slide was removed at the request of one of the people in the photograph due to privacy concerns.
At 4food, nothing is static. The digital menu displays not only a list of recommended burgers, but also the most-ordered user-devised burger concepts submitted through the 4food Web site and saved in the system. Every time someone orders a user-created burger, the person who originally devised it receives 25 cents in store credit.
4food staffers walk around the store with iPads to take customers' orders for custom burgers. Patrons can select bread, meat, filling for the donut-like hole in the middle of the burger, and toppings. Combinations will ultimately permit over 140 million possible burgers.
Order a burger at 4food, and your receipt will come with a Wi-Fi password, naturally. The three levels of seating have power outlets at every seat, too.
Not to be outdone, 4food's back wall is partially taken up by a massive video screen that displays a rotating lineup of information about the establishment, Zen-worthy audiovisuals and--of course--related tweets and Foursquare check-ins.
4food customers are invited to build burgers and pay online before actually showing up, to speed up the in-store process. The price goes up and down based on the addition and removal of ingredients, with a low point of about $5.
Perhaps the most ambitious gimmick of the 4food experience is to create a profile and log burgers that you've saved and named so that other patrons can order them--and you'll get 25 cents in store credit. Burger creators are encouraged to spread the word via Facebook and Twitter, and even to create guerilla YouTube ads for their burgers.
Your intrepid reporter invented "The Jetsetter," a consciously pretentious salmon burger on brioche topped with a melange of Brussels sprouts, gruyere cheese, hummus, and lettuce. It costs a total of $6, which is expensive as far as burgers go overall but not too bad by New York standards.
It was, in all honesty, extremely tasty. But it's a big question mark as to whether 4food can keep up enough demand to offset the obvious costs of cutting-edge tech, high-quality ingredients, and green initiatives, not to mention a big flagship location in pricey midtown Manhattan. Idealism, after all, isn't a business model in itself.