This is the second time in the last two weeks I've read stories about the burger sleeve mask at Freshness Burger. While we go to Freshness Burger fairly often, we haven't seen anyone using the burger mask yet. The Freshness Burger at Hamamatsu Station didn't have them the last time I was there, but that was over a month ago. There's a chance they had them but no one was using one because no customers had bought any of the Classic Burgers.
Except I always order a Classic Cheeseburger and I didn't receive a sleeve mask. Maybe because I'm a dude.
I think the main reason the Classic Burger sales were flat (if they truly were) isn't that women are embarrassed to be seen eating them, it's because compared to your basic McDonald's or Mos Burger burger, a Classic Burger from Freshness is huge. As much as I love them-- they're the best chain burger you can get here in Hamamatsu-- I have to admit they're a bit awkward to eat. I have a pretty big mouth, too. I can easily imagine your average Japanese consumer not being able to come to grips, as it were, with a Classic Burger.
Also, in general, restaurant portion sizes tend to be smaller in Japan and a Classic Burger just might be a few grams or calories over what both women and men want here in Japan. If you talk to someone who's lived abroad there's a good chance you'll hear some variation on, "The difference between McDonald's in Japan and in America is our meals are smaller. Americans have bigger sodas." Is it true? I don't really think so, but I haven't gone around weighing burgers and checking soda volume at home and in Japan. It sounds good, so let's go with it. If you order a hamburger set at a Japanese McDonald's, you're getting a lightweight burger and a decent amount of French fries, but if you order a Classic Cheeseburger set at Freshness, you get a burger that's heavier than a Quarter Pounder and an order of thick wedge-cut fries with the skins still on them. It even fills me up, and I'm a decadent pig.
Freshness is a bit pricey, too. I've read business reports about McDonald's same store sales being down in Japan as well, but the McDonald's here still remain packed with customers during peak hours. Sometimes Freshness Burger is as well, but the prime location at the station is a pretty small restaurant so it may be a matter of perception. But if you want a cheap burger meal, McDonald's is the place to go. The point is, I'm pretty sure McDonald's has Freshness Burger beat as far as prices go, but there's no way they can compete in taste. That suggests people prefer paying less for things even if said things aren't quite as good as slightly more expensive things.
And finally, there's convenience. I can't imagine a more convenient location for a burger joint than right at the station, but there's also a McDonald's there, too. If you order at Freshness Burger, you have to take your drink and tray and a little plastic number and go sit down for a while before they come out with your basket of food. At McDonald's, you're halfway finished eating by that point. Unless you find yourself caught up in a crush of high schoolers, McDonald's is going to be your faster option. That means more time to catch the train, more time to shop at May One, more time to fiddle around with your cellphone. Okay, you can to the last at Freshness Burger while you wait, but you're still going to be in the restaurant for a while longer than you would be at the McDonald's.
Anyway, that's all anecdotal stuff. According to the report, Classic Burger sales are up 213% and Freshness Burger corporate seems to think the new burger sleeves get the credit.
Here's how I rank the burger chains--
1) Freshness Burger. Expensive, but the tastiest. They do seem to use fresher ingredients. The only drawback to the Classic Cheeseburger is they cook the onions and I prefer cold, crisp, raw onions on top of my hot beef burger patty. Freshness offers a delicious mushroom burger seasonally, too. It's a large mushroom cap turned upside down and filled with some kind of teriyaki sauce (I think) on a bun with veggies. Mmm! My wife favors Freshness' fat wedge fries above all others, too. Yes, they're good.
2) Mos Burger. They also bring your food to you in a basket, but they're a little cheaper than Freshness Burger. The Mos Burger teriyaki chicken sandwich isn't quite as good as the one at Freshness, but it's still a step up from the chicken filet sandwiches at McDonald's. I like Mos Fries, too, and you usually get them hot from the fryer. My favorite Mos Burger comes with a fat slice of tomato and some kind of chili topping, which is interesting from a taste-and-texture standpoint.
3) Burger King. There aren't any in Hamamatsu, so I go to one in Shibuya, Tokyo. It's pretty much what you get back home. There may be a lot of Big Mac fans here and back home, but I find the Whopper the superior taste experience.
4) McDonald's. To me, there's really not much difference between Japanese McDonald's and U.S. McDonald's. Sure, Japan's features the teriyaki burger, which is pretty good if a little heavy on mayo (they somewhat make up for that with fresh lettuce) and the seasonal Tsukimi Burger (which is absolutely nuts), but the taste is the same for the standard menu. I think the sizes are comparable, too, but I'd need to do the research and honestly, I don't care to. Feel free to clue me in, if you like.
5) Lotteria. I have yet to meet a person here who prefers Lotteria to any of the others. The one time I ate at a Lotteria, it was kind of like eating reheated Mos Burger. Sad and limp burger. Poor Lotteria. My heart goes out to you!
I would have included Wendy's in second place, but they're gone and I'm not sure if they're ever coming back. And I'm not ranking any specialty burger restaurants where people craft their sandwiches with love. Or any of those pop-up burger stands that sometimes appear during festivals and offer huge "American Burgers." I haven't tried any of those, but I have a feeling they would totally blow my list sky-high.