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Bringing Home The Fries: Fast Food Comes By Delivery

Ben Harrington: http://www.flickr.com/photos/i-am-mclovin/2449892734/

In many countries, it's a cinch to call a local restaurant and get a freshly cooked dinner delivered, ready to eat amid the comforts of home. But in many parts of the U.S., the home delivery menu is usually limited to pizza and Chinese.

Burger King is trying to expand that menu by testing home delivery of burgers and fries, building on its success with home delivery overseas, including branches in Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

Last fall, the chain quietly rolled out home delivery in the Washington, D.C., area, with plans to expand to 16 stores in Maryland and Virginia by the end of this month.

We here at The Salt are fools for a new food adventure, so we dialed up the Burger King delivery hot line right away to test the goods. Alas, NPR headquarters wasn't covered. Neither was this writer's home.

But we struck gold with Taylor Lynn. She's an 18-year-old college student, niece of senior editor Maria Godoy, and an avowed fries freak. She also lives in Rockville, Md., within the coveted home-delivery test zone. Taylor was more than willing to skip mom's cooking to try the new service. "It can't be worse than what they serve you in school," Lynn said.

But Lynn found that the ordering process had some glitches; the people who answered the phone had trouble finding the address of her home. It took 32 minutes for the delivery to arrive.

One of home delivery's biggest challenges is how to maintain food's integrity while it's making the schlep from restaurant to home. Hot food has to stay hot, and cold food cold. Customers also want textures and flavors as good as they would be in a restaurant, or at least close enough that it beats leftovers.

Lynn was impressed with Burger King's effort in that regard: a specially engineered Whopper box. "There are two little places you can open," she told us. "On the first one, there's the top of the bun, and the lettuce and tomato and onion. When you open the next layer, that's where they had the meat."

She thought the bun and fixings arrived in great shape, and was disappointed only in that she felt the meat lacked flavor.

The french fries fared less well. "They were soggy and unappealing," Lynn says. "I'm a big fry fan, but I didn't finish these. They just weren't good."

She did give thumbs up to the chicken nuggets. "They were crispy," Lynn concludes. "I'd say they were probably the best thing I ate."

Burger King's corporate office in Miami declined to enlighten us as to why the nuggets may have stayed crispy while the fries wilted. Spokesperson Kristen Hauser said by email that "BK is utilizing proprietary thermal packaging for its delivery test that is different from restaurant packaging."

So we don't know if this is the same packaging that delivers burgers and fries to customers in other countries. And we don't know if those customers are perhaps less picky about soggy fries, or if the foreign fries emerge from transport still wonderfully hot, yet crispy.

Burger King isn't the only fast-food purveyor that's gone big into delivery overseas. McDonald's offers home delivery in 15 countries, including China, where red and yellow motor scooters are used to deliver the goods. There, fries are loaded into heated boxes with vents, in an effort to maintain the elusive, blissful balance of hot and crispy.

McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard tells us the company also has 10 restaurants in New York that deliver. "In dense urban areas it works very well ... It's all about creating a convenience for our customers," she says. But don't expect a McDonald's scooter to be wheeling up to curbs across America just yet.

"If there was a demand for it, we would certainly look for it; but at this point we haven't seen customer demand," Howard says.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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