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It is ironic. I’m sitting watching people go by and am amazed at how many fat, and very fat, people there are at the Metro Centre in Gateshead. But, as I watch I’m sitting in a fast food burger shop called Five Guys, eating a burger and chips! I use the word ‘shop’ I can’t call it a restaurant, because it’s not. What it is is a kitchen counter where you can order food and drinks, then a place to stand until they call your order number and you go back to the counter to collect said order, which is delivered to you in a brown paper bag. You can, while waiting, fill your empty drinking cup with a drink from one of the two machines.

Then there are tables where you can sit and eat your burger, if they aren’t all taken that is. They were when we went, but as there were two of us, as I waited for our fast burger and chips, Helen went and pounced on the first table that became available. From there we were able to see the many seriously overweight people passing by. The UK is the new America.

There was a time when America was the fattest nation on earth. They had a terrible diet, ate way too much of the wrong things and became a nation of obese people. The UK have taken over that mantle. America is more health conscious now, in every corner shop on the streets of Manhattan, where you used to be able to buy donuts, now you can buy fruit. Where you used to have waffles with syrup for breakfast, how healthier options are common. But we have inherited the problem.

Many years ago the ‘hamburger’ arrived in the UK, but you had to go to a Wimpy Bar to buy one. Remember the Wimpy Bar? Then McDonalds arrived! Then Burger King. And that was it really, for a long time. We used to take Nick into McDonalds when he was a small boy, he was a fussy eater, but lapped up a Burger and Fries in a McDonalds ‘Restaurant’. (He didn’t like the chips in Burger King!).

Today, If I want a burger the choice in most cities is huge. There are the chains, McDonalds, Burger King, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Handmade Burger Company, Byron Burgers, Five Guys and the newest expanding chain of Smashburger. Here in Newcastle we also have a number of local Burger restaurants, Jam Jar, The Fat Hippo, Burger Stop, and Dat Bar. These are just Burger Restaurant, there are many other restaurants that have burgers on their menus, and most pub too for that matter. I could have a burger every day of the month in a different place and still have more to visit.

What is the difference then. McDonalds’ famously is a fast food joint. But the new Five Guys is no different, the business model is the same. The food is better in Five Guys that McDonalds, but there is a price to pay, a high price.

McDonalds

Burger: £2.69 Fries: £1.19

Total: £3.88

Five Guys

Burger: £6.95 Fries: £4.00

Total: £10.95

So if you are paying a lot of money for a burger and chips at lunch time, do you go with the fast food Five Guys, or the full service Restaurant at Byron Burgers? The price for a lunch time burger and chips is about the same in these two food outlets.

Byron Burgers:

  • Byron – Burger 80%
  • Byron – Bun 60%
  • Byron – Chips 40%
  • Byron – Drinks 70%
  • Byron – Service 90%

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Five Guys Burgers:

  • Five Guys – Burger 70%
  • Five Guys – Bun 20%
  • Five Guys – Chips 100%
  • Five Guys – Drinks 40%
  • Five Guys – Service 30%

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The Byron burger is better, mainly because it’s one burger. The Five Guys burger is actually two thin patties on top of each other, so more of the surface area is burnt, where as the Byron burger is thicker and more juicy. You can elect to have it cooked pink in the middle. Five Guys make your burger, place it in the bun then wrap it is foil. Then it’s placed with the hot chips inside the brown paper bag and handed to you. You then take it to a table and unwrap it. This does not take long, but in that short time, all the hot moisture inside the foil has permeated into the bread bun making it limp and very soggy. I just disintegrates. For that reason the bread scores a lower 20% rating. Five guys two thin patties rate lower than the single thicker Byron burger.

Where Five Guys win out is in the generous portions of freshly hand cut chips. These are not frozen chips and are really nice. Overall though Byron wins on just about everything else. Byron is a restaurant, so you get table service too, there is no service in Five Guys, you do it yourself. As the price for these two meals in similar, Byron wins again. No, I’m not going to go and do a comparison test on all the others, I’m just not.

The enormity of choice in burgers is just one example. When I first arrived in Newcastle, 36 years ago, there were few restaurants and almost all were Italian, there was one Chinese restaurant and a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop too. Now new restaurants are opening regularly. We have everything, from every nation on the planet just about and it’s all pretty good, especially the fabulous Peace and Loaf in Jesmond. So choose Indian Street Food, a 20″ Pizza, Thai Green Curry, Steak and Kidney Pie, Smoked Brisket, Chinese, Tex-Mex, Tapas, anything you like. But do it in moderation. None of us can afford to eat out every night, none of us want a three courses every evening, and the waist-line will expand at an alarming rate.

So we’re doing what the Americans did decades ago, were eating too much and eating the wrong things. Burger and chips daily, large pizzas, and donuts are going to make you very fat. Eat more calories than you need and you will put on weight, it’s that simple. So fruit for breakfast perhaps, salad at lunchtime and lean meat and vegetable in the evening. This will mean you can go a bit mad at the weekend and have a Fat Hippo burger, a Chicken Vindaloo and a large Sunday roast.

So there it is then, the days of little choice and poor quality food are over. Now we have everything from cheap burgers, to expensive high-quality Michelin starred restaurants. We will never have to return to a restaurant that we didn’t like. Sadly, my wallet and waistline will not allow me to try them all. Oh well.