Neither of them is known as the national burger brand that wants you to “Have it your way,” but now Wendy’s reportedly is joining McDonald’s in the race to bring customized, build-your-own burgers to quick service.

According to a report in USA Today, Wendy’s is testing custom burgers with a new operations process in two Columbus, Ohio, restaurants. The 6,500-plus-unit chain, based in nearby Dublin, Ohio, has spent much of chief executive Emil Brolick’s nearly three-year tenure trying to position itself as a “premium QSR” brand through its Image Activation remodeling initiative and menu innovation and marketing around products like the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger.

Wendy’s test of custom burgers reportedly offers customers a five-step process. According to a picture of the brand’s in-store point-of-purchase material shared on Twitter by QSR Magazine, guests choose a protein — either one to three burger patties or a home-style, spicy or grilled chicken patty — then a type of bun, type of cheese, and any sauces or toppings.

The pretzel bun is a bread option. At this time, other upscale bread options that had been features of recent limited-time offers, like ciabatta or brioche, are not offered in the test. Cheese options go beyond American cheese to include asiago, cheddar, blue cheese crumbles or a cheddar cheese sauce.

Among the toppings offered in Wendy’s test are jalapeños and sautéed onions, while the custom sauces include garlic aioli and asiago-ranch.

A build-your-own approach to burgers long has been the appeal of fast-growing, fast-casual chains like Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and Wendy’s is not the only quick-service brand to test whether it can be adopted in high-volume, drive-thru-heavy fast food.

McDonald’s also is testing “customizable” and “personalized” burgers at a “learning lab” restaurant in Southern California, but nobody should expect wider adoption of any such processes at McDonald’s until 2015 at the earliest, chief executive Don Thompson recently said.

On Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s second-quarter earnings call, Thompson stressed that any kind of sales-driving innovation, be it customizable burgers or a digital-ordering solution, would be developed over the course of 2014 on a “parallel path” to more fundamental parts of the business that need to be turned around, like operations, menu simplification, value and marketing.

“We have to make sure the foundation is strong enough to accept the digital innovations … and customization and personalization [of menu items] at the level we want to achieve at McDonald’s,” Thompson said.

For its June 30-ended second quarter, McDonald’s same-store sales in the United States fell 1.5 percent.

By contrast, Wendy’s back in May reported positive same-store sales for its first quarter and disclosed that it would accelerate its reimaging program to more than 400 remodels of company-owned and franchised locations in 2014, compared with 200 remodels last year.

Wendy’s is scheduled to report second-quarter earnings before the market opens on Thursday, Aug. 7.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN