Shake Shack Vs. BurgerFi: Which Restaurant Is The Better Option?

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Burger joints are an American institution. According to the Library of Congress, the very first burger is believed to have been served at Louis' Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1895. Then came the fast food mega-chains, like White Castle and McDonald's, that served burgers on a mass scale throughout the country.

But the new burger chains on the block are a brand new breed; they are known as the "better burger" brands. According to CNBC, these patty purveyors offer burgers that are quickly made but with high-end ingredients. Better burger slingers like Shake Shack and BurgerFi both serve elevated burger offerings conceived by actual chefs. On these upscale burgers, you'll find tomato jams, flavored aiolis, and meat that is humanely raised and free of antibiotics. In other words, these ain't your mama's fast food burgers.

Now, we all know the ins and outs of traditional fast food burger menus and why we like McDonald's fries better than Burger King's. But what about the newbs? How do fast-casual chains like Shake Shack and BurgerFi measure up against one another? Which high-end burger slinger is most worthy of your $15 for a meal? Well, you're about to find out. We've done a thorough investigation and have determined one of these burger chains to be the winner. Read on to find out who gets our gold star.

One of these chains was inspired to be like the other

Shake Shack didn't start out with the goal of becoming a global conglomerate. According to the Madison Square Park Conservancy, it started out as a hot dog cart that restauranteur Danny Meyer opened in 2001 in New York City's Madison Square Park to raise money for the park's art installation. That location became permanent and expanded to serve burgers, shakes, and crinkle-cut fries. And thus, Shake Shack, as we know it today, was born. Today, there are about 369 Shake Shacks in 32 states and 15 countries.

Apparently, Shake Shack's success is something that BurgerFi actually looks up to. BurgerFi's first location was opened in 2011 by chef and businessman John Rosatti in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida. The company's goal was to serve up "next-level" burgers made with the freshest ingredients around. Now, there are about 125 BurgerFi locations, with 25 more on the way. BurgerFi's former President and Chief Brand Development Officer, Charlie Guzzetta, told Chain Store Age in 2021 that he hopes BurgerFi will grow to amass the same popularity as Shake Shack has. ​​"People come to us for the same reason they go to Shake Shack in New York or Whataburger in Texas. We feel we can fill that role in the Southeast," Guzzetta said. So, when it comes to clout, Shake Shack wins this one.

The chain that won the battle for the better burger

Both Shake Shack and BurgerFi serve up "better burgers" made from 100% all-natural Angus beef. Quality meat creates quality burgers, and both chains work with a great base. But it's what BurgerFi puts on top of that Angus beef patty that makes it the clear "better burger" winner.

When you bite into a BurgerFi burger, you know you're eating a BurgerFi burger. And not just because the chain's name is burned into your bun. You know you're eating the chain's burger because its menu of burgers is elevated to the max. BurgerFi uses ingredients and combos that you can find at your favorite full-service craft burger restaurant. You'll find upscale toppings like bacon tomato jam, truffle aioli, and candied ghost pepper bacon. It even has a brunch burger, people!

The only upscale toppings you'll find on the Shake Shack regular burger menu are smoked applewood bacon, crispy portobello mushrooms, or avocado. BurgerFi has a few more burger offerings, with 10 different burgers, compared to Shake Shack's eight. 

This chain has your back when you're not in the mood for a burger

If you're heading to Shake Shack or BurgerFi, your belly is probably looking for a burger. But what if someone in your party has beef with a beef patty? When it comes to non-burger options, Shake Shack takes the cake.

In addition to burgers, both chains offer hotdogs, chicken sandwiches, chicken tenders, a grilled cheese, and delicious custard creations. Shack Shake and BurgerFi have nearly identical chicken offerings with a regular chicken sandwich, a spicy one, and chicken tenders. And while BurgerFi does have fancier hot dog options at some locations, like its New York and Texas Style hot dogs, Shack Shake's hot dogs are just simply better.

BurgerFi's hot dogs borderline as a brat; they are short and stout. But Shake Shack's hot dog is pure perfection. It's long and lean with a salty juiciness on the inside and a crisp snap on the outside. Shake Shack did start out as a hot dog cart, so it knows what it's doing when it comes to hot dogs. In fact, Shack Shake's hot dog was ranked as the number one fast food hot dog on the market. So, when it comes to non-burger options, we're heading to Shake Shack.

This chain does it better when it comes to sides

When your options are between two high-quality beef burger chains, the side dish offerings can be the tiebreaker. BurgerFi wins in this category, hands down. First off, both chains offer fries and onion rings or a combination of both. That half-and-half offering makes them champions of the sides category alone. But the quality of BurgerFi's fries is also worthy of praise. Idaho potatoes are hand-cut in-house daily and fried in 100% canola oil.

Shake Shack's fries are frozen, but it's not because the chain isn't committed to quality; it's because its customers absolutely love them. According to Fast Company, Shake Shack attempted to do the whole fresh-cut fry thing back in 2013 so the fries would match the quality of the rest of its food. CEO Randy Garutti said they succeeded in making "the best fresh-cut fry ever made." Unfortunately, "people hated them" and demanded the company switch back to crinkle-cut fries. So, as a compromise, Shake Shack switched to a new frozen crinkle-cut fry that is free from preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Only one can be the sauciest of them all

Every self-respecting fast food chain has a signature sauce. Shake Shack's signature sauce is its ShackSauce, a sweet mayo-based sauce with a hint of heat. According to the Shake Shack cookbook, the orange-hued sauce is made with mayonnaise, ketchup, Dijon mustard, cayenne pepper, and kosher dill pickle brine. BurgerFi's Fi Sauce is similar in color and is also creamy with a spicy zing, however, the company's recipe is a secret.

Both signature sauces are lip-smacking in their own right. But the best chains offer multiple sauces for your drizzling, dipping, and dunking pleasure. And BurgerFi delivers a smorgasbord of sauces, rocking 11 premium sauces, including bacon jalapeno ranch, truffle aioli, and ghost pepper honey — the kind of sauces you want to smother your food, or yourself, in. We Want the Sauce reports that Shake Shack offers only six sauces, including black truffle sauce and herb mayonnaise, but the rest of them are pretty standard, such as cheese sauce and BBQ sauce. However, rumor has it that Shake Shack's secret menu features a peanut butter sauce, which #HackTheMenu says is ridiculously delicious on the Bacon Shack Burger.

Still, Shake Shack's sauce menu is definitely not as exciting as BurgerFi's. So, BurgerFi is the clear winner when it comes to sauces.

Both chains could carry the title of 'Custard King'

Both Shake Shack and BurgerFi serve up Insta-worthy custard creations. At BurgerFi, you can get vanilla, chocolate, or vanilla and chocolate-swirled custard cups with your choice of toppings, like chocolate syrup and sprinkles. Fun shakes are available too, like Banana Churro or Red Velvet, with flavors varying at different locations.

BurgerFi also offers concretes, which are basically custard parfaits with fruits, candy, or cookies mixed in and sprinkled on top. They come in a variety of flavors, such as Key Lime Pie and Caramel Fudge. Concretes are only available at certain locations.

Shake Shacks also serves cups of hand-spun frozen custard and shakes. And, just like BurgerFi, you'll find simply irresistible limited-time flavors, like the Tiramisu and Dreamsicle. While Shake Shack no longer has concretes on its menu, it does have root beer and dreamsicle floats. We have to call a tie when it comes to the dessert category for these two chains.

This one has more options for those with dietary restrictions and preferences

Those who have dietary restrictions will find options at both Shake Shack and BurgerFi. Vegans and vegetarians will find more variety at BurgerFi, while Shake Shack provides gluten-free carby fixes. 

At BurgerFi, you can order a Beyond burger or VegeFi burger, and a multigrain bun is available as an option. Though BurgerFi doesn't offer a gluten-free bun, you can order your burger "green-style," which means it will be wrapped in lettuce. The chain's fries are gluten-free, however, the onion rings are not.

Shake Shack also offers burgers wrapped in lettuce, but most locations carry a gluten-free bun option. While its 'Shroom Burger is vegetarian, it isn't vegan or gluten-free. Some select locations offer the Veggie Shack, which is vegetarian and can be made without cheese. Those with gluten allergies should avoid Shake Shack fries because they are cooked in the same fryer as the 'Shroom Burger. Since BurgerFi has more options, we choose them as the winner for those with dietary restrictions.

This chain will reward you for eating its food

Everyone could use a few bucks back into their pockets these days. BurgerFi can help you with that. Joining BurgerFi Rewards is free and allows you to accumulate points every time you eat at BurgerFi, whether you order at the restaurant, online, or through their app. You'll also find limited-time offers and member-only promotions, like earning $10 for every $100 you spend at BurgerFi or getting a free shake on your birthday.

Shake Shack doesn't currently have a formal rewards program. It did, however, briefly pilot a Bitcoin reward program for those who paid with CashApp, according to The Wall Street Journal. You can find exclusive promotion notifications via the Shake Shack app, and they sometimes offer promotions to those who order through third-party apps, online, or in-store. Like when they gave out scratch-off tickets for "Black Fryday," where you could win "free Shack" for a year. 

Still, burger lovers will probably benefit more from eating at BurgerFi than at Shake Shack.

Here's where you'll find healthier options

As better burger chains, Shake Shack and BurgerFi both use healthy ingredients in their food. The fast-casual restaurants have been named among the best in the biz regarding healthful meat choices. Shake Shack and BurgerFi were the only two chains to get an "A" rating from the Natural Resources Defense Council for serving antibiotic-free beef. Both chains serve 100% natural beef that was humanely raised and hormone- and antibiotic-free. BurgerFi does go a little bit further by also stating that its beef is chemical- and additive-free.

When it comes to chicken, BurgerFi's stock comes from Springer Mountain Farms, where the chickens are American Humane Certified and live a cage-free lifestyle with no antibiotics or hormones. Shake Shack's chicken policy is similar. Its chickens are also humanely raised in a cage-free environment, free of antibiotics, and given vegetarian feed. Since Shake Shack doesn't mention that its beef is chemical-free or that its chickens are also hormone-free, we'll have to give this one to BurgerFi.

This chain is extra when it comes to beverages

When it comes to beverages, both Shake Shack and BurgerFi go beyond sodas and shakes and include booze, such as craft beer and wine, on the menus. BurgerFi features local craft beers on tap but also has more options like Coors Light or Modelo. Shake Shack serves its Shackmeister Ale, made by Brooklyn Brewery, as well as red and white wines that are specifically made for the chain. You can also enjoy a glass of Prosecco at some locations.

But Shake Shack goes even further with its alcoholic beverages and gets quite creative by mixing alcohol into drinks, shakes, and even food. Wide Open Eats reports that you can order The Shandy from Shake Shack's secret menu, which includes a half-and-half mixture of Brooklyn Brewery's Shackmeister Ale and lemonade. The chain also had a limited-time boozy milkshake on its menu called the Jack & Karen in honor of the return of NBC's "Will & Grace" in 2017, per Fortune. Proceeds from the shake went toward GLAAD to help the LGBT community. Shake Shack's foods get the boozy treatment too, as the Bourbon Bacon Cheddar Chicken was made with Maker's Mark bourbon. If you're not into booze, Shake Shack also makes delicious fruit lemonades and ciders. Shake Shack definitely wins the beverage race.

You'll always be flocking to this chain for its limited-time offerings

Shake Shack and BurgerFi are both really good at luring customers back into the restaurants with craveable, limited-time offers. To celebrate National Bacon Day, BurgerFi introduced the Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger and the Maple Bacon Shake. If you're a bacon lover, you probably rushed out to get one of those shakes as soon as possible. And BurgerFi really brought nostalgia to 90s kids with its Dunkaroos Shake, made with vanilla custard mixed with classic Dunkaroos "D" cookies, vanilla frosting, and rainbow sprinkles. The chain's Heinz Spicy Spring Roll Burger was basically a work of art, as it was half spring roll/half burger. Incredible!

Shake Shack also doesn't play when it comes to its limited edition offerings. We definitely were one of the first in line to try the Black Truffle Burger. Did it live up to the hype and all of our gourmet truffle expectations? Kinda, but we weren't overly impressed. Shake Shack also teams up with local chefs and companies to offer one-day-only menu items that raise money for charity. In 2021, the chain offered the Atoburger shrimp burger with net proceeds being donated to Heart of Dinner. Overall, BurgerFi's limited-time offerings have more of that "I need to get this in my belly ASAP" factor, so it's taking home the trophy on this one.

And the winner is...

When it comes to fast casual gourmet burger options, you really can't go wrong with either Shake Shack or BurgerFi. Both serve quality beef and chicken that are humanely raised and free from antibiotics. These chains offer delightful custard desserts and are clearly committed to providing quality products to their customers. You'll be satisfied after leaving either restaurant. The same can't be said for most burger chains, but Shake Shack and BurgerFi are certainly ahead of the rest.

BurgerFi, however, is a little more seductive with its burger menu toppings and limited edition eats. The company offers more variety and gives back to its customers in the form of rewards. BurgerFi also has a more laid-back atmosphere; it's a casual, for-everyone burger joint. BurgerFi was also ranked as the No. 2 reader's choice for best fast causal restaurant in 2022, behind QDOBA Mexican Eats, via USA Today. Shake Shack made that list too, coming in at No. 6. All these reasons combined are what make BurgerFi the better option for better burgers and, thus, the champion in this debate between the two chains.