Five Guys, Queen Street

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74 Queen Street, Exeter EX4 3RX – 01392 276744

As we waved goodbye to Ruby Burgers, muffled reports came in that there would be a large well known chain Burger restaurant moving in.  The doors closed and we waited with baited anticipation to discover who it was going to be.  MeatLIQUOR? Patty and Bun? Five Guys?

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Five Guys is like some sort of neon advertisement for modern Americana.  Here you’re offered a refillable ‘Soda’ not a fizzy drink.  To those who know Five Guys from the States you’ll not find much difference as the format is pretty much identical.  You won’t have to wait too long for your food, but you’ll have to unwrap it and you don’t get a tray (at least none that I can see).  But you do get free monkey nuts…

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Maybe it is immensely unfair to compare Five Guys to McDonalds? The burgers are far better, the chips (fries) are a universe away from anything you would find in the neon-hell of Maccy Dee’s and the prices are on quite different levels, but essentially the format is the same.

Five Guys were started in 1986 by Janie and Jerry Murrell; Jerry and the couple’s sons, Jim, Matt, Chad, and Ben were the original “Five Guys.  To this day the business is a family affair with the sons being responsible for different aspects of the business.

In the UK there are 27 Five Guys branches after the first one opened in London back in 2013.  Since then there has been a big expansion throughout the rest of the country with Five Guys filling an unoccupied niche for fast-food style gourmet burgers.

We visited with some friends after a swanky party at the RAMM.  It was 09:30pm and the restaurant had smatterings of people coming back from the pub or just out for a bite to eat.  Customers walk up to the till, choose from a small menu of burgers or hot dogs, choose the toppings which are all free and choose fries and or a refillable bottomless soda or something else to drink.  That is it.

There are no airs-graces or bells, whistles, twiddly bits or knobs.  This is a stripped down experience with the food at the centre stage.

And they won’t let you forget it; the walls are adorned with testimonials from customers and press.  This is just weird.  There is a feeling that they need to constantly remind you as you are eating your food how amazing others find it, and if you feel anything that isn’t complete happiness then you’re just plain wrong.

Burgers are prepared in full view.  If you’re sharp-eyed you can see your burger being prepped and cooked in front of you.

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We found that a lot of the tables were quite grubby.  On reflection we most probably should have moved away from the door as we were visited by a homeless lady who wanted money or food.

As she came in to the restaurant there was no effort from the staff to ask her to leave. This is a tricky situation, and given the problem of homelessness in Exeter not all too surprising.

I had a Bacon Cheeseburger. This comprises of two generous flat-patties of Irish Beef with ‘fake’ cheese and Bacon.  It was £8.95 with Little Fries at £2.95 and the Refillable Soda also £2.95* I can’t remember and given their website has absolutely no prices on the online menu.

The website states about the burger that ‘Our beef is 120-day grain finished from family owned farms in Ireland. Less than 1% of all UK beef qualifies. We serve our patties juicy, glistening and well done.’ – So when did Ireland join the UK?

Ultimately this is a chain restaurant.  It doesn’t support local businesses by buying local, it just exists in its own microcosm.  If you want a burger like this, then head down the road to Urban Burger and buy local.  The burgers were very nice, but the whole thing had a twinge of guilt connected to it, the same guilt one feels when one is sitting in Burger King.

The burgers are cooked fresh, everything is good, but unfortunately for Five Guys they’re just another restaurant in an already crowded market which Exeter doesn’t really need.

I can’t bring myself to give it a recommended status on the blog, mostly because it has too many echoes of the large fast-food chains.  The service was impersonal, it felt like any other fast food chain but just much more expensive and with nicer food.

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