Fergburger: Putting the queue in Queenstown

How Fergburger turns an inconvenience into branding.

Not having a Fergburger, regular visitors to the South Island’s equivalent of Richard Scarry’s Busytown will know, is somewhat odd behaviour. Having a Fergburger, or, more accurately, spending 59 minutes queueing for a Fergburger then five minutes eating it, is right at the top of the list of What You Do in Queenstown. 

Call me curmudgeonly (if Hamish Keith can do without the epithet for a moment), but if I’m only spending 48 hours in Queenstown, I’m not going to spend one of them waiting for my dinner.

Plenty of people, however, are. Fergburger’s fame is worldwide and at almost any hour of the day or night (Google helpfully suggests trying before 9am or after 2am for slightly shorter wait times) you’ll see the, mostly-foreign, hopeful and hungry mooching about its one Shotover Street outlet.

Meanwhile, two streets over, things are a little less frantic. At nearby Devilburger (tell them I sent you!) you can buy burgers that are just as big, just as tasty, just as quirkily named and cost almost exactly the same, only there’s hardly ever a queue. Devilburger has an 86% positive rating on Tripadvisor, plenty of seating, an open fire for winter, and a chip portion policy that suggests they’re in league with Big Potato.

But no queues.

So what’s with Fergburger’s success? And why are its mostly-excellent competitors left so far in its wake? 

Quality food is just part of it. According to Tripadvisor, there are 18 better places to eat in Queenstown. 18! [And now 19! - Ed] Location counts for something – Shotover Street is the main drag. But Queenstown is tiny, and in the time it takes to wait for a Fergburger you could walk from one end to the other half a dozen times.  

What Fergburger has that the competition doesn’t is a story, and a story that plays especially well to overseas visitors. A burger joint in a small town at the bottom of the world so good that people queue for an HOUR to get one! Can you believe that? They even provide sunscreen to stop you getting burnt while you’re waiting (coming soon: a cart selling burgers to eat while you’re waiting for your burger). And there’s only one. You can’t buy these burgers in Manhattan, Camden or Bondi – only Queenstown. But thanks to Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor, Yelp and countless travellers’ Facebook pages and Instagram accounts you can read about them there, and drool over the photos wherever you are.

What Fergburger has also done is turned a negative into a selling point. To quote The Otago Daily Times: “Queuing for a Fergburger is a ''must-do'' for many visitors to Queenstown.” That’s “queueing” for one, not “eating” one. It’s not the only downside. Fergburgers are expensive, and while Queenstown is mildly hard to get to for a New Zealander, it’s insanely distant for a New Yorker, making the story even more impressive to your friends back home. 

What can a business unlucky enough not to be Fergburger learn from all this? Don’t stop at the ingredients that go into your food (or your equivalent) – any rooster can match that. What matters even more is delivering your customers the ingredients that make up a great story.  

Oh, and if you do want to give Fergburger a try without the wait, here’s the trick (thank me later): just ring up, place your order, turn up when they tell you and you’re off home with a bag full of greasy goodness and none of the waiting – but nowhere near as good a story.

Illustration: Wade Wu