A decade ago Danny Meyer founded Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, where the price of a burger — with lettuce, tomato, cheese and special sauce — was $3.95, which works out to $4.97 in today's dollars. Ten years later, the feel-good fast food stand has turned into a global chain with 56 locations and is reportedly contemplating a $1 billion initial public offering. The Angus beef burger, free of hormones and antibiotics, is now $4.95 at the flagship location, which is actually cheaper than the original inflation-adjusted price from the summer of 2004. Impressive!
But what about the other Shacks? Are prices simply higher in New York, as is often the case? Is Shake Shack cheaper in Washington? (Hint: It isn't). Are the burgers super expensive in Beirut and elsewhere in the Middle East? To answer those pressing questions, Eater has created the Shack Shack Index.
The Economist was a pioneer in this regard, creating The Big Mac Index in 1986. That tool uses McDonald's international burger prices to asses whether a particular currency is overvalued or undervalued. Here at Eater, the goal is simpler and more service-oriented. The Shake Shack Index explains what you'll pay for that chain's burger, fries, and shakes throughout the world, in U.S. dollars. So check out the graphs below, as well as these Eleven Important Shake Shack Index Facts.
1. Pricing at U.S. Shake Shacks is largely uniform — stadiums, racetracks, and airports notwithstanding. Shack burgers, the price of which recently went up anywhere from four to 24 cents due to rising costs, are now $4.95 in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, or $4.99 in Washington, Florida, Virginia, and Connecticut. Fries, which also went up by about a nickel in some locations, are now $2.90, while the basic custard shake is $5.15. That's impressive price stability given the varied supply base; Northeast Shacks use Pat LaFrieda beef, while Shacks in the South use regional butchers who provide the same proprietary blend.
2. Shake Shack is slightly more expensive than other boutique (or mainstream) burger joints. A meal consisting of a Shack Burger, a signature frozen custard shake, and fries will cost $13. A similar meal will cost $11.67 at Five Guys in Times Square or Smashburger in Midtown, $10.07 at Steak & Shake, or $8.03 at In-n-Out in Hollywood.
3. The most expensive U.S. Shake Shacks are at ballparks and other captive audience locations, where guests are accustomed to paying $9 for beer. For example, a burger, fries, and a shake will cost $15.15 at JFK Airport, $17 at Saratoga Race Course, $18.25 at Nationals Park, or $18.75 at New York's Citi Field. So if you're going to see a Mets game, your Shake Shack is nearly $6 more expensive than in Midtown.
4. The world's cheapest Shake Shack, in U.S. dollars, is in Moscow, where a burger, fries and a shake currently cost 495 rubles ($12.38). That's partly due to the recent weakness of the Russian ruble in relation to the dollar, but there's also a simpler reason for this affordability: Shake Shack Moscow recently cut its burger prices from 235 RUB ($5.93) to 195 RUB ($4.88) — a few other prices were lowered as well. This is a smart move as Russians have been feeling the pinch from higher prices on Western goods; the current sanctions regime bans imported foods from the United States, the E.U., and Australia.
5. Shake Shack Moscow has used Irish and Australian beef in the past, but it's moving to Uruguayan beef to comply with the Russian sanctions regime. And like at all international Shake Shacks, regional dairy is used for the shakes and frozen concretes. The custard base, however, is shipped in from the U.S. -- desserts are exempt from the current import ban.
6. The world's most expensive Shake Shack — in US dollars — is at The Dubai International Airport, where a meal consisting of a burger, shake and fries would cost over $23. This is important because DXB is the world's seventh busiest airport, with over 66 million passengers in 2013. And the in-house Shake Shack, located in Terminal 3 (the worlds largest building by floor space), is open 24/7. That means a whole lot of folks from around the world stand to have their first encounter with a Shake Shack at a super spendy Shake Shack.
7. To be fair, the DXB Shake Shack is a captive audience Shack, where a certain level of higher prices is anticipated. But just so we're clear on how expensive it is, consider the following: A McDonald's quarter pounder with cheese costs 12 AED at the Middle Eastern airport, which is 16 percent cheaper than the New York East Village price of $3.89. By comparison, Shake Shack's 33 AED ($8.91) for a burger is about 80 percent higher than what it costs in NYC. That's a heck of a markup. Still, this author would rather splurge on a Shack Burger if marooned here, rather than ingest the awfulness that is McDonald's. Danny Meyer wins.
8. The other Middle Eastern Shake Shacks are expensive as well — just not as expensive as at DXB. A burger, fries, and a shake will cost about $17 in Jeddah, Doha, Kuwait, or at virtually any of the 13 non-airport Shake Shacks on the Arabian Peninsula. Closer to the Mediterranean, that same meal will cost the equivalent of $15.18 or $17.82 at either of the two Shake Shacks in Beirut. All the Middle Eastern Shacks, incidentally, ship in their beef from either Creekstone in the US or from Australian suppliers.
9. The world's second most expensive Shake Shack, as expressed in U.S. dollars, is in London, a city so expensive this critic once spent close to $100 on three cocktails at a hotel bar. At the Covent Garden Shake Shack, a burger and a shake are £5 apiece ($8.10) and fries are £2.75, which means a square meal will run you $20.66. This location uses local Aberdeen Angus beef from Scotland.
10. Hanging out at the crossroads of Europe and Asia? Istanbul's four Shake Shacks, which use local Turkish beef, all charge 15 lira for the burgers or shakes ($6.95), and 6 lira for thefries ($2.78), putting the price of a meal there at $14.39. Not too shabby!
11. Shake Shack deserves big props for transparency. The chain publishes prices for every location, locally and internationally, on the same website. Just try finding that data for McDonald's, Wendy's or Burger King. It's a slightly more complicated task.