What's the Deal with Becks Prime?

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I find myself eating at Becks Prime, a fast-food-style restaurant, probably once or twice a year. Each time I do, I'm always blown away by the interminable wait for my "fast food" and the exorbitant prices. My last trip really got me thinking about this. I was with a hungry child who wanted a cheeseburger, and I was looking for a decent veggie burger. We stopped at Becks Prime. For the first time, I went inside to eat and really perused the menu.

A veggie burger with mustard, pickle, onion, lettuce and tomato is $7.25. That does not include cheese, fries, a beverage or any other ingredients or sides. Fries are an additional $2.45, and drinks close to $2. Hamburgers range from $7 to $9, plus about $1 for additional toppings. I could get the same meal served to me at Houston's in a much nicer setting for the same price.

The kid's meals are even more outrageous. The burger with fries and a small drink is $7. You can add cheese for 65 cents. A fast-food kid's burger for nearly $8? Really? A "grilled cheese" sandwich, which is just sliced cheese melted on a burger bun, is the least expensive option at $4.45. Come on, now.

I was given a pager and waited roughly the same amount of time I would at any similar counter-service restaurant; in my past drive-thru experiences, the wait has been much longer than typical fast food. I know this is not supposed to be typical fast food. The idea is that the ingredients are higher quality, fresher and made to order from foods that have never been frozen. Becks Prime mesquite-grills its meat, which is clearly preferable to frying it in grease.

I won't deny that the food was very good. It was hot and tasty, and you have to love those hand-cut fries with skin still attached. The food here is leaps and bounds above McDonald's or BK, and if you have $15 to spend on a drive-thru lunch, go for it.

What really baffles me, however, is the dinner menu. There's $24 ahi tuna plates and $30 ribeye and strip steaks that are served with a side and a salad. It's not an outrageous price for the quality, but again, do you really want to drop a bill on dinner for two at a fast-food joint, even if it is an upscale one? Sure, you can take the food home without even getting out of your car, but then you'll still have to do some prep and clean-up and sacrifice a bit of the freshness in the process.

If I'm shelling out the cash, I'd rather dine at a place that gives me a little bit more service and ambience. But then again, it seems I just don't get it. Becks Prime is clearly doing well, as there are locations all across town. So enlighten me, Houston. What am I missing?

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