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Burger King test-drives delivery service

Gene J. Puskar / AP

A Whopper of a delivery. Burger King is testing delivery service to help boost sales.

Want to have it your way, right away, without even setting foot outside your house?

The Burger King Corporation, known for its flame-broiled Whopper hamburgers and its standing (for now) as the No. 2 fast food burger chain in the U.S., is testing a delivery service at several of its locations in the Washington, D.C., area, the company announced.

Residents living within a 10-minute drive of select Burger King locations in Maryland and Virginia can place orders by phone or online and receive deliveries for a $2 fee, the company said in an e-mail. Burger King is starting with a handful of locations and requires a minimum order of $8 to $10. It will roll out the delivery service in 16 locations by Jan. 23, but hasn’t yet specified when the service will be available nationwide.

Why delivery? Burger King has run a delivery service outside the U.S. “for many years and has had great success with it all across the globe including in Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Columbia and Peru,” according to an e-mail from a company spokesman.

But another reason for Burger King's foray into delivery service could be that it's about to be unseated by Wendy's as America's No. 2 burger chain (behind No. 1 McDonald's) for the first time since Wendy's was founded in 1969. A December 2011 analysis of data from food industry market research firm Technomic conducted by The Wall Street Journal showed that Wendy's 2011 sales were projected to hit $8.42 billion, a $53 million leg up over Burger King's sales in 2011.

Unlike pizza chains, which have long delivered pies to customers’ doors, fast food chains have not followed suit, mainly because the food doesn’t travel well.  “There are some real food-quality issues here,” Technomic president Ron Paul told USA Today. "But there's no question that consumer expectations for having things delivered has risen."

But Burger King said that it will use “new delivery packaging technology, in conjunction with thermal bags,” that will keep deliveries fresh. And it won’t include fountain drinks, ICEE beverages, shakes, coffee or breakfast foods.

In a major metropolitan area like New York City, delivery service from big box retailers down to the local corner bodega is all but expected. Hundreds of restaurants have signed on to Web delivery services such as Seamless and GrubHub as a hassle-free way to transport food to customers’ doors. Grocery delivery sites such as Fresh Direct and MaxDelivery.com have thrived in the Big Apple as a convenience for busy shoppers who want to avoid crowds.

But in suburban markets, fast food delivery could pose more of a challenge. As Dominos Pizza spokesman Tim McIntyre told USA Today, “We wish them luck. There is a reason that not all pizza places deliver: It isn’t easy.”