Who do you blame for the success of The Heart Attack Grill?

If you go to Las Vegas, one of the many restaurants you will encounter is the Heart Attack Grill.

It is probably the most extreme and unhealthy place to eat in the United States and deliberately courts controversy with its use of extreme menu item names, unusual promotions, and unique themes. An example of the extreme food names include Flatliner Fries (French fries made with pure lard), Butterfat Shakes, and the Bypass Burger (which comes in Single, Double, Triple, or Quadruple Bypass sizes), the latter of which contains 12 slices of bacon, two pounds of beef, and four layers of cheese. No lettuce is allowed.

Burgers can be as high as 8,000 calories (i.e., 4 days worth of calories in one burger). Obese customers over 350 pounds eat for free if they weigh in with a scantily clad “nurse” (waitress) or “doctor” (waiters). Orders are called “prescriptions” and customers are called “patients.” Finishing a triple or quadruple bypass burger allows customers to be wheeled out to their car by their own personal nurse. This past February, one customer was wheeled out a real stretcher when he suffered an apparent heart attack after eating a triple bypass burger.

The knee jerk reaction to the Heart Attack Grill concept is to either laugh or become angry. Either reaction plays into the hands of the owner (Jon Basso), which is to gain attention by purposely and cleverly courting public controversy by turning political correctness about medical issues on its face.

For those who are upset by the Heart Attack Grill concept, it is important to remember that the owner is at least being blatantly out front and honest about the food he serves, rather than other fast food restaurants that do not take this approach. For example, should you be more upset at The Heart Attack Grill’s Bypass Burgers that blatantly indicates how bad it is for you based or at Burger King’s Triple Whopper Sandwiches which requires some searching to find out that they are 1140 calories?

To be clear, I am not saying people should not be bothered about the Heart Attack Grill. Personally, I have mixed and vacillating feelings about it. On the one hand, it is certainly justified to be upset that someone would sell an 8,000 calorie menu item but on the other hand we do live in a free country where people have the right to eat unhealthy if they want to.

While eating one burger during your life time from the Heart Attack Grill on vacation will likely not kill you, eating these burgers on a regular basis likely will, a point the owner readily admits. However, if someone does dies from eating at the Heart Attack Grill regularly the primary blame falls to the patient for doing so despite knowing the risks. After all, the slogan of the Heart Attack Grill is “Taste Worth Dying For.” All of this being said, Basso cannot absolve himself from all blame because he is peddling this type of extreme food to the public.

Ultimately, the success or failure of the Heart Attack Grill depends on market forces. That is, if enough people decided not to eat there due to the health risks, then the company will go out of business. If people flock to the restaurant, then it will flourish. It’s as simple as that. The Heart Attack grill has been open since 2006, indicating that the concept attracts customers.

Dominic A. Carone is a neuropsychologist who blogs at MedFriendly.com.

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