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If burger's the game, fast food's the name

The dominance of chain restaurants is strongest with that most American of foods, the noble hamburger _ even if a burger wouldn't move Jimmy Buffett to song. So when pollsters for Suncoast Opinion Surveys asked more than 1,800 Tampa Bay residents to name their favorite hamburger place, visions of Whoppers, Big Macs and Wendy's danced in their heads.

Although one-fourth of the respondents said they had no favorite, three-fourths of the rest named a chain burger-flipper. Almost half named one of the Big Three _ Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's, which dominate the market with fast service, consistency, heavy advertising and more than 10,000 locations across the country.

Each of the big chains has devoted fans, but their numbers were almost evenly divided in this survey.

Burger King and McDonald's took top honors across the five-county area, with Wendy's coming in close behind in third place, although the results were too close to be statistically significant. In a nationwide poll of chain preferences among 4,600 consumers released by Restaurants & Institutions magazine this month, Wendy's was named the favorite burger chain.

Lesser votes were registered by a number of smaller chains including the new no-frills Checkers operation, Fuddruckers, Hardee's and two chains that do not specialize in hamburgers, Chili's and Bennigan's.

Burger King and McDonald's took top honors across the five-county area, with Wendy's coming in close behind in third place, although the results were too close to be statistically significant.

There were loyalists in each county, however, who preferred local and sometimes legendary hamburgers like those of El Cap and Ted Peters Smoked Fish in St. Petersburg, Crackers in Crystal River and Jimmy Mac's in Tampa.

So, even in a fast-food world, some people still find unchained burgers they feel are worth singing about.

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