Wildly Popular California-Based Burger Restaurant Wants to Control Food Quality and Maintain Consistent Service
In-N-Out Burger turned 75 years old this year and now has nearly 400 restaurants without franchising a single one. The year was 1948, when Harry Truman was president, and one Harry Snyder and his wife, Esther, opened California’s first drive-through hamburger stand in Baldwin Park, a Los Angeles suburb. Think of it: President Biden was kindergarten-age when In-N-Out Burger debuted!
The Snyders’ sons Guy and Rich later operated the restaurants, and today the founders’ only grandchild is the boss. Billionaire Lynsi Snyder owns and operates the chain as president. She’s steadfast in maintaining the family legacy by keeping a close eye and an iron grip over In-N-Out’s sprawling domain, which she has cautiously expanded into Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Utah. (Tennessee will soon have its first In-N-Out, the brand’s first site east of the Mississippi River.)
That laser-focused oversight of everything from food quality to employee pay is exactly why In-N-Out Burger won’t franchise: Doing so would dilute its control over the family’s high standards.
Consistency and Quality
The chain thrives with favorable reviews about its consistency in many areas, with food quality leading the way. Cream-of-the-crop ingredients, careful food preparation and friendly service also were a hallmark back in 1948 and still hold. Heat lamps, microwaves and freezers are banned, and buns are baked with slow-rising dough each morning, Forbes notes. The American-produced beef is boned and ground by In-N-Out butchers, and then delivered fresh throughout the week to restaurants. The brand builds restaurants only where they are near enough to its three patty-making facilities that the beef can be delivered fresh. The fries also are fresh, not frozen, when they hit the heat, and the shakes contain real ice cream.
Employees Know They’re Valued
Well-paid, well-trained In-N-Out Associates enjoy family-like status. Glassdoor has praised In-N-Out for being a great place to work. In her upcoming book, The Ins-N-Outs of In-N-Out Burger, Lynsi Snyder reveals that her store managers’ average annual compensation, including profit-sharing, exceeds $180,000. But even rank-and-file In-N-Out Associates earn more than their peers at other brands, which spills over into their affection for the brand and burnishes customer service.
Old and New at In-N-Out Burger
In-N-Out’s burger is unchanged from its debut a lifetime ago. Palm trees have been a longtime motif. Bible-verse references have appeared on burger wrappers and cups since 1985. And while other fast-food chains regularly swap out wall coverings and furnishings for trendy hues, In-N-Outs still have their red and-white design scheme from the 1950s. But In-N-Out does make changes such as the previously mentioned eastward expansion. The restaurants adopted mobile point-of-services (POS) technology to speed things along when drive-through lanes are congested. And Mashed.com noted a menu change under Lynsi Snyder: resurrection of hot cocoa in 2018. She said her grandparents served hot cocoa, and she loved it, so that was that. P.S. Ghirardelli Chocolate Co. supplies the cocoa.
Powerful, Ongoing Buzz
Marketing, much of it arising from its stunningly loyal customers, has boosted In-N-Out to iconic status during Lynsi Snyder’s leadership. Jane Doe, Joe Blow, online influencers and A-list celebrities regularly gush over In-N-Out and their guilty pleasure in imbibing. Medium.com points out that much of its internet buzz mentions In-N-Out meals involve a special occasion or an indulgent personal treat. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that a bevy of the celebrity praise comes from chefs Gordon Ramsay, Ina Garten, Mario Batali, the late Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain, who called it his “favorite restaurant in L.A.”
In addition, In-N-Out has benefited from consumer surveys. Diners often rank it as their favorite fast-food burger. A recent boost came from a Gambling.com survey in March 2023: In-N-Out Burger finished second among America’s healthiest fast-food burger chains with an 8.2 score on a 10-point scale. (Only the Texas-based, family-owned and -operated franchise Whataburger fared better, notching an 8.4.)
The “Secret Menu”
In-N-Out Burger also has received tons of publicity about its so-called “secret menu,” items not listed on in-store menus but actually available at every In-N-Out, as noted by Wikipedia. Posted store menus are intentionally limited, which reduces ingredients’ cost and waste. The secret menu items are made from ingredients on hand, just used differently, and the items themselves actually appear on the In-N-Out website, which means they’re not THAT secret.
So what are the secret items? Brawny burgers such as the 3X3 (three patties and three slices of cheese) and 4X4 (four patties plus four slices of cheese) as well as Neapolitan pizza shakes, a grilled-cheese sandwich, the Protein Style (lettuce-wrapped patty, no bun), Animal Style (patty cooked in a mustard layer with pickles and grilled onions) and Animal Style fries, which have two slices of melted cheese and grilled onions on top. All of this secret menu stuff, of course, has built mountain of mystique for In-N-Out.
In other marketing moves, the brand gives away bumper stickers that read “In-N-Out Burger.” Fans often modify them to say “In-N-Out urge,” which has scored an unexpected marketing coup for the brand. And just as many fast-food franchises have done, In-N-Out also has sold logo clothing and gift items that magnify the brand’s visibility.
Takeaway: Why In-N-Out Burger Won’t Franchise
So a big, ol’ bundle of factors – maintaining high standards for food and customer experience, valuing employees, pacing growth carefully, scoring buzz – feed into In-N-Out Burger’s enviable bottom line. Its store revenues leave McDonald’s units in the dust, according to Forbes.
And those same factors further feed into the reasons why In-N-Out Burger won’t franchise. (It’s one of several fast-casual brands that has avoided doing so.) Because all by its lonesome, with a capable leader calling the shots, In-N-Out has enjoyed amazing success by simply staying true to its roots.