May 7, 2009


In-N-Out: Can perfection survive?: As the burger company's future is sorted out, a connoisseur columnist urges, 'Don't change!' (Michael Hiltzik, May 7, 2009, LA Times)

The In-N-Out cult -- is there any other word for it? -- is rooted in its patrons' appreciation for its simple menu and its sedulous devotion to fresh, high-quality ingredients.

To be sure, there are other fascinations. These include the mystique created by its management's traditional refusal to ever speak to the press (including for this column).

Then there are the biblicalcitations imprinted on the edges and seams of its burger wrappers and disposable cups, a practice started by the late Richard Snyder, the born-again younger son and onetime heir apparent to In-N-Out's founders, Harry and Esther Snyder.

Finally, there are the intertwined issues of In-N-Out's colorful past and its unsettled future, which are touched on in a new book titled simply "In-N-Out Burger," by BusinessWeek writer Stacy Perman.

Perman observes that In-N-Out has prospered by hewing close to the stolid principles of controlled growth, limited menu, fresh food and regional focus -- with the exception of one store in Utah, its 232 locations are all in California, Nevada or Arizona -- set in stone by its founders, like commandments. (Harry died in 1976, his widow in 2006.) As a private company, In-N-Out doesn't release financial figures, though the trade press estimated sales in 2005 at $370 million -- a healthy sum for a small chain.

Southern Californians have grown up appreciating the company's virtues, while the rest of the country slavers from afar: In-N-Out generally pays better than other burger chains, in return for which employees are held to rigorous standards of appearance and behavior. It's a fair bet you'll never see a video on YouTube of workers adulterating In-N-Out food even in jest, as recently befell another chain.

In-N-Out management, from corporate headquarters in Baldwin Park and Irvine down to store level, is first class.

The Wife and I serendipitously found that one in Utah. The burgers were perfect, the fries awful, the staff almost Stepford Wivish in their blank politeness. It's hard to describe though the greatest aspect of the place, which is the simplicity of the menu. It seems not unlikely that the limited number of choices is central to the superior quality of the dining experience

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 7, 2009 7:13 AM
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