In-N-Out Burger and Logistics

In Chicago we don’t have In-N-Out Burger franchises. Thus recently when I was in Arizona I saw a big sign for one and then when I was returning back from the airport I got off the highway and drove around until we located the franchise (which turned out to be right by an exit, but I had already passed it, so next time it would be done in a flash).

I generally didn’t know much about the franchise except that 1) the menu was very simple 2) the place was always packed. We got there a bit after 11 in the morning so the lunch hour rush hadn’t started yet. By the time we were done eating, the line was starting to get very long.

The food was great. To some extent they turn the “fast food” label on its head – the food is cooked while you wait and seemed very fresh. People have expectations of long lines, waiting for their food, and they are OK with it taking longer. There is obviously a trade-off here when compared against the other fast food chains, since I wouldn’t stand in a long line and wait to eat the typical fare. This is the “double double” with fries, and they had a nice catalog because apparently a lot of people like to show their In-N-Out pride by wearing shirts and picking up other paraphernalia.

The menu at In-N-Out is very simple – burgers, fries, and shakes. In reading up (researching?) for this post on wikipedia I found that there was a “secret” menu, which mostly is a variation on items above, although there did seem to be some entirely different items (like a grilled cheese sandwich or fried onions).

Having a simple menu and focused presentation allows the company to focus on the quality of their hamburgers and fries rather than myriad other menu items. To contrast it with a McDonalds, they have chicken, whatever a McRib is made out of, breakfast food, etc… which must make up a much larger logistical challenge than those faced by In-N-Out.

As you can see from the photo above I noted the “worst” form of logistical failure, being flat-out of a product that consumers expect to see. It is odd to me that Eggos had a supply chain breakdown of this magnitude but it wasn’t just at my local grocery store – they even mentioned it on their web site and formally apologized for this occurrence.

Another element that makes In-N-Out burger unique is that they don’t franchise. Virtually every other large chain offers franchises, and then attempts to control the behavior of franchises through rules, supply chains, and various other measures. While this has limited the expansion of the chain, it must be a significant contributor to the success of the individual stores within the chain.

Hope to get one in Illinois one of these days, but that is a lot of states away from California (they are expanding into nearby states including Nevada, Arizona and Utah).

Cross Posted at LITGM

11 thoughts on “In-N-Out Burger and Logistics”

  1. One constraint on In-and-Out Burger’s expansion is that they only serve fresh-not-frozen meat which means every store needs to be driving distance from their main meat processing facility. In order words, no In-and-Out in Chicago… or Boston for me. :)

  2. Yep. Always fresh, not frozen. You can watch them put the raw potatoes into the potato cutting device to make french fries.

    They also make sure to really listen to what you’re ordering and give you exactly what you asked for. As many times as I’ve gone, I only got a wrong order once. (Which is important to me — I have some form of gluten intolerance, and eating just a tiny bit of a bun would make me painfully sick for 3-7 days. They’ve never made me sick, unlike just about every other restaurant…)

  3. One of the few things we miss from Caliphornia. Some back east are trying to copy the formula (five guys) but the quality, volume and prices don’t cut it.

  4. It was a family owned business for years but the entire top executive group was wiped out in a plane crash at Orange County airport 15 years ago. They seem to have weathered that well.

    One small point about the merchandise they sell. A lot of kids, including my stepson, clip the ends off the “In-N-Out Burger bumper sticker so that it reads “In-N-Out urge.”

    When the new restaurant opened in El Centro last year, they had a huge traffic enforcement presence for several weeks. The lines went around the block. The service is very fast so most customers don’t mind. You get a number and the small menu helps with the speed.

    We drive from Orange County to Tucson several times a month and usually stop at the El Centro or Yuma, AZ sites. They are much larger than the older sites in Orange County.

  5. Yes those are the real prices. It seemed very reasonable for good food. I wish they had one here in the great midwest.

    Your burger place seems way hipper, though. Here in Chicago they have a bunch of expensive burgers too, often Kobe beef and strange buns and toppings.

  6. In-N-Out also pays much better than other fast-food restaurants, so they attract bright, motivated kids — often college students — who speak fluent English — something I haven’t seen at McDonald’s since I was passing through South Dakota a couple years ago. (Maybe that’s not unusual in the Midwest, but it stands out on either coast.)

    The fact that the company is privately owned by conservative Christians plays out in some unexpected ways. Pick up your drink cup next time — after you’ve finished it, ideally — and you’ll see a Bible verse along the bottom rim.

  7. All true about the quality of product, staff and attention to detail. Also, In-N-Out managers are promoted from within and earn the highest salaries in the industry. As noted above, In-N-Out will never be outside the driving range of their meat processing plant. But, there is no reason that someone can’t follow their model and open a drive-thru with a catchy name like “Chicago Boyz.” ;-)

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