March 9th, 2007
I first discovered In-N-Out Burger during a trip to Las Vegas last March. How I went so many years without knowing the joys of that place is beyond me. My friend brought me to the In-N-Out on Dean Martin Drive, and we waited a good 20 minutes in line just to get up to the cashier. That’s how crowded it was. Seeing so many other people waiting to get a burger really built up my anticipation. When was the last time you and 100 of your fellow cohorts waited that long at Burger King? The menu was straightforward: burgers, fries, shakes, and 3 combos. I took one bite of my burger and knew I had joined the ranks of the In-N-Out Evangelists.
So, what can we learn from In-N-Out Burger?
In-N-Out Burger does a great job of using preconceived notions to their advantage. They take a step beyond the expected and pleasantly surprise their customers. By offering fresh ingredients, outstanding quality control, and made-to-order food, In-N-Out exceeds the standards of the typical fast food joint. They don’t use microwaves or freezers, their fries are hand-cut and prepared on site, and the building is actually clean.
Going against the grain got In-N-Out Burger noticed. In their case, being the black sheep doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s interesting how In-N-Out offers a peculiar variety of drink choices. While they could have saved money by only offering Coca Cola or Pepsi products, they chose to offer customers Coke, Diet Coke, 7-Up, and Dr Pepper; the latter 2 produced by Cadbury Schweppes. In-N-Out strives to produce the best experience to customers even when it meant branching out to more than one beverage distributor.
Creating a sense of intrigue and exclusivity can do wonders with customers. A good story can often stimulate people’s interest and keep them coming back for more. Did you know In-N-Out has a secret menu? The customers that are aware of the secret menu feel like they are part of the in-crowd, and find great joy placing an order “animal style,” only to hear the folks around them inquire what that is. In-N-Out also doesn’t have any restaurants more than a day’s drive away from its main distribution center. While I’m assuming this is done for quality reasons, it also allows In-N-Out to remain exclusive to a certain area. Whenever I am in In-N-Out territory, I make it a point to go, as do many other people.
In-N-Out has also chosen to remain relatively small in comparison to other fast-food chains, which allows them to adapt quickly while holding steadfast to their tried and true values. I recommend to many of our clients to avoid striving for world domination, that way they can stay true to their loyal audience base. Just as Seth Godin points out in his new book, Small is the New Big, there is an advantage to being small. Small companies can do big things. In-N-Out is a family-owned chain that refuses to franchise. This allows them to foster an extremely close relationship with their associates and customers while staying true to tradition.
Finally, In-N-Out keeps their choices simple. Their menu is one of the simplest I’ve encountered. When I make my burger choice, there aren’t any complex decisions I have to make. Think about Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice. In a culture where we seem to have limitless choice, Barry argues that more choice doesn’t necessarily lead to greater satisfaction or superior alternatives. He believes more choice leads to psychological and emotional detriment. Either you want a burger or you don’t; no wasting time and effort choosing among 50 different menu items, frustrating yourself, wondering if you made the right decision. The menu is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
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