Talk to most folks in the fast-casual industry and they’ll suggest a restaurant chain needs a strong delivery strategy, or at least a strong relationship with third-party delivery services, in order to be competitive. But every now and then, someone bucks that trend.
In-N-Out Burger did so this week by winning the top spot in Nation’s Restaurant News’ annual “Consumer Picks” report, which ranks chains based on consumer preferences. In the report, 63 percent of respondents surveyed, said they visit the Southern California burger chain for experience, not convenience. In other words, not everyone needs their burger and fries delivered to stay true to a brand.
In-N-Out topped the list in five categories in the report: true loyalty, freshness, taste, high-quality food, and service. It makes sense, seeing as the latter four of those items are easier to achieve when food is made to order and eaten or picked up on premises, rather than being rushed to a doorstep in a delivery vehicle driven by some rando making multiple stops.
In-N-Out is one of the few who doesn’t and may never have a delivery strategy. The chain has long been very vocal about quality control in its products, and goes to great lengths to ensure a superior product. All In-N-Out locations must be within 300 miles of one of its patty-making facilities (It has three: Baldwin, CA; Lathrop, CA; and Dallas; TX.) There are no microwaves, heat lamps, or freezers in any In-N-Out locations. Potatoes, meanwhile, are shipped direct from farms to make the fries. None of that’s very conducive to delivery, where food waits under heat lamps for drivers to arrive and the state of a meal depends on how many sharp turns or sudden stops the driver had to make.
But will quality override the chain’s long drive-thru lines, higher prices, and longer wait times?
I suspect not, and the NRN report didn’t indicate the brand is in any trouble, saying In-N-Out “may not keep pace with speedier quick-service rivals, but customers still leave happy. In fact, In-N-Out had the highest score for service in the survey, with 70 percent saying it was ‘best in class’ or ‘above average.'”
Vice president of operations Denny Warnick told NRN that In-N-Out’s success comes from keeping the same menu of “fresh, never frozen, burgers and fries” that were created by founders Harry and Esther Snyder in 1948.
Take that last point with a little grain of salt, though. Another recent report (PDF), this one from a group of public interest organizations, just revealed that of the top 25 burger chains in the U.S., only two passed a scorecard test and “received the only ‘A’ grades for sourcing beef raised without any antibiotics.” In-N-Out was not on that list. Shake Shack was, and they deliver in addition to being constantly on the hunt for new ways to bring convenience to their burgers. Shake Shack didn’t appear in NRN’s report, but the chain is expanding aggressively right now, which is further boosting consumer awareness about the brand.
But with consistently high ratings and a cult-like level of popularity, In-N-Out will surely be keeping the “in” part of its promise very, uh, in for the foreseeable future.