Restaurant Operations Lessons from In-N-Out Burger

By Brian Harris

When Lynsi Snyder speaks, people listen. The 33-year-old billionaire owner of In-N-Out Burger, the sole heir to her family’s fortune, makes rare public appearances. It’s ironic since the California-based fast-food chain has been a well publicized stop for local Hollywood stars.

Based on her family’s history, Snyder has a unique perspective on restaurant operations. “We’re not changing things like many other companies do,” she told the Orange County Register in 2013. “That’s kept us unique; it’s kept the customers feeling like we’re not a sellout.”

Here are the three key restaurant operations lessons from In-N-Out:

1. Be Careful When You Franchise

For the past 67 years, In-N-Out Burger’s operations have centered on this original tenet: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.”

The Snyder family rule is to maintain control of each location in order to achieve high standards. Like her father and her grandparents before her, Lynsi Snyder has made it clear that In-N-Out Burger will not franchise or sell.

Interestingly, McDonald’s and In-N-Out came of age in the 1950s. When In-N-Out was approached for franchising opportunities, the answer was always no. Meanwhile, McDonald’s said yes and became a global fast-food giant.

Fast-forward to 2015, however, and McDonald’s is shrinking its U.S. store count for the first time in more than 40 years. Sales continue to falter as the brand struggles to redefine itself in today’s market.

2. Keep the Menu Simple

Founders Harry and Esther Snyder did not want to add too many menu items for fear it would affect the quality of In-N-Out Burger’s food and service. The menu has remained largely unchanged since the chain’s founding and includes single hamburgers, cheeseburgers, the Double-Double, French fries, malts, shakes and sodas. The food is made to order with fresh ingredients, meaning no microwaves, heat lamps or freezers.

3. Employee Satisfaction

The Snyders learned early on that retaining good employees — or “associates” as In-N-Out calls them — was one way to maintain brand consistency. Entry-level employees are paid more than minimum wage, and some have been with the company for more than 20 years by working their way up to managerial roles.

In January, Snyder attended the opening of the 300th In-N-Out location in Anaheim, CA, on what would have been her grandmother’s 95th birthday. It’s been a slow and steady pace to this milestone. The restaurant chain operates in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Texas.

With its roots firmly planted, the company is poised for future growth and a possible showdown with gourmet burger chain Shake Shack, which plans to open at least 450 locations in the coming years after going public in January.

It’s proof that having clearly defined goals, a simple menu and a high level of respect for employees can go a long way in the fast-food business.

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