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In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules Paperback – October 12, 2010
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Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: With In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules, BusinessWeek writer Stacy Perman presents a chronicle of how a family-run California hamburger joint went on to become an American pop culture icon. Founded in 1948 by Harry Snyder and his wife Esther in Baldwin Park, CA, In-N-Out Burger attracted a cult-like fanbase of cruising teens, surfers, and celebrities alike (who developed a secret shorthand for custom orders). As they expanded slowly over the years across California and into Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, they never sacrificed their core customer-service values and commitment to quality. Their made-to-order success story packs enough family drama to fuel an HBO miniseries. After Harry died in 1976, his son Rich took over the business (and was responsible for adding discreet Bible verses to In-N-Out cups and wrappers) until his death in a 1993 plane crash. His brother Guy, a drag-racing rebel with a dark side, stepped in to helm the business until his accidental overdose in 1999. If you've never had an In-N-Out burger, Perman's book just might inspire you to find a good reason to get yourself to Southern California and seek out an off-the-menu 3x3 with a side of Animal Style fries. --Brad Thomas Parsons
Author Stacy Perman's Guide to In-N-Out Burger's "Secret Menu"
Except for the addition of 7-Up and Dr. Pepper, In-N-Out Burger's menu has remained much as it was when the chain opened its first drive-thru in Baldwin Park, California in 1948. However, at some point in time, a "secret menu" emerged. Something of an insider's code, it is an off-menu series of variations on the chain's standard fare (Double-Double, hamburger, cheeseburger, and french fries) that has been passed on entirely by word-of-mouth through the years.
Although the "secret menu's" origins remain a mystery, part of its existence can be explained by the fact that In-N-Out Burger has always insisted on cooking-to-order each individual burger any way a customer wanted it prepared. Over time, several of these variations gained traction and somewhere along the way a number of them were given their own names. While frequently steeped in rumor and apocryphal tales the "secret menu" is almost always used by those In-N-Out customers in the know.
These are the most popular "secret menu" items. In-N-Out Burger has listed them on their website (and even trademarked their names):
Double Meat: Two beef patties, lettuce, tomato, spread, (optional onions) on a toasted bun.
3x3: Three beef patties, lettuce, tomato, sauce, three slices of American cheese, (optional onions) on a toasted bun.
4x4: Four beef patties, lettuce, tomato, sauce, four slices of American cheese, (optional onions) on a toasted bun.
Grilled Cheese: Two slices of melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato, sauce, (optional onions) on a toasted bun.
Protein Style: Any burger served sans bun and wrapped in lettuce.
Animal Style: Any burger with mustard cooked beef, lettuce, tomato, extra sauce, pickle, and grilled onions on a toasted bun. (Note: the Grilled Cheese can also be prepared Animal Style)
A few more "secret" variations that have made the rounds for those in the know:
X x Y: Any number of beef patties with corresponding slices of American cheese (note on one memorable Halloween evening in Las Vegas a group of friends famously ordered and consumed a 100x100).
Flying Dutchman: beef patty or patties and American cheese slice(s) no vegetables or bun.
Veggie Burger (sometimes called a Wish Burger): no beef or cheese, just lettuce, tomato, or (optional) onions on a toasted bun.
Extra Everything: just like it sounds--extra sauce, tomato, lettuce, and onions served grilled or raw.
Chopped Chilies: mild chopped peppers are added to any burger.
The "secret menu" also extends to a variety of french fry variations:
Animal Style Fries: an order of fries slathered in melted American cheese, sauce, and grilled onions.
Fries Light: reduced cooking time resulting in softer, chewier french fries.
Fries Well-Done: increased cooking time resulting in crispier, browner french fries.
Cheese Fries: french fries bathed in melted American cheese.
The usual scenario is a whole slice of fresh onion cooked with the burger but In-N-Out will serve onions grilled, raw, and chopped if asked.
For those really in the know:
If you ask an associate at the counter they will give you a serving of yellow chili peppers.
Pickles are added only upon request.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Perman (Spies Inc.) casts an affectionate and admiring eye at In-N-Out Burger, the family-owned, Southern California chain that has become a cultural institution without franchising, going public, changing its menu or precooking its burgers. This book traces the history of the company and the Snyders, the family that founded and still owns In-N-Out, interspersed with the evolution of the fast-food industry. Perman never makes good on her promise to go behind-the-counter and analyze the company's dealings—her access to executives and family members did not extend to gleaning financial or strategic information—consequently it's never clear whether In-N-Out's conservatism is a conscious business strategy, a personal preference of the owners or plain complacency. More a glowing fan letter from an appreciative customer than exposé, this book has more to say about the company's celebrity fans, American family dynamics and our collective love affair with fast food. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The business analysis feels like the elements one would find in a college term paper or maybe a master’s thesis with In-N-Out as the anchor. The family history has too much feel of gossip versus a candid picture. The way the two are woven together feels a little choppy.
Having described the book in more negative terms than it probably deserves, I found it valuable to satisfy my curiosity about In-N-Out and would recommend it as a resource for anyone with similar interests. I am looking forward to the person that is able to write that definitive book on Lynsi as I believe her life sums up what In-N-Out is really all about.
Unlike virtually every other fast food business in the U.S....Harry and Esther Snyder operated their business as a way to make a living...NOT as a way to get rich. Expansion was only out of necessity...after long lines and traffic jams called out the need for other stores to ease the congestion...Harry was a practical man...and only opening up another In-N-Out Burger if he had the money to build the store, and purchase the land under it. He never borrowed on credit...it was always paid in cash. By the time Harry Snyder died in 1976...In-N-Out Burger had about 18 stores in the Southern California area. Despite many offers to expand further, and franchise...Harry and Esther Snyder insisted on keeping it a small, family-run business. Instead of cutting corners and costs in order to make more of a profit...the Snyders did the opposite... paying extra money to not only have high quality food (with everything fresh and made to order)...but also to pay their employees a higher wage than anybody else. To the Snyders...the workers at their In-N-Out Burger stores were the stars...and should be treated accordingly. There were no employees at In-N-Out Burger...everyone was an "associate"...never an employee. Customers were always VIPs...and were always right Farmers, and food merchants were treated like gold...In this simple yet radical mode of operation...everyone was happy...and with everyone happy...business always stayed strong. While every fast food restaurant in the country added and changed their menus in order to increase and expand business...In-N-Out-Burger stayed exactly the same...sticking with Harry Snyder's motto "Keep it simple; do one thing, and do it the best you can."
After Harry Snyder died, his youngest son Richard took over the business. Under Richard Snyder...In-N-Out Burger expanded to all parts of California, and extended into Nevada, Arizona, and eventually Utah. He also took In-N-Out Burger out of just being a simple, walk-up, drive-thru experience and turned into walk-up, drive-thru AND indoor restaurant experience. A deeply religious man, it was Richard Snyder who implemented a policy of having religious references to the Bible located on the bottom of various In-N-Out Burger cups and paper...a practice they continue to use to this day. Yet even in their broad expansion...Richard insisted on keeping In-N-Out Burger exactly the way his father left it...family-owned, with all of the food fresh and maade to order. Sadly, by the time In-N-Out Burger hit 200 stores...Richard Snyder (and other In-N-Out Burger executives) were killed in a plane crash in 1993.
Harry & Esther's oldest son, Guy, choose a different path than his younger brother Richard. For Guy Snyder...life was about fast cars, racing, and lots of drugs. Throughout his life, he fought constantly with his younger brother Richard. After Richard's death...Guy took over the company, slowed down expansion, yet kept the same core business values of his father and brother. Unfortunately, Guy Snyder's life of struggle and excess got the better of him, and he died of a drug overdose in 1999...leaving behind two ex-wives, his mother, and a daughter.
Esther Snyder did her best to run In-N-Out Burger for a number of years...though her health soon began to fail, and she passed away in 2006, at age 86. A power-struggle within the company was brewing during Esther's final years...and in a controversial move...Guy Snyder's ambitiuous ex-(step)son-in-law was named President of In-N-Out Burger upon Esther's death...with Guy's estranged daughter, Lynsi Martinez waiting in the wings to come of age...and take over full ownership of the company...
All in all, I enjoyed reading IN-N-OUT-BURGER. Considering how private the company is, Stacy Perman did an excellent job in getting as much information as she could about the inner-workings and history of In-N-Out Burger. Though I am not sure how much I liked Perman's writing in general..there was something lacking in it...an absence of style, or zest perhaps? Another thing that annoyed me was Perman's tendency to pad her book a bit with repetition, and (what felt like) non-pertinent information...That said, I am thankful that ANYONE took the time to write a book like this...and got a huge kick out of learning more about the place(s) I love...my home away from home...In-N-Out Burger.
If you do not know what an In-N-Out Burger restaurant is, you probably are not reading this review or seriously mulling over a purchase of Perman's book. To this point you may want to consider a more nationally relevant retail story. Robert Spector's book about Nordstrom's, the high-end department store chain, is an excellent read (The Nordstrom Way, 1999). Equally interesting is Sam Walton's autobiography (written with John Huey, 1992), essentially a timeline of the events behind the founding and rise of the Walmart department store chain. Another good book is Lee Iacocca's autobiography (written with William Novak, 1984), which is the auto executive's telling of his time at Ford and Chrysler and his family's connections to the small, but beloved, Pennsylvania restaurant chain Yocco's.
The first half of Perman's book is largely dedicated to the chain's founding and its progress through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It is rich in details from the Snyders' humble midwestern beginnings, the advent of World War II, and the start of the Baby Boom era. Perman gamely mixes in juicy tidbits from Ray Kroc's early escapades surrounding McDonald's and often mentions Carl Karcher's influence (of the Carl Jr. and Hardee's fame) on the California fast-food market. But the book takes on a more tabloid feel in the later pages with the revelation of drug abuse by one of the Snyder sons and embarrassing litigation over the family succession. This seediness is hardly Perman's fault. The truth, as is often the case, is stranger than fiction. Unfortunately the historical tapestry at the beginning and the later lurid details and embarrassing behavior are still just a thin coating over an even thinner capitalist premise. At its central core, In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look is merely a tale of two basic business aphorisms.
One. If you bust your ass, sell a quality product, and are not just in it to score a fortune from exiting the business, you can build one heck of company with few real rivals. Two. If your company culture and business process is solid, the company will survive in spite of the inevitable degeneration of work ethic by founding family descendents or the employment of professional managers with few entrepreneurial skills.
Some may also be disappointed by the revelation that several Snyder family members (including the current sole heir) have arrogantly attributed much of their success to the supposed manifest destiny due religious fundamentalists everywhere (as opposed to hard work, fortuitous economic timing, and good business sense). This tortuous reasoning stands in sharp contrast to, for example, the earnest reasoning behind the creation of the wildly successful Chik-fil-A (founded by by S. Truett Cathy) from the start as an enterprise with strong ingrained religious values.
Do not misunderstand. If you are a In-N-Out Burger enthusiast (as the reviewer is, despite being an East Coast resident), you will be thoroughly entertained by many of the book's interesting revelations. Perman's tome is a mandatory read for the loyal In-N-Out customer or long-time California resident. This is the key to figuring out why this book was published in the first place, instead of a history (for example) of Five Guys, Ledo Pizza, or Nathan's Hot Dogs. Perman's efforts had a sizable guaranteed contemporary audience.
As a result, In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-The-Counter Look is tasty and filling, but not really satisfying. Considered as just an American rags-to-riches business story, the book falls flat. But similar to the Pavlovian obsession we have for high-calorie and questionably-nutritional fast-food, we crave the sordid details of the institutions and people that enthrall us.
And next time this reviewer is in California, you can be sure he will get his In-N-Out food fix.
Most recent customer reviews
As I skimmed through it, I can't wait to read it.