The In-N-Out Burger

Conventional wisdom says that Americans have lost their taste for burgers — which would explain why McDonald’s, the world’s biggest purveyor of fast food (14 gazillion served!), has gone as limp as an hour-old french fry. But if that’s so, then why does In-N-Out Burgers, a California-based chain of 175 all-burger joints, draw lunchtime crowds that snake out the door? It’s all about the (double) burger.

Buns are baked daily from natural yeast-fed dough. Little about In-N-Out’s food preparation has changed since Harry and Esther Snyder opened their first drive-through in 1948.

Produce, including large, vine-ripe tomatoes, is delivered fresh every other day, then washed and cut by hand. The Snyder family, still running the show, has never allowed freezers, heat lamps, or microwaves, so every sandwich is truly made-to-order and served hot.

100 percent pure beef is ground daily by a team of In-N-Out’s very own butchers. The initiated order off an unprinted “underground” menu: “Animal style” means a patty grilled with mustard and topped with onions, pickles, and extra “spread” — In-N-Out’s signature burger dressing.

Cheese is one of the few options In-N-Out offers. It sells burgers — single or double — fries, sodas, and shakes. That’s it. By contrast, McDonald’s has added 37 items to its core menu since 1955, plus countless trials and promotions. Which chain do you think has fewer supply-chain headaches?

Ah, the green stuff. In-N-Out, a private company, won’t talk numbers, but the buzz is that it’s profitable. In January, McDonald’s reported the first quarterly loss in its history.