Respect at In-N-Out Burger


NPR : Pay Helps Keep Workers at Western Burger Chain

You should listen to this NPR story online, about the fast food chain In-N-Out. I'm not much into fast food burgers, but when I lived in Phoenix, I loved In-N-Out. There's a story to be told about not compromising on quality ingredients — never frozen ingredients, fresh hand cut potatoes, etc.

As Samuel L. Jackson might have said, from Pulp Fiction, “That IS a tasty hamburger.”

There's another blog post begging to be written, also, about the simplicity of their menu — hamburgers, fries, sodas, and shakes. No McRibs or Nuggets or other culinary monstrosities. Given the simple menu, it's all true build-to-order with ultimate customization possible (including a lettuce-wrapped bun-free “low carb” option).


The real story about In-N-Out is about how they treat their employees. The privately-held, family-run company (that might have something to do with it) is famous for paying wages much higher than the minimum wage and much higher than competitors. They start employees at almost $10, quite a premium over all the other fast food places that are trying to get the cheapest labor possible.

The NPR story points out that In-N-Out gets their first choice of the best employees for that segment of the labor market. Turnover is much lower than other fast food restaurants (I hate to put In-N-Out in that category, it's so much better).

But the thing that really jumped out at me was a brief exchange with a college-age worker who left a job with a law firm to work at In-N-Out. Not only was the pay better, but they treat him with RESPECT at In-N-Out.

Respect for people — a key cornerstone of the Toyota Production System. Toyota's not looking for the cheapest labor either. It's more important to have reliable, quality employees and some stability so you're not always having to train new people.

The results show — it's privately held, but In-N-Out does very well financially. And, the results show as a customer — friendly employees and great service. In-N-Out inspires amazing loyalty among their customers. I wish they could expand to Texas, but as the Wikipedia article points out, they are committed to never freezing their beef, which means stores have to be within a certain driving distance of their California meatpacking plant. If you live on the East Coast, you'll never experience an In-N-Out burger… but if you ever go west, you HAVE to try it.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Dear Mark,

    What a great story about In-N-Out. It brought back some great memories of growing up in California – including spur of the moment midnight burger runs (we called them “study breaks”) to In-N-Out with my college buddies.

    I still have quite of collection of their T-shirts (they used to sell T-shirts with their logo and graphics of classic cars; a new one came out every few months).

  2. Work till 2:00 am then return at 9:00 am. Arrive at home smelling of grease. Have a thin film on parts of your body not covered by the uniform.
    Employees are made to feel inadequate when you’re too sick to work and need to go home. Continually exceeding expectations and then only rewarded with a pat on the back but no raise or bonus.
    They have the same power politics as any other business.
    They treat you like family? Then limit the operating hours so employees can spend more time with their families.
    What people see from the outside in regards to employee treatment is different than what occurs behind the counter.
    To see the truth just work there for six months or look to see the types of lawsuits that are filed against the company but never publicized in the media.
    Worked there for 10 years and left when I realized I was just a number.


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