In-N-Out

That’s what a hamburger’s all about.

Five Guys is toast. I love their burgers, but I’m done with the place. It’s the over-the-top loud music and the can’t-give-a-shit employees. Just try to get them to turn the 80’s hits down, it’s impossible, someone at headquarters set the dB level, which is enough to get them sued for deafness, the employees’ hands are tied, if you can even get them to pay attention, they’re so busy b.s.’ing in a backstage party behind the counter. Yes, it’s the only burger place with my favorite drink on tap, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, but I’m never setting foot in one again. And neither is just about everyone else, every time I go it’s just about empty. Meanwhile, whatever you think of Chick-Fil-A’s policy on gays, you can’t get near the place. They’re on opposite sides of the street in Northridge. One is cascading with patrons, the other is empty.

I’ve had a rough day. And when the hunger pangs hit my stomach I just couldn’t fathom the food in my fridge. I needed something that would satisfy, titillate my taste buds. Yes, that’s how far I’ve come, my excess of choice, my vice, is food. I gave up alcohol decades ago. I was never a smoker, I was never an imbiber of coffee, but give me some good junk food and I’m sold.

Of course, gourmet is better. I’m sick of low quality crap. But junk food can be instant, fast, and sometimes you need to fill the hankering, you’ve got to get that immediate hit, and my go-to place is In-N-Out.

Now word of the establishment has reached the east coast, even though you can’t partake there. Kind of like Coors in the seventies. It was manna in New England. But burgers and fries don’t travel well. Then again, if you do travel, there’s an In-N-Out right by LAX, go for the experience.

And the main reason In-N-Out doesn’t travel is because of fresh. That’s how everything’s got to be. Quality control is everything.

Then again, QC is everything at McDonald’s, but that emporium is shooting too low. With its plastic shakes and bland burgers (we all know the fries are great!) In-N-Out is about perfecting the roadside burger. It’s the McDonald’s of your dreams. The food may not come with toys, but you’ve got a smile on your face just the same.

The drive-thru is backed up for blocks.

And it’s not easy to get a parking spot.

But as you approach the building, you feel the joy. The patrons sitting at the picnic tables, devouring their goodies.

SoCal may be emblematic of summer, but the dirty little secret is it’s not that hot. Oh, it bakes inland, but most nights by the beach you need a jacket. But there are a few weeks a year just warm enough this is unnecessary.

Tonight was one of those nights.

And there was a line to order. Peopled by enough ethnicities to make the Tea Party gag. This was the Washington Boulevard In-N-Out, by Costco, a veritable melting pot of color and race.

But no one would pull a gun here. That’s just not the vibe.

The vibe is efficiency.

There are three cashiers. And each and every one of them is focused on a customer. There’s no bullshitting between them, no talk of last night’s date. You see they’re well-trained and they want that upward mobility, In-N-Out promotes from within.

And you can truly have it your way. There’s the legendary “secret menu”: http://huff.to/Igi9k4

That’s too secret for me. But I love when they ask if I want onions on my burger. I LOVE onions.

And I always ask for the fries well-done. Which makes them kind of squeaky and oh-so-tasty. Imagine being able to have McDonald’s fries done your way. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

And the shakes are thick and real. It’s like slurping a fudgesicle. I save it for dessert.

And you’ve got to wait a few minutes for your food, everything’s cooked to order, and when my number was finally called, I went to the ketchup stand and found it empty. I immediately reported this failure to the man behind the counter and his compatriot, a young woman, pulled a move worthy of the NBA, reaching around him and delivering a plethora of squeeze packets to my tray. She didn’t want me to wait. Some things are best devoured hot.

And to say the meal was satisfying would be an understatement. All my troubles slipped away. It was a little bit of heaven.

And it wasn’t only the food that mattered. I felt like I belonged. I didn’t need to check in, I didn’t need to cough up my e-mail address, no one badgered me, there was just a feedback loop between worker and customer, that we were enlightened, that we were doing it a better way.

P.S. Meanwhile, having not visited In-N-Out since eating at Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, I must say, Danny makes a better burger. It’s the meat. He shoots higher. Pat LaFrieda makes the difference. But Danny’s fries are a disappointment. His shakes are stellar, but probably a bit upscale for most people, very thick, very ice creamy, very chocolaty. But you can see why there’s always a line around the block. People respond to quality. You don’t have to do everything, just a couple of things, really well.

P.P.S. I came home from Five Guys and I searched Yelp, to see if anybody else complained about the loud music. EVERYBODY complained about it. That’s what I want, a company so busy playing to the business press that it ignores its customers.

P.P.P.S. Everybody keeps saying you’ve got to be new and different, that you can’t stay in the past. That’s complete hogwash. McDonald’s may have upgraded its buildings, but In-N-Out looks like it’s stuck in the fifties. And it looked this way even back in the seventies, when it was totally unhip.

P.P.P.P.S. Hip is overrated. Almost no one’s that hip. At In-N-Out you can cast aside the need to project an image, it’s not about the right table, about preferential service, it’s about being one of the guys and gals at the best damn hamburger joint in Southern California, maybe the world!

http://www.in-n-out.com

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