For a number of years, I have chronicled the progress as well as some missteps of In-N-Out a hamburger chain that was begun in Los Angeles in the 1950s, now operating in California and across most of the Southwest. In earlier organizational change management books, I extolled In-N-Out’s excellent running and management of their hamburger outlets.
From the beginning, the owners supported their staff, paid them well and fostered their career growth up through management ranks when possible. In other words, they did what all well-run companies do – they concentrated on ensuring good products and good staff to purvey those products. Both very important aspects of having ALL THE MOVING PARTS move in consonance. And, as I have discussed in VALUE PLUS: EMPLOYEES AS VALUERS it’s the employees in the company that constitute either the “make” or “break” of the corporation. Thus, it is with sincere concern that I write yet another chronicle of IN-N-OUT exploits in our local market. I had talked in an earlier post about the odd obsession that has In-N-Out order takers focusing on whether someone wants onions on their hamburgers. Even if one specifies an order like: “Everything on the hamburger, except lettuce,” the order taker will most often than not still ask “Do you want onions on the hamburger?” Well, yeah – that would be what “everything on the hamburger except lettuce” would mean! Just when I think we’ve finally worked out of that ridiculous obsession . . . there’s now a new one. Today when going through a local INO drive-through to acquire hamburgers for a crew working at our home property, I was met outside by someone whom I’ll call “Chris.” When I placed the order, “A Number One (‘Number One’ orders contain a Double-Double Hamburger with an order of french fries and a medium drink) with everything on the hamburger except lettuce. . .” At this point I was interrupted by “Chris” who said: “Did you want a hamburger? Number Ones have a Double Double.” At which point, I said, “What else would I be ordering when ordering a Number One?” He said, “You said ‘hamburger.'” (In other words, I had used the euphemism “hamburger” to indicate the generic, and he had construed – or was pretending to do so in order to be annoying – that epithet as indicating that I wanted a “plain hamburger” rather than a “double double.”) How much more ridiculous can this order-taking business get? As a result of this unbelievably silly experience, I’ve decided that: 1 – Either the local establishment in our town is managed by a “specifist” who obsessively trains the staff there to be overly “correct” – “Hamburger correctness” taken to the most absurd extreme!; or 2- The new corporate management of INO are the people responsible for this obsessive level of training. Whichever it is, it is definitely odd. As well as uncalled-for and prone to make the customer unnecessarily “put-out” by the silly “prissiness.”
So, IN-N-OUT CORPORATE: clean up the act! The purpose of your order-takers is to make things work smoothly for your customers – remember those folks – the customers? The ones who pay your bills? Order-taking should be a smooth, seamless, stress-free process. I suggest that you travel down the road and go through the Jack-in-the-Box drive through to find out how order-taking should work – if you ask for no lettuce on the “hamburger” (even though you’re ordering a cheeseburger) – they don’t quibble. They simply don’t put lettuce on the sandwich. Case over; money collected; product provided to the customer. SO MUCH EASIER THAN AT INO!