below is from David Perrell’s ‘Monday Musings’

Harry Snyder opened the first In-N-Out Burger joint across the street from his home. He could see the drive-thru line from his living room window. At night, when the restaurant got busy, he’d often turn off the television to run across the street and help in the kitchen.

The food was cheap: 25 cents for a hamburger. 30 cents for a cheeseburger. To keep costs low, Snyder was frugal about everything except food quality.

Snyder had a different philosophy than his competitors. While competing burger joints like McDonald’s chose to franchise, In-N-Out stayed family owned. Instead of going crazy with mascot advertising (McDonald’s had Ronald McDonald and Burger King had the king), In-N-Out relied on word-of-mouth.

Other chains sacrificed food quality for scale. While White Castle switched from fresh to frozen patties, In-N-Out doubled-down on their “Always fresh, never frozen” philosophy. While other chains made burgers in advance to get ahead of the demand, In-N-Out only started making burgers after customers explicitly ordered them. While competitors used chemicals to make their buns rise faster, In-N-Out stayed with sponge dough buns that took hours to rise.

Snyder’s philosophy boils down to one idea: he focused on quality, while his competitors focused on the spreadsheet.

The Spreadsheet-ification of the world shows up beyond the food industry. You see it in Spreadsheet Architecture, where efficiency is prized over beauty and ornamentation. You see it at Spreadsheet Hotels, where the people at the front desk are practically asleep, and nearly all the food at the continental breakfast is processed junk. Look at Apple, too. They’ve gone from innovative products to innovative payment plans and pricing strategies. It seems like the MBAs are in charge there now.

Dare you say, “good stuff is too expensive,” In-N-Out is a case study in how to maintain quality and treat people well, while keeping prices low.

In-N-Out Burger is what it is today because Snyder was spreadsheet-informed, not spreadsheet-driven. He saved costs with inventions like the drive-thru microphone that we all take for granted now (yep… In-N-Out Burger invented the drive-thru microphone). Snyder also kept a spartan menu. Doubling down on burgers and fries meant he didn’t need to spend money on new equipment or training employees to cook new menu items.

Both these cost-saving initiatives showed up on the spreadsheet, no doubt.

But unlike the other fast-food restaurants at the time, Harry Snyder never skimped on ingredients. When a delivery truck included a lousy pack of onions, he fired the supplier immediately. Though only a few people would’ve noticed that specific blunder, Snyder’s unshakable dedication to food quality has given In-N-Out a cult following.

Every company that cares about quality should ask: “What do we prioritize that doesn’t show up on the spreadsheet?”

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