Friday, June 6, 2008

A Fast-Food Lesson

A recent scientific survey has shown that 58% of the fast-food eating population prefers, given a choice of fast-food restaurants, In-N-Out. 34% of the respondents prefer McDonalds, and 6% say that Carl's Jr is their first choice in fast-food.

That's an overwhelming majority--58%. But let's table that for a moment, shall we? And let's put our collective thinking caps on and brainstorm just a bit.

Imagine with me that you were charged with building a brand--a fast-food brand. Your charge is to take the brand to the top; to make that particular brand the overwhelming favorite. Quickly: list the things that are vital, in your mind, for the brand to hit the top of the chart.

  • The restaurant should offer a variety of foods: burgers, salads, burritos (if you can make them fit), ice cream, shakes and cake.
  • The restaurant should offer foods to suit every type of meat eater: the beef eaters, the chicken eaters, fish freaks and vegans.
  • The restaurant should offer food with multiple price points: have some cheap stuff (a dollar menu), some mid range stuff for the masses, and a high priced section (like the six-dollar burger stuff).
  • Multiple sides: offer french fries, onion rings, zucchini, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, biscuits and cole slaw.
  • Mass produce and pre-package the ingredients: maximize the economies of scale by mass purchasing and producing various ingredients--like french fries.
  • Make it SNAPPY: get folks through the place as quickly as possible; use microwaves and pre-cooked foods as much as possible to make it happen.
  • Kids Meals: have a kids meal with cool toys to attract the children (for when mom and dad say, "Joey: what do you want to eat tonight?").
  • Advertising: advertise obsessively; TV, radio, magazines, newspapers--any media available, have your logo somewhere.
  • Franchise it Baby: offer franchises to everyone who'll pick one up. After all, you get a cut off the top of everything.
Did you come up with something similar (albeit not as well written; that's OK--we can't all be as good as me)? Go back through my list though: In-N-Out, your acknowledged favorite, doesn't do ANY of this. Yet they're ALWAYS busy; they're everybodys favorite.

Why is that? Are kids meals bad? Do they push people away? Is advertising counterproductive? Do people not want choices? Do people not like the idea of a dollar menu? On the contrary: people enjoy these things; they enjoy them immensely. They value them. But there's something they value even more.

It comes down to two timeless principles that apply to ALL business.
  1. Stick with what you know and are good at. Focus on that, and on that alone.
  2. Execute flawlessly, every time.
People like choices. They relish the idea of having a choice. But each choice dilutes the focus that should be directed toward further perfecting that which we're good at. Every time we add something else to the menu, we run the risk of diminishing the quality of the things we already do well. Consumers despise that. We cannot be good at everything. Someone at the In-N-Out corporate offices somewhere decided long ago that they were good at hamburgers and fries. One type of hamburger, and one type of fry. So they were going to maintain their focus, not try to reach some sector of the population with a soy-burger, or to reach kids and picky women eaters by releasing a chicken nugget meal.

And people like consistency. They're willing to pay for it--both with their money and with their time. How many times have you driven by an In-N-Out where there were 12 cars in the drive through, and the line inside is clear out to the glass doors? It's the norm at In-N-Out. Have you noticed that very few people complain about waiting at In-N-Out? Conversely, I'm disgruntled if I have to wait more than 5 minutes at McDonalds. Consistent quality--execution--is worth something to people.

You see, the truth of the matter is the best fast-food business model is a universal model: focus on what you do best, and deliver on that without fail. The success will follow. You can't duplicate the type of success that In-N-Out has seen by adding items to the menu, or by pushing customers through a little faster, or by offering items for .99 cents.

McDonalds and Carls and Burger Kings (and certainly KFC) could learn something from In-N-Out: scale down the menu; focus on your core, those things you do well; do them well ALL the time, EVERY time. That's it. Why don't they? Why can't they take a page from a book that's already been written, and written well? Why do they insist on continuing to pursue their own strategies (to no real positive end)?

And why don't more of us take the same advice? It fits in our personal and professional lives as well: don't try to be something you're not; focus on what you do well, and do it consistently well. The value will follow; you'll be rewarded.

That's a guarantee!


Anonymous said...

It's those datgum fake burgers and fries we don't want!
We want to know that our fries are actually potatoes and our beef really is beef!
Google this: The Smoking Fry

Fake food is out- give us the real food!

Shane Eccles said...

Actually, serving close to 50,000,000 people per day, the most popular fast food chain is McDonalds. You can find a McDonalds in about 120 countries, represented by 34,000+ restaurants and employing over 1,500,000 people. That is just the McDonalds brand alone. They also own many other popular sites and have recently sold some of them – Chipotle Mexican Grill and Boston Market being the most popular.
In-N-Out on the other hand, only operates about 200 locations.
So I guess the more popular fast food chain is the most supported, McDonalds.

But obviously the audience of Myndfood, does not follow crowds blindly, well, most of us anyway, (58% to be exact) we are that of a greater existence and appreciate the greater things in life.

And hey, any fast food restaurant that spreads the word of God should be the best right? In-N-Out has a scripture on every wrapper and cup they hand out, look for it on your next trip.

Of course there are those in the world that prefer it not because of their support of the Word but because when Paris Hilton, the spokesperson for Carl’s Jr., was arrested for a DUI, she was quoted as saying, “I just wanted a Double Double.”

Shane Eccles said...

BTW, I voted for Carl’s Jr., not because Paris Hilton is the spokesperson for them, but because they have a Chili Burger and Chili fries combo meal that is just INSANE!

I believe the simplicity of In-N-Out, as you mentioned, is true to their success, but just imagine a Double -Double Chili Burger!