I know what I’m about to say is going to make more than a few people’s heads explode, but it needs to be said: In-N-Out Burger ain’t what it used to be.
Trust me on this one, folks; I know what I’m talking about.
I’ve been eating at In-N-Out for well over 30 years now. I grew up with an In-N-Out Burger down the street from my childhood home, which is a big reason why I’ve already eaten more Double Doubles in my lifetime than most people ever will. I can’t tell you how many times I rode my bike to that In-N-Out restaurant as a teenager and stuffed myself on what were the best double cheeseburgers anywhere, bar none.
Of course, that was a long time ago, back when In-N-Out Burger had fewer than 25 burger stands, most of them strictly drive-through — and all of them in Southern California.
Today, In-N-Out has built a modest empire of 222 stores spread throughout California. Another 82 restaurants have also popped up in Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Texas.
Over the years, In-N-Out has built their rock solid and well-deserved reputation primarily on two pillars:
1. Simplicity. Unlike most burger chains, In-N-Out’s menu isn’t big. In addition to the aforementioned Double Double, they also offer a cheeseburger, hamburger, fries, shakes and soft drinks. That’s it. Yes, if you’re really hungry you can order a four-by-four (quadruple meat, quadruple cheese) or make other arcane requests, but in the end, it’s all just different permutations of the basic menu.
2. Quality. Compared to places like McDonald’s, the food at In-N-Out Burger always takes a bit longer to prepare, but the consistent high quality products being served up always made it worth the wait.
Unfortunately, over the past year, I’ve noticed that In-N-Out’s once-dependable quality has been slipping. If the burgers weren’t over-cooked or lacked proper seasoning, they were garnished with tasteless tomatoes and wilted or colorless lettuce.
Compounding In-N-Out’s problem is the quality of their fresh-cut French fries has also gone downhill.
I love crispy fries, but the last time the Honeybee and I dined at an In-N-Out, the French fries were overcooked so badly that they had crossed the culinary rubicon, actually ending up someplace far beyond crispy. The French fries weren’t burnt, mind you. But they were fried until the fluffy centers were cooked out of them. And they were hard as a rock. That wasn’t the first time it happened either.
That incident ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. We were both so fed up with the declining quality at In-N-Out that we reluctantly agreed to take a long sabbatical from the Double Doubles.
When In-N-Out Burger is on their game, they really are the best of the best. However, I’m beginning to wonder if In-N-Out has finally gotten a bit too big for its own good.
I realize one bad experience can be written off as a fluke, and two can be considered coincidence. The trouble is three bad experiences over the past year clearly indicate a trend, and anything more than that would suggest the declining quality I’ve been experiencing lately has, sadly, become an institutional habit.
I really hope that’s not the case, but the evidence is worrisome.
Photo Credit: Aaron Friedman