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In-N-Out Burger Takes Top Honors in U.S. Survey

May 26, 2000|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In-N-Out Burger continues to draw raves from burger aficionados.

In its latest coup, the Irvine chain ranked No. 1 in overall customer satisfaction, topping 70 other chains in a new nationwide survey of 87,600 fast-food consumers.

Customers gave In-N-Out their highest rating in such categories as flavor, quality, friendly employees and cleanliness, according to the survey, released Thursday by Sandelman & Associates, a Villa Park firm that tracks trends in the fast food industry.

In-N-Out was rated No. 1 among burger chains in a similar survey conducted in February by Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

Of the In-N-Out patrons surveyed by Sandelman in a three-month period, 56% rated their experience as "excellent" the highest possible ranking.

"It's wonderful to hear that kind of praise from customers," said Carl Van Fleet, vice president of operations at In-N-Out. "That's the most important source for any survey."

In-N-Out was the only burger chain to rank in the top 10. Indeed, smaller regional chains featuring limited chicken or pizza menus drew more kudos than large national chains, the Sandelman survey found.

The survey indicates that customers view the food at regional chains as "a cut above what they get at many of the larger chains, where they see it as being mass-produced rather than made to order," said Robert Sandelman, president of the market research firm.

Sandelman said major national chains topped the rankings in only three of the 12 categories in the study. McDonald's was rated No. 1 in convenience of locations and appeal to kids, while Subway sandwiches drew the top ranking for healthy/nutritious food.

While In-N-Out ranked at or near the top in several categories, the chain was virtually below the radar screen in the areas of menu variety, convenience of locations, healthy/nutritious food and appeal to kids.

In-N-Out offers a basic menu of burgers, fries and drinks, and doesn't have kids meals. While national chains have thousands of locations, In-N-Out operates 143 restaurants in California, Nevada and Arizona. And loyal followers are clamoring for more, the survey found.

Van Fleet said the chain plans to open about 10 stores this year and about the same number next year. "We don't want to grow any faster," he added.

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