Sunday, February 14, 2010

Deliciously Simple

I love In-N-Out Burger.

I'm in good company. Top chef Gordon Ramsay loves In-N-Out too.

The food is delicious. It's hot, freshly made from fresh ingredients (onion, lettuce, tomato, unfrozen meat, whole potatoes), made to order, inexpensive, and fast. What else is there to love?

Its design. Its design is genius.

First, the name of the restaurant tells you absolutely everything you need to know about it: they serve hamburger sandwiches and service is fast. If you wanted a crispy fried chicken caesar salad, you came to the wrong place, buckeroo. Why on earth did you walk in here?

Second, the In-N-Out menu reflects the brand's elegant simplicity. In-N-Out serves burgers, fries, and drinks. Period. If a customer cannot figure out this menu, they're really, really in the wrong place. That, or unfamiliar with the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals.

Third, the restaurants are the same. In-N-Out has, from what I have seen in my wanderings, three store styles: small (now no longer being built), average, and a large version at travel centers along highway locations. The company knows everything about its stores, from how many staffers needed per shift down to the number of palm-tree logo tiles needed to build the dining room.

Last, and most importantly, In-N-Out has a "hidden" menu. You can get a burger built any way you want. If In-N-Out has the ingredients and can figure out how to charge for it, they do it. If you are super hungry, order a "four by four". Low-carbing it? Order "protein style". Your vegetarian friends can order a "grilled cheese". For a special treat, order "fries well done, animal style". You'll need two people to eat it.

In-N-Out is the Unix of fast food joints.

The Real Problem

Needless choice is the enemy of fast food. Or fast anything.

Walk into a McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Jack-in-the-Box, Taco Bell, or Sonic restaurant. I almost guarantee you'll peruse the menu for three minutes before you capitulate to the confusion and order the #1 SuperValueGulp combo. If you are someone's kid, Dad, Mom, or Coach orders you a McJacko King Meal #1 with a Little Ice Ogre Princess movie toy to shut you up.

Yes the goody-goody Diet Police have forced major chains to fluff their menus with "healthy choices" the public refuses to buy (it's fast food not health food). But the choice overload is not entirely accidental. The high margin items are fries and soft drinks, the loss leaders are meat and fresh items. And the soft drinks are self-serve, further lowering labor costs. You can select a nutritious, low-calorie meal from the Dollar-O-Rama menu but you cannot assemble it mentally, so you pick #1. Partially, this is why you're fat.

Proof? In-N-Out has three combo meals: my local McDonald's, eight (or is it ten?). Anything more than seven overloads short-term memory, and you'll likely go with the one in the top left-hand corner. #1. And who doesn't want to be #1?

Fixing the Design

There are two design lessons here.

The first is honest and direct. Make it simple. Make the choices distinct, easy to find, and valuably differentiable. Do you want the one year subscription for $80 or the two year subscription for $120, a $40 savings?

You can always generate value by cross-selling, upselling, or customizing. Keep the customer (or user) happy by telling him the choices clearly and making the results apparent. A happy customer/user is a retained customer/user, a confident customer/user. Happy people lower customer acquisition, training, and time-on-task costs. Build it into the business, workflow, or process model.

Customers value knowing that what they purchased came fairly priced. Clarity seems fair; the vendor isn't hiding anything. Saturn Motors started this way very successfully.

The second lesson is that the dazed and confused buyer will usually default to something (eventually, if hungry enough). If that something has lots of calming whitespace around it so it stands out from the noise, that's what s/he will purchase. The sales cycle will be longer, however, as the buyer's mental mouse traverses the maze of options before reaching the cheese.

Or the mouse could abandon its quest and walk next door to get a Double-Double cheeseburger at In-N-Out.