When two restaurants continually get pitted against one another, it tells you one thing. A little competition can keep you on your toes.
And, if nothing else, it leads to some great food-related conversation.
Case in point: the ongoing question of whether In-n-Out Burger or Five Guys offers the better burger. Or at least the better burger experience.
We had the chance for an A-B comparison when a new Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened up directly across the street from an In-n-Out Burger in Yuma, Arizona. Flags flying, the Five Guys was attracting a curious crowd . . . while across the street, many of the loyal In-n-Out eaters were oblivious to the threat on the horizon.
We tried them both, back to back. Here’s what we found:
In-n-Out’s burger has a toasted bun, crispy edges on the hamburger meat, and secret codes that make you feel like an insider if you know one of them (we do). Their décor is red and white, with little red trays and white baskets for the fries. Those fries taste like a potato should, and there is a generous supply overflowing onto the tray or into the carry out bag.
The shakes are decent; the Thousand Island dressing a standard condiment on the burger.
Ask for the triple triple and get three pieces of meat and three of cheese.
Five Guys doesn’t bother with secret codes—they just give you 250,000 ways to order. Peanuts are available by the handsful, and they don’t have shakes. All toppings are free, and the fries come in a big cup. Real potatoes are on display to give you the feeling of fresh, complete with identification of the farms where today’s potatoes were grown (on this day, ours came from Blackfoot, Idaho).
Red and white colors are used here, too, although the décor is more austere, and the signage more prevalent to help you decode the process. At Fiveguys.com, you can place your order online.
When comparing the two, there are some differences. Five Guys’ burger comes on a sesame seed bun—which some may love, and some not care about. The Five Guys meat looks hand formed, and, in our taste test, was nicely cooked whereas the In-n-Out Burger had some suspect red in the middle.
In-n-Out’s seating was more confined, while Five Guys was noisier. Both provided a fair amount of grease stains on their bags (In-n-Out’s in a white, branded bag; Five Guys in a plain brown bag). Neither are the least bit genteel, and both had the feeling of a free-for-all.
Our prevalent feeling was, “How can this many people in Yuma, Arizona be eating a hamburger for lunch?” And, “Why would they open right across from one another?”
The answer to that is simple economics—the kind McDonald’s and Burger King discovered long ago. The mathematics (OK, maybe not so simple—but Weakonomics.com might help) prove that when competing companies locate near one another, they improve the odds of making a sale. You drive to a general location and you can get a hamburger . . . or a hamburger. All of a sudden the odds of a sale are improved.
For us, Five Guys wins for fries and burger. In-n-Out gets points for the toasted bun, but they are going to have to pay attention to the competition. There’s another reason to stay close—keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, as they say.
Neither restaurant makes any pretense of doing anything more than keeping up with the continuous lines that seem to be at each. They don’t have kids toys. They don’t serve breakfast.
But, boy, do they compete.