• Book Chris Rugh Today! 1-888-SPEAKER

The Six Minute Book Summary of In-N-Out Burger by Stacy Perman

The Six Minute Book Summary of In-N-Out Burger by Stacy Perman

Executive Summary

“Keep it real simple, do one thing and do it the best you can.” That quote is the way that Harry Snyder, co-founder of IN-N-OUT Burger, ran his business until the day that he died. Harry’s work ethic was a product of watching his parents struggle to provide food for his family, from this he learned that luck was not something that found you rather luck was something you had to find yourself.

            Harry met his future wife one day in September 1947 and within a year the two married. Ester Lavelle Johnson was the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners; she was the opposite of her husband who was tough and demanding. She preferred to get things done behind the scenes, where Harry wanted to be hands on with everything. Harry got his start in the food industry after his time in the military. He developed a take-out boxed lunch service that he sold to the military base at Fort Lawton. The couple ended up moving to Baldwin Park, California, which was seventeen miles east of downtown Los Angeles. There the couple would start a drive-through hamburger stand that would change the fast food industry. Harry wanted to serve quality food at a reasonable price and as quickly as possible. What he stumbled on created a whole new way of eating for Americans.

October 22, 1948, the Snyders opened their first burger joint that was actually directly across the street from their home. The first menu consisted of twenty-five cent hamburgers, thirty cent cheeseburgers, fifteen-cent French fries and ten-cent soft drinks. Just like many future locations of the family-owned franchise, the first Baldwin Park location was centrally located near the streetcar line connecting near by towns, which later turned into highways.

Harry created a system for the first IN-N-OUT burger that carried through to every store that the franchise opened. It was based on three simple words, “Quality, Cleanliness, and Service.” As Stacy Perman puts it, “Harry was a micromanager before the term existed.” Every detail of the IN-N-OUT matched Harry’s personality. The store was kept spotless, even the gravel in the drive-through was raked frequently. Employees were referred to as “Associates” not employees and were all paid more than minimum wage and given the opportunity to grow within the company. Associates were given strict uniforms and were always prompted to smile to customers, which wasn’t hard because every employee was happy to be there. When it came to the food, he would visit the butcher regularly to make sure he was getting the best beef for his hamburgers, he refused to sacrifice quality for the sake of profits. He didn’t want the burgers to be sloppy so he created a system for building each burger. When it came to cooking the food, the burgers and fries each had a certain way to be cooked. Everything was done his way, which is why IN-N-OUT became so popular today.

 IN-N-OUT was truly a family-owned chain, they saw many ups and downs but because the company stayed focused on “Keep it real simple, do one thing and do it the best you can,” the franchise was able to get past the loss of the founder and his two sons who ran the company, billion dollar competitors, and everything else that stood in their way.

The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from IN-N-OUT Burger:

1. Many companies don’t stress it enough, but when it comes down to it the service at your establishment can mean the difference between being a long-term successful business or a failed business.

2. Quality: IN-N-OUT taught me that focusing on giving the customer 100% quality ingredients can keep them coming back and in the case of IN-N-OUT, it could lead to a cult following.

3. Cleanliness: From the beginning, when the associates would rake the gravel and make sure the drive-through was spotless, customers took notice of how clean and kept up the chain was.

4. Treat workers fairly: Harry Snyder believed if you treated your workers like you would want to be treated then life in your business would be much easier.

5. Compensate them fairly: As for compensation, Harry also believed in paying for hard work. If possible, this is another way to reward your employees for hard work and keep them motivated.

6. Give workers opportunity to grow with company: All associates with IN-N-OUT were given chances to expand and grow with the chain. Because of this IN-N-OUT has an extremely low turnover rate for its employees.

7. The customer is always right: The number one rule at the IN-N-OUT University. This is also the number rule for all businesses that want to stick around.

8. Traditional advertising isn’t always the best option: As long as you have a great product or service that people love, a majority of the time word-of-mouth advertising can be a great asset for your company.

9. Hard work: As Harry, Esther, and Rich Snyder proved nothing will make a business grow more than your own sweat and tears that you put into your family business.

10. Stick to one thing and do it the best you can do. If you or your company does one thing exceptionally well than stick to it. When companies stray from what they are good at, is when a majority of them find themselves out of business.

Full Summary of IN-N-OUT Burger


            Harry Snyder Jr. was born on September 9, 1913. He was the son of Hendrick and Mary Snyder, Dutch immigrants who arrived in the U.S. aboard the SS Laurentian in April 1906.  Growing up in Seattle, Harry remembers his father as something less than a visionary; he painted houses, apartments, ships, and really anything that need painting. Although his father was one of the best painters around according to Harry, when it came to finances, his father was quite reckless. They seemed to always run out of money; every time his father would finish a job they family would have a large dinner and invite all of the neighbors canceling out the money he received from the job. The family finally moved to Los Angeles in 1922, so the family and more importantly Harry’s father could get a new start. Times were good again for the Snyders, but only for so long. The family began moving from house to house, leaving landlords with unpaid rent. The lowest point for Harry’s father came in 1928 when Hendrick quit his painting job because he refused vacation, leaving the family to live off of his mother’s housekeeping wage. His father would never have a stable job again, which meant Harry had to pick up the slack. He would always find a way to make a buck, taking any job he could get trying to help out his family. He grew into a disciplined young man who knew what hard work meant; in all likelihood his drive came from watching his parents struggle to provide for their family. The next chapter of Harry’s life would become the military and World War II. On November 23, 1942, he signed for duty and was shortly sent to basic training. He would never see the front lines due to a perforated eardrum; instead he spent his time in the military behind a desk. After his time was up, Harry returned to Seattle where his family once resigned. Little did he know that while in Seattle, working as a caterer at Fort Lawton, that he would meet the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. Her name was Esther Lavelle Johnson, and before she had met Harry she served her time in the Navy in the WAVES program where she served as a surgical nurse and a pharmacist’s mate. After the military, she too decided to head to Seattle and start a new life. It was one day in September 1947 when the two meet and within in the next year they were married. Although they were quite opposite, they were perfect for each other. He was street smart and she was book smart, he was a visionary and she was grounded and practical. But they both were kind-hearted and shared a belief in generosity.

Chapter 2

The couple would soon move to Baldwin Park, California seventeen miles east of Los Angeles. It wasn’t much of a town when they arrived, when they left would be a different story. They moved into a modest one-story home and decided they would start their own business—a hamburger stand. Harry saw his father struggle through to many dead end jobs, which is why he wanted to go into business for himself. The idea was a place where people could get quality food at a reasonable price and as quickly as possible. The couple opened something new to the food industry—the drive through. Harry believed the future of America would revolve around cars, which would ultimately be the best idea he ever had. He found a business partner named Charles Noddin who put up around five thousand dollars, and with that Harry had his own business

Chapter 3

Since Harry didn’t have much experience in the food industry, he sought advice from Carl N. Karcher, who had a chain of hot dog stands named Carl’s Jr. The first meeting between the two would start a lifelong friendship between the Karchers and Snyders. After receiving much advice, the couple opened their first burger joint on October 22, 1948, directly across from their home in Baldwin Park. It was just Harry and Esther in the beginning, they did everything themselves. Their basic philosophy was centered around three simple words, Quality, Cleanliness, and Service.  From the beginning he always wanted to make sure the ingredients were fresh and of the highest quality. The first menu consisted of twenty-five cent hamburgers, thirty-cent cheeseburgers, fifteen-cent french-fries and ten-cent soft drinks. The drive-through itself was small, with no indoor seating, also with little room for carhops. Harry, knowing that America and the food industry were headed down a more mobile phase, created the first of its kind: a two-way speaker box. The speaker box allowed customers to order at one end and drive up to receive their food, which is where the name IN-N-OUT came from.

Chapter 4

            Three years after opening up, IN-N-OUT had become somewhat of a success. Too much for just Harry and Esther to handle, the couple decided to hire help. After carefully choosing a few local young men to work, Harry continued his high standards for his up and coming burger joint. New employees were to be well groomed and wear a uniform of a clean white shirts, aprons and paper cadet hats; the same uniform that is worn today. Another thing that many regulars noticed was that every “Associate” was always polite to the customers. Although he hired help, Harry was still the first one in and the last to leave every day. But when it came to his Associates, he paid them well. He offered them a dollar an hour, thirty-five cents higher than minimum wage, plus a hamburger a shift. He believed in paying for quality. Also, while all associates started at the bottom picking up trash, they were all given the opportunity to grow within IN-N-OUT. He always rewarded hard work and was known to help many associates outside of the burger joint.

Chapter 5

            Since the Snyder’s treated their associates so well, the company was somewhat forced to expand; no one wanted to leave their job, so in 1951 Harry and Esther opened a second drive through to accommodate their associates. And by 1952, they were already up to 5 IN-N-OUT locations. When it came to deciding on a location, it came down to three factors: associates, location, and the balance sheet. They made sure to put the stores in highly visible, highly trafficked areas. As fast food became more popular and the trend became to open, franchise, and sell. Harry did not believe in that way of thinking at all, which is why he would not open another store until he had enough income to purchase the new store on his own. He wanted to be his own man and not have someone else owning what he worked so hard for.

Chapter 6

            The couple gave birth to their first son, Harry Guy Snyder, in February 1951. Within a year their second son, Richard Allen Snyder, was born in July 1952. Although they were born close together, the two were nothing alike.  Guy was somewhat of a free spirit, whereas Rich was straight-laced and viewed somewhat as the favorite son. The Snyder’s who just had two sons found themselves where they never thought they would be, in a life full of wealth and financial security. Just because the family had become financially secure didn’t mean the boys would be given everything they wanted. Even though they were totally different, the two began working at IN-N-OUT and just like every other employee they started at the bottom taking out the trash and raking the gravel in the drive through.

Chapter 7

            As the fifties came around it brought an era of instant food. The new craze soon found a home with the quickly expanding fast-food industry. Many competitors such as McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC soon focused more on fast and not so much on quality. At IN-N-OUT, Harry was having none of the newest instant meals. He kept everything the same; all of his hamburgers and French fries were fresh and never frozen. He believed in this idea so much that he built a facility near store Number One where his specially selected chucks were delivered and were sent to each store fresh every day. And as competitors began advertising, Harry stressed that the product should sell itself, and everything else is smoke and mirrors.

Chapter 8

            By 1973, twenty-five years after the first store opened, the chain had a total of twelve stores. And the most important part about that fact was that it was still just Harry and Esther at the top, they owned each store and the land underneath. As the company expanded beyond the San Gabriel Valley, where they had focused their other stores, the fast-food industry had become increasingly competitive and most competitors had gone public. As the other chains grew larger, they realized they needed to incorporate new ideas to set themselves apart. When this happened, every major chain began undercutting each other to offer the lowest prices or the newest product. And all the while, IN-N-OUT didn’t change a thing and continued to see their cult-like following support them.

Chapter 9

            As the Snyder boys began to get older it became apparent that Rich was the obvious successor to Harry. At seventeen, he bean doing the bookkeeping for the company, while his brother became more of a restless wild child. But little did they know that their father would be diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974, and one of them would have to take on a bigger role. Not long after IN-N-OUT introduced its eighteenth store in Woodland Hills, Harry Snyder lost his battle with cancer on December 14, 1976. He was sixty-three years old. So at the age of twenty-four, Rich Snyder was named President of IN-N-OUT Burger.

Chapter 10

            Many questions were raised whether or not Rich would change things around IN-N-OUT since the passing of his father. Although it is said that he had big plans for the chain, he decided to keep the company just the way it was since they already had a cherished brand with a devoted following. Regardless of the way he chose to run the company he would still be faced with challenges, and he got his first one in August 1978. The company’s Baldwin Park headquarters, including the warehouse, offices and meat department, burnt down. Due in part to quick thinking and good planning, Rich and Esther were able to keep all of the chains open and successful. And they were even able to push forward soon after and opened three new stores by 1979.

Chapter 11

            It was now time for Rich to rebuild the company’s former head quarters. He hired a local architect, and construction crews broke ground in 1979. And by the time it was finished in December 1981, the company had already to expand to twenty-four stores. The success of the company signaled that Rich was the right son for the job. As the demand grew, it meant the company had to expand as well. They had to expand their warehouse again after only five years since the new one was built. And by 1990 the chain had doubled in size to sixty-four locations.

Chapter 12

            Although it wasn’t an entirely new idea, in 1984 Rich created the IN-N-OUT University. The program at first consisted of a once-a-week afternoon course over five weeks. Later it turned into classes of twenty-five associates who spent 165 hours in the classroom. The number one rule of the university was: the customer is always right. Rich believed in training your employees correctly and then not letting them go. Since wages at IN-N-OUT were significantly higher than other fast food restaurants, everyone wanted to stay. Full-time associates were even given medical, dental, vision, life and travel insurance.

Chapter 13

            Media attention began to increase quite a bit over the years, but the family owned business strived to stay out of the press as much as possible. Rich was more focused about increasing the chain itself and unlike his father he began to implement a more aggressive approach to marketing the chain. They came out with the first ever IN-N-OUT commercial and radio jingle were public. Rich added this new marketing still knowing that the most important marketing the company would ever get was from word of mouth, which is what they had a ton of.

Chapter 14

            As IN-N-OUT continued to grow, Rich found himself going back to his religious roots quite often. IN-N-OUT itself was founded on Christian principles that his father had laid down in the beginning. Rich and his mother found themselves deeply involved with helping children through organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Make-A-Wish foundation. They truly felt blessed and felt they should share what they earned. The company became good corporate citizens in each community where it opened a store and soon gained the respect of many civic and social groups that they helped

Chapter 15

            Even after the company reached sixty-four stores and had revenue estimated around seventy-three million, they were still a small player in the fast-food industry.

Since the locations were spaced somewhat far apart, kept the allure of the company going. Soon customers began to complain about the long lines inside and out of the store. In order to keep up with Rich’s proposed ten stores a year and reduce lines for customers, IN-N-OUT had to increase the production of its stores; this meant for the first time ever they would have to resort to leasing their properties.

Chapter 16

            IN-N-OUT had such great relations with it’s suppliers that until the 90’s they hadn’t any problems with any supplier. It was in the beginning of 1990 when it’s partner Pepsi-Co purchased a small chain of burger restaurants similar to IN-N-OUT. Rich felt betrayed and began testing new products toreplace them. In 1992 he successfully made the switch to Coca-Cola. Besides this setback the beginning of the 90’s was great to Rich. As a long time bachelor he finally settled down and married Christiana Bradley in May 1992.

Chapter 17

            They continued to push their strategy to open ten new stores a year and December 15, 1993 was just like any day for Rich who was traveling with his mother, Phil West, and Jack Sims aboard the IN-N-OUT’s plane to open the newest Fresno location. After a successful opening the team headed out, although the top executives were not supposed to fly together, events not under their control forced them to. Esther, early in the flight forced them to turn around and bring her back because she was ill. After dropping Esther off, the plane struck trouble only thirty minutes into the flight. The pilots of their plane were too close behind a Boeing 757 who was only two miles ahead. Around 5:30pm the pilots lost control of the plane from the wake of the 757; the plane plummeted to the ground killing everyone on board instantly. Soon after the loss of her son, at the age of seventy-three, Esther Snyder stepped in as president to replace Rich.

Chapter 18

            Before his death, Rich Snyder was doing everything in his power to remove his brother Guy from the family trusts not allowing him to have a part of IN-N-OUT. But due to the sudden death of his brother the paperwork was not able to be finished, leaving Guy to the throne of IN-N-OUT. Guy had a rough start being a chairman for the company; he did not have a good relationship with anyone at the company and felt they were out to get him. He eventually settled his differences with everyone and began to take a serious interest in the company. He then decided to keep what Rich was doing going, but just on a trimmed down version. He believed the company was expanding to fast.

 Chapter 19

            Guy, who had a previous history with drugs, was able to fulfill his duties as chairman for only so long before he found himself back in his old ways. With practically an endless supply of money and many secretaries and employees who will do anything to please him, Guy found himself at the door of temptation. Throughout the 90’s Guy had his stretches of good and bad times. He stayed clean enough for a period that he rekindled a relationship with a girl from high school named Kathy Touché. In September of 1997, Guy married Kathy hoping it would change his fortune.

Conclusion: Chapters 20-25

            Guy’s years of abuse soon began to catch up with him. He no longer was active member of IN-N-OUT, leaving most responsibilities to the board of directors. Because the board new the direction he was headed, they set up a trust so that in case of emergency the chain of command could be established. And since the majority of the shares were transferred to Guy after his brother’s death, the trust wanted to make sure that his daughter from his first marriage who was only seventeen would not be sent straight to the head of IN-N-OUT without the proper education once she inherited everything. As the suspected on December 4, 1999 Guy passed away from an accidental overdose on the drug Hydrocodone. After his death, his mother who has lost two sons and a husband already, steps up to assume control of the company. Throughout all of this the company continued to expand and by 2000 they had grown to 142 stores with revenue at close to 0 million.

            Despite its continued success, IN-N-OUT struggled considerably within. Esther Snyder was growing older and starting to lose some of her short-term memory. Apparently Lynsi started to become restless and wanted the riches without having to work for it. This was against everything Harry Snyder believed in from day 1 when he founded IN-N-OUT. This is when Richard Boyd, a longtime Snyder family friend and IN-N-OUT executive, stepped in to try and save the company from what was going to happen. He believed that Lynsi was having high-ranking officials within the company trick her grandmother into signing documents that would speed up the process to allow her to have full control of the company. The feud began in 2003, both sides throwing allegations at each other for years putting IN-N-OUT into the place where they never wanted to be, media limelight. After years of back and forth argument, the battle ended in May 2006 with a settlement reached between the two sides. No one really knows what actually went on from the early 2000’s within IN-N-OUT but we do know that Richard Boyd aired a litany of uncomfortable allegations regarding Lynsi, her mother, her brother-in-law and the company’s internal machinations. And just as quickly as it began, IN-N-OUT went back to being the quiet family business it once was.

            Friday, August 4, 2006 was the date that Esther Snyder, co-founder of IN-N-OUT burger, died at the age of eighty-six. Her death seemed to take the attention away from the previous litigation that was finally dying down. Within days, the quiet founder behind IN-N-OUT who touched so many lives, was recognized in theNew York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times. She had gone out much differently than her late husband, and for good reason. And just like that, with a new generation of direct blood was in line to inherit the empire, it seemed that the company seemed to have its own happy ending.

Personal Insights

With business conditions today, what the author wrote is a important to show many similar business and those looking to get into a business the best way of establishing yourself as a long-term successful company. The way IN-N-OUT runs itself should be the model for any business looking for success, from the bottom to the top the company is an example of a good corporate citizen. The run a very successful and popular company while at the same time they still give back to the communities where they have locations. I believe with more businesses less focused on strictly profits and with a mindset like IN-N-OUT that we would see business conditions across the country pick up quickly.

If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:

Reading the book, I noticed that the author will begin in chronological order in the beginning but as the book goes on she jumps back and forth with the timeline. I believe that following the timeline of IN-N-OUT would make the book an easier read.

Since it is a business book I would have focused less on the personal lives of the individuals and more on the company itself.

I also would have added to the ending of the book; talk more about where the company is now, rather than just ending the book after the death of Esther Snyder.

Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:

The book gave me more respect for companies similar to IN-N-OUT who choose to stay family owned instead of just taking the easy money and selling after becoming famous.

I finally realized why all of the marketing teachers at SLU stress that word-of-mouth advertising is so important. It took a simple burger chain into a west coast cult.

After visiting my first IN-N-OUT two years ago, I really appreciate my visit to the chain a lot more now after seeing what it’s been through and who’s responsible behind the great chain.

I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:

Always treating the people I work for and those around me with the respect that I would want to be given because in the long run it will pay off with the respect of your co-workers and customers

Having a greater understand of what simple hard work and dedication can bring to anyone as long as you stick with it.

Never getting into the food service industry after reading everything the chain went through.

Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:

What others have said about the book and its author?”

After reading the reviews, many feel the book didn’t live up to the hype of its “beyond-the-counter” analysis. While at the same time it may be a good read for many up and coming family business owners or those in the cult following; but for those just reading it may find it on the boring side and get nothing out of the book. It does lay a good groundwork for those family business owners maybe looking for something to help set their business apart from others. The overall consensus is that the book is somewhat more of a fan letter to her favorite fast food joint rather than an in-depth look at an American landmark.


Publishers Weekly (2009). Retrieved April 28, 2010, http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/400005-Nonfiction_Reviews.php?q=IN-N-OUT+Burger Perret, Robert. Retrieved April 28, 2010 from Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0061346713/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books Fortune Small Business. Retrieved April 28, 2010 from Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0061346713/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books


Contact Info: To contact the author of this “Summary and Review of IN-N-OUT Burger,” please email casey.moriarty@selu.edu.


David C. Wyld (dwyld.kwu@gmail.com) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at http://wyld-business.blogspot.com/. He also serves as the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.blogspot.com/), a hub of research and news in the expanding world of competitive bidding. Dr. Wyld also maintains compilations of works he has helped his students to turn into editorially-reviewed publications at the following sites:

Management Concepts (http://toptenmanagement.blogspot.com/)

Book Reviews (http://wyld-about-books.blogspot.com/) and

Travel and International Foods (http://wyld-about-food.blogspot.com/).                

More Book A Speaker Articles