As a native Los Angeleno turned proud New Yorker, I often find myself in the middle of gastronomy’s most enduring debates: which is better, In-N-Out Burger or Shake Shack? Few topics elicit such impassioned arguments.
Californians’ fierce attachment to the legendary In-N-Out runs deep—it’s what they grew up with, and their happy memories (not to mention the jingle) are deeply ingrained. They rhapsodize endlessly about In-N-Out’s fresh ingredients, the menu’s elegant simplicity, the “secret menu,” the Double-Double, and…OMG, those fries!
The feelings are just as strong for New Yorkers who waited in long lines at the original “Shack” in Madison Square Park during Shake Shack’s early years and have joyfully followed the brand’s expansion throughout NYC and beyond. The custard-based shakes and Concretes feel revolutionary. And Danny Meyer’s gourmet take on the roadside stand burger has drawn countless rave reviews. Everything just feels so leveled up and creative.
Which is best? It’s a tough call!
At a recent family gathering in LA, there was a spirited “In-N-Out vs. Shake Shack” family debate. My 11-year-old nephew threw down the gauntlet with his opening remarks: “Shake Shack? C’mon? You’ve got to be kidding me? Just taste these fries. They’re SO much better!”
My younger daughter was quick to defend her NYC turf, arguing, “But you haven’t lived until you’ve had a hand-spun Chocolate Milk & Cookies Shake.”
Sticking with his shake them and being the cool bicoastal kid he is, my son acknowledged, “While I love my Upper West Side Shake Shack, I have to admit the In-N-Out shake has my vote. There’s just something about it.”
And the discussion went on from there…back and forth…covering every aspect of both menus, even considering vegetarians’ preferences (#shroomburger). Détente was ultimately achieved when all agreed that while both are amazing, nobody would be switching sides. Their personal faves would stand.
I wondered how closely my family’s opinions on this important topic mirrored those of the rest of the nation. I had to know, what does America think? Fortunately, I had consumer research data to turn to. Our company has been continuously tracking “Brand Health” for over 250 brands for nearly two years—including In-N-Out Burger and Shake Shack.
The truth is, while the two brands are equally beloved (exactly 92% say they either “like it” or “love it” for both), In-N-Out has the “I love it” edge (44% vs. 21%). In fact, this level of “brand love” for In-N-Out (44%) ranks in the Top 10 among the 250 brands we track. So, it’s not that Shake Shack doesn’t get a lot of love. But In-N-Out is truly off the charts.
In-N-Out’s top reputational advantages include “excellent customer service” (41% vs. 26% strongly agree), “provides consistency” (44% vs. 31%), and “operates with integrity” (36% vs. 21%). And while Shake Shack brings its gourmet vibe to the table, In-N-Out even holds a modest edge on “high quality” (35% vs. 30%).
Although In-N-Out enjoys stronger overall brand love, it must keep a close eye on its upstart rival Shake Shack, which continues to grow its presence in the Western US. After all, Shake Shack does have some clear advantages—it’s seen as more modern, more trendsetting, and more innovative. More people are looking forward to seeing what Shake Shack does next.
In-N-Out’s dependable, consistent, strong brand heritage is a strength. Still, it spells opportunity for Shake Shack to use its creative edge to woo away In-N-Out loyalists. Burger/Fry/Shake joint fans simply can’t lose as these two beloved brands continue to vie for our hearts and stomachs.
Want to learn more about how In-N-Out and Shake Shack rate? Or see how your brand stacks up against these brand behemoths on key characteristics? Let us know; we’d love to chat further (ideally, over shakes).