Several times I've seen the status come up in my Facebook feed. Something to the effect of "Dick's is definitely better than In-N-Out" or visa versa. Always without any reasons or evidence, just one person's opinion, but stated as though it was indisputable fact. I've lived most of my life in Seattle and went to college in California. I've had my fair share of both of these iconic burger joints. I think it's time someone gave a good comparison of the facts about these two places.
Here are three lists: what these two restaurants have in common, and what each has that the other doesn't.
What they have in common:
- Vintage iconic status. Both have great history in their respective geographical locations. Both are fiercely popular, often with lines around the building. Both classic, minimalist burger places with very simple menus (However, see first point in the In-N-Out list).
- Fresh ingredients. Both use 100% beef which is fresh--not frozen, fresh baked bread for buns and fresh potatoes for fries.
- They look after their employees. Both have good pay and good vacation packages.
- Merchandise. Both have great t-shirts and other apparel that can be purchased.
What Dick's does better:
- Price. Dick's menu items are much cheaper than In-N-Out. However, this is more or less offset by the fact that their portions are quite small. The average eater needs to order multiple burgers to be satisfied.
- Speed. Dick's burgers are made assembly-line style which means they usually fulfill orders pretty quickly. Shakes and floats can take a while sometimes though.
- Fries. This is technically an opinion, but anyone who has had them knows that in reality it's somewhere between opinion and fact. Dick's fries are perfectly greasy and salty. Among the best fries money can buy.
What In-N-Out does better:
- Made to order. Unlike Dick's unwavering commitment to stick strictly to the menu, In-N-Out allows customers to order literally ANY combination of ingredients regularly kept in store. This is what kind of takes them out of the "fast food" category and why I always say comparing them is silly. It makes In-N-Out a much more robust burger joint.
- Secret menu. This kind of goes hand in hand with the first point, but it's worth mentioning because many people I know who have tried In-N-Out and been unsatisfied didn't get "animal style", which any In-N-Out regular knows you can't go without.
- Free condiments. This is one of those little things that's just annoying. Every ketchup packet at Dick's will cost you. Not so at In-N-Out.
- Free soft drink refills. Like the last one, but a bigger deal.
- Portion size. In-N-Out knows how to make a good size burger. I've had two double-doubles on a few occasions, but I wouldn't advise it to the faint of heart. Add to this good proportions of ingredients.
- Friendliness of staff. I'm sure there are lovely people that work at Dick's but I've been to dozens and dozens of In-N-Out's and absolutely without exception the people are unbelievably nice and accommodating. I've been to Dick's at different times of day and was treated very differently on each occasion. This is not to criticize Dick's at all, I haven't had a bad experience, but the consistency of In-N-Out makes it a point in their direction.
- Cleanliness. Again, this isn't to say Dick's is messy or unclean, but to highlight the above average commitment to customer service that you find at In-N-Out.
- Drive through. It may be called "Dick's Drive In" but you always have to get out of the car.
- Locations. I'm not saying there should necessarily be more Dick's locations, but you can get In-N-Out pretty much anywhere in California. This wouldn't be such a plus if they weren't so consistently good.
Well, I'll be honest that this is just the list I thought of mostly off the top of my head. Feel free to comment with anything I missed. I would say In-N-Out has more going for it on paper. But who cares about the "on paper" result? What really matters is which one tastes better, right? Besides (maybe) Dick's fries, which one you like better is up to you. It really is just a matter of opinion.
So do we just take a poll? Go with the popular vote? Mostly what we would find is people from Washington like Dick's and Californians prefer In-N-Out. With population difference, CA has the big advantage. However, what would interest me is which state has more who have swapped. I was raised on Dick's burgers and swore by them throughout my youth, but when I tasted In-N-Out for the first time at 18 years old I knew I had a new classic-burger-joint allegiance. I know plenty of folks from Seattle who stick to their Dick's, but I know many other who are like me. I don't know a single Californian who has gone the other way. Most, if not all, who visit Seattle from California and go to Dick's are seriously disappointed if they had In-N-Out type expectations. Looking at the list above, that shouldn't be a big surprise.
Dick's Drive In is a fantastic burger joint and I will always love it, but if there was an In-N-Out next door, I would probably never go back to Dick's again. I might want to on occasion just for the sake of it, but it would be rare.