Why Is In-N-Out Dropping The Ball On Beef Alternatives?

In-N-Out's menu is great, but it's too narrow for those with dietary restrictions. Whether you're vegan, vegetarian, or even just avoiding red meat specifically, this fast food chain leaves a lot to be desired. Soft drinks, milkshakes, and french fries are nice — if you can have them — but as far as filling entrees go, the only options on the official menu are all beefy. A hamburger, cheeseburger, or Double-Double? That's hardly variety.

Even the not-so-secret menu isn't much better. The Double Meat, 3x3, and 4x4 burgers aren't really switching ingredients up; they're just changing the quantities and proportions. The Animal Style burger is a decent way to add extra flavor to your meal, but that doesn't negate the beef. Protein Style? Perfect for those avoiding bread, but ... you get the idea.

If you can't eat beef and you're dining at In-N-Out, you actually have to look at its truly secret menu to be able to even eat entrees. The Flying Dutchman, Gorilla Style, Mustard Grilled Patty, Pup Patty, and Scooby Snack may all sound interesting; but, to avoid beef, you must order the grilled cheese, side salad, or veggie burger (formerly the Wish Burger). Ordering a grilled cheese simply earns you a cheeseburger with no beef. The so-called side salad is a bunch of lettuce, tomato, and special sauce in a bag. Meanwhile, the veggie burger isn't what it sounds like; it's just a hamburger, no beef.

Going off-menu to remove beef is handy, but isn't something missing?

In-N-Out ignores too many solutions

The patty is what's missing. How can there be a patty without beef, you may ask? There are, of course, plenty of other meat, plant, and even fungi substitutions out on the market.

By now, even folks who don't eat fast food have likely heard of the industry's infamous chicken sandwich wars. One motorized cruise through just about any American drive-thru (not including In-N-Out) will reveal exactly how much Americans yearn for a slab of fried chicken between pieces of bread. In-N-Out's french fries prove the chain knows how to fry food, but even if it wants to stick to grills for patties, it's not like grilled chicken patties don't already exist. White meat is as simple as that — no need to turn to relatively uncommon patty options like turkey or fish.

Roughly 20 million Americans are vegetarian or vegan (via Statista). That's certainly not nothing to a U.S. fast food chain. For those who don't eat any meat whatsoever, In-N-Out could easily provide plant patties. The past handful of years have proven that products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger have become tasty enough to gain general public acceptance. Even if In-N-Out somehow has a sudden aversion to plants, the fungi kingdom gives us the fairly mainstream mushroom burger as a backup. 

Clearly, In-N-Out can provide diners with beef alternatives if it chooses to do so. Apparently, this food-service business merely doesn't wish to give customers that option. The question is: Why not?

In-N-Out is overly protective of its brand

In-N-Out is a bit of a cult classic within the fast-food industry. It's been based in California since its start; and, to this day, the chain can be found exclusively in the American South and West. It's also a privately-held, family business, which hasn't ever yielded control of its restaurants to a franchisee. A couple of minor changes to its products over time aside, In-N-Out's modern offerings largely resemble its original menu, as well. It's fair to say exclusivity is a key aspect of the brand's identity, and this naturally motivates consumers to experience its cuisine whenever they can.

However, exclusivity isn't the only part of In-N-Out's image. The business is also known for innovation, like when it helped pioneer drive-thrus. In-N-Out is also famous for treating folks kindly, as evidenced by its high wages and charity work. Plus, it's not like the company never allows for loopholes — look at its secret menus! Why not bend the rules, help out those who don't eat red meat, and innovate with beef patty alternatives?

There's a natural counterargument to this: Add white meat, plant patties, and 'shroom burgers to In-N-Out's menu, and you'll dilute its simplicity. Still, the company doesn't need to go from zero to a hundred. If it chooses one vegan patty, In-N-Out could cover nearly all of its many customers' varied dietary restrictions. Then, consumers could eat at In-N-Out without going off-menu only to receive a less-than-filling meal.