There’s a war going on in my neighborhood. Five Guys, a venerable hamburger chain that started in the Washington, DC suburbs, has opened in a mall in Culver City. It’s about a 10-minute drive from the hometown favorite in the just-burgers category, In-N-Out.
These two hamburger chains have a considerable amount in common:
- they rely on fresh ingredients
- they have very limited menus, honing in on the burger & fries
- both make it very fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive to get to a 1,000-calorie meal
There are also a substantial number of differences:
- Five Guys’ burgers are significantly meatier than In-N-Out’s, maybe twice as much meat by patty
- In-N-Out fries are slender, while Five Guys’ are substantially thicker and have the skins on. Five Guys’ portions also seem to be much larger
- Five Guys is much more expensive—the basic combo (single hamburger, fries, medium soft drink) is nearly twice the price of In-N-Out
I first found Five Guys on a trip to Florida several years ago. The chain’s expansion there was lightning-fast about five years ago, with storefronts popping up in strip malls toward the end of the boom. (All the Florida locations I’m familiar with have so far survived.)
I found In-N-Out in my adolescence—it’s a staple of Southern California life.
The ink about the rivalry between the two is running as thick as burger grease. Which is better? Which will win the burger war?
In my view—which focuses on burgers rather than businesses—there’s room for both. Every In-N-Out location I’ve visited between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm is packed every day of the week. My first visit to the Culver City Five Guys was a failure when I realized wending my way through the line that stretched into the mall would take at least an hour, and that was more time than I wanted to invest in lunch that day.
Perhaps the demand for what Jimmy Buffett called a “big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat” is greater than the analysts had predicted, that there really are enough people who like basic burgers to support more than one chain.
The marketplace will make that decision. What I’m discovering is that there are some wars it’s not half-bad being in the middle of.