loading animation, pen stirring a mug

SEP 2019

Pen & Mug


In-N-Out Burger is great. Austin explains a few reasons why.

In-N-Out Burger is an American fast food restaurant chain found in the Southwest and Pacific coast regions that you’ve probably heard of before, even if you’re not from either of those areas. It has a uniquely devoted fan base (myself included), and is beloved even amongst celebrities and the culinary elite. For example:

"What can I say about this place? It's the only fast-food chain that I actually like, and think is reasonably good for the world. Whenever I come to L.A.—in fact, one of the reasons I look forward to doing The Taste—is because as soon as I arrive I'll hit the airport In-N-Out, and on my way out of town, after finishing The Taste, I'll pick up another."

– Anthony Bourdain

Anthony freakin’ Bourdain! I also found glowing quotes from other celebrity chefs like Chrissy Teigen, Gordon Ramsey, Thomas Keller, Guy Fieri, and more.

Does In-N-Out make a crazy-delicious cheeseburger? They do, absolutely. BUT, I’d argue that there’s also something beyond taste at work here.

One of my favorite things about In-N-Out is the simplicity of their menu. Your entree options include: cheeseburger, double-cheeseburger, or hamburger. You can do a lot to customize those options to your liking, but there’s no tacos, no chicken tenders... just burgers, complimented by french fries, drinks, and milkshakes. And that’s it.

Photo of In-N-Out Burger's famously simple drive-thru menu

Most restaurants have a signature item or two, but almost all offer a long list of other options as well. Most of those other options will not be as tasty as their signature dish, and the longer the list gets the more customers can feel overwhelmed. But they do what they can to make everyone happy.

In-N-Out changes this, and boldly cooks ONLY their specialty item. This will turn away some people who are not into burgers, but it makes those who are into burgers love and appreciate In-N-Out even more for their specific focus and mastery. The simplicity of their offerings also streamlines the entire experience, from customer decision-making to the efficiency of the cooks at the grill. If you don’t want a burger today, we’re not the place for you. If you do, you know what we’ll be cooking, and you know where to find us.

I’m still trying to figure out if and how I want to apply this idea to a design studio. One small and somewhat playful step we recently took was publishing our own Pen & Mug “Menu”, which details our two primary offerings (brand system design and website design) and the a la carte ingredients for each that clients can choose from. You can check it out here and let us know what you think!

To close this one out, I want to share the rest of the Anthony Bourdain quote I found.

"Every once in a while I'll even buy a big reeking bag of burgers with onions and fries and shakes, and I'll bring 'em back through my very nice hotel lobby, and it's really an amazing thing to see. Generally speaking, when you walk through a lobby of a nice hotel with a big reeking bag of fast-food, people look at you like you're low class, like, 'Why are you bringing that in here? We do have a restaurant.' No, nothing but love and admiration, even from the staff. They're like, 'Good going sir, nicely done sir, excellent!"

– Anthony Bourdain

THAT is the dream right there.

Pen & Mug

(The opinions expressed in this letter are Austin’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of everyone else associated with Pen & Mug, even though Austin clearly has very excellent taste.)

Pen (& Mug) Pals?