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In-N-Out is the Most Popular Fast Food Chain in Texas

…according to data. Not according to us.

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What's Whataburger?
Photograph via punctuated/Flickr

I thought we had settled this, y’all.

A few weeks ago, I asked my colleagues David Courtney (you might know him as The Texanist) and Charley Locke to settle, once and for all, whether In-N-Out or Whataburger was the best fast food burger stop. Charley, a proud Californian, passionately defended the Golden State interloper that has set up shop across the DFW and Austin metro areas. David was in Whataburger’s corner, and I’ll let his moniker speak to his allegiances.

Charley was a good sport, but a reader poll at the end of their face-off (plus many enthusiastic comments on social media) revealed the unalterable truth: Whataburger is the best—both in Texas and the world. Because, in the words of my colleague David, “There’s burgers and then there’s burgers. In the immortal words of Mel Tillis, ‘It’s not just a hamburger. It’s a . . .Whataburger.’ Plus, from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. there are taquitos.”

So there I was, humming along with very scientific evidence that Whataburger reigns supreme over basically any other fast food joint there is, when this headline popped up in my newsfeed: “Foursquare data reveals the most popular fast-food chain in every state — and America has a clear winner.”

Now, I knew even before giving into the irresistible clickiness of this Business Insider article that this “clear winner” wouldn’t be Whataburger. Our humble but triumphant burger joint has nearly eight hundred locations across the U.S., but six hundred of those rest within Texas state lines. Only nine other states, concentrated in the South, can lay claim to a Whataburger. No matter how fervent our love for the orange and white, it seemed unfeasible that it could counteract the popularity of other drive-thrus in states forced to exist without honey butter chicken biscuits or Fancy Ketchup. They can’t love what they don’t know.

I also wasn’t terribly surprised that this “clear winner” turned out to be Chick-fil-A. According to Restaurant Business News, the Atlanta-based chicken slingers saw sales grow 16.9 percent in 2017, making it the eighth-fastest growing fast food chain.

I did not expect, however, that this would reopen the very debate that I thought we had laid to rest mere weeks ago. In the Business Insider/Foursquare dataset, Chick-fil-A came out on top in all but twelve states, one of which was Texas. So what’s the most popular fast food chain in the Lone Star State, you ask?

In-N-Out, apparently. That California animal-style disaster.

Let’s get into the methodology before going any further. “To determine the most popular fast-food chain in each state, Foursquare looked at which chains received the most visits on average per location in every state based on the total number of visits to each chain divided by the number of locations in that state,” Business Insider explained.

So the assertion that In-N-Out is the most popular fast food place in Texas hinges on the fact that users have downloaded the where-I-am app, which takes users’ mobile locations to create a list of new potential favorites and trending spots in your area. But there’s one problem there: When asked to share location data with a tiny pocket machine, the typical Texan response is “None of your damn business.”

Texans, it seems clear, simply aren’t willing to trade in privacy for suggestions on hot new restaurants. We prefer to enjoy our burgers—our Whataburgers—in peace. We settle into booths with our little order number tents and share those special moments amongst family and friends. We take in the beautiful cross-section of humanity enjoying their Whatachick’n Strips or Sweet & Spicy Bacon Burgers. For just a few moments, we head back to 67 years ago—when the first Whataburger opened in Corpus Christi—when a no-phones-at-the-table rule sounded like a joke.

That’s the only explanation for why a chain that prides itself in dousing its otherwise inedible fries with sauce that tastes like Thousand Island dressing could best Whataburger, whose sides only need a dip in Fancy Ketchup to be complete. It’s the only way that a place that works ’round the clock to bring you fresh food—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—could fall to a joint whose menu sounds like something you’d order on a drunken dare.

A more accurate analysis, then, would be that In-N-Out is the most popular fast food place in Texas among Foursquare users. And they, I assume, are all from California.

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  • Mandy Parker

    How can In and Out be the most popular in Texas when there aren’t any of those establishments in Houston, aka the largest city in Texas? It can’t. ‘Nuff said.

  • Douglas McGhee

    Get over yourselves Texas. Jack in the Box has better burgers than Whataburger. I’ve eaten at both and it’s no contest.

    • Doodlebug

      Jack in the Box is way over priced and nasty. Whataburger is the best. Yes, I have eaten In-N-Out burgers. We were “exiled” to Cali for four years due to job relocation and ate at their burgers more than once…good but not great. I think they have gained some popularity here because they are a cheaper meal than Whataburger.

    • Tina Renee Walls Moody

      Jack in the Box? Well, someone needs to help keep them in business.

  • Douglas McGhee

    Get over yourselves Texas. Jack in the Box has better burgers than Whataburger. I’ve eaten at both and it’s no contest.

  • José

    Thanks for explaining the flawed methodology in this report. Not that we believed it in the first place.

    • St. Anger

      yeah, i would think comparing revenues or units sold might be better ways to measure popularity, but in the age of social media i guess that’s no longer how things are measured.

      • José

        I’ll give them props for coming up with a novel method based on objective measurements that tries to normalize data to account for cases where raw numbers don’t translate to what they want. But data models can be awfully tricky and interpreting the results even more difficult.

  • Will

    Sorry, I didn’t read the article due to my attention be solely focused on the image of those 3x3s displayed above said article. Whata-nastyburger sucks! Fatburger kicks nastyburgers arse too! Long live the bear flag republic and all the fresh bounties of her soil!

  • Dontoe

    Shoe sole patties at Jack, you gotta be kiddin!

  • borgerboy

    All What A Burgers are not equal. Eat in one in oklahoma and see what I’m talking about!!

  • Sam Jacinto

    Real Texans do not use the word “arse”, nor do they use anything called foursquare (except maybe one of those 4-shaped square dealies). Real Texans know that Jack in the Box is only good for late night drunken nasty tacos. Real Texans don’t give a flip about what anyone from California thinks. Real Texans know that there is only one burger that will do (well, DQ will do in a peench if there is no WB around). Real Texans do not put ketchup or manaze on burgers (they also do not say “mayo” or know how to spell or pronounce mayonnaise – it’s OK – I had to look it up). Real Texans would rather starve than eat california burgers.

  • Samuel Gonzalez

    Y’all spelled Whataburger wrong.

    Also, what’s Foursquare? Is that like the teen version of Yelp?

    Honestly had both, burgers, and anyone that says that In and Out is better, lacks creativity or doesn’t know you can customize EVERYTHING Whataburger. I recommend starting slow/soft and asking to have your “buns double toasted”, then asking for spicy ketchup when they as if you want any condiments.

    Whataburger is straight forward, unlike whatever “animal style” means or alters. Who needs a “secret menu” when you have pallet of customization and the freshest meat on the market. Etc etc etc Y’all can keep that secret “sauce”, ’cause we already know Whataburger is saucin’

  • BigMan68

    Looked at the quoted article and Cane’s is the most popular chain in CA, the birthplace of In ‘n’ Out. So what they’re really telling us is “these are the chains most searched for”, not the most popular chains. Since most Texans I know can give you directions to every Whataburger within a ten-mile radius of where they are standing, it stands to reason that we aren’t using an app to find a location.

  • JS

    Newsflash: Texas is full of Californians. There’s been a great exodus from the golden state over the years…small business, capitalists, conservatives, good families, and normal people have all went to Texas. Californians brought with them their love of In-N-Out, one of the greatest fast food burger chains in all the land. Demographic change is a main driver for the takeover in Texas.

  • Beststash

    I like them both and have found that a lot depends on the particular establishment. As far as California bashing….I think California immigrants have improved Texas almost anywhere they have moved, including Austin. I’m just proud that they chose Texas and hope they continue to bring their open-minds to our Great State. We can use all the help we can get lately.