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.