Plus ça change*… plus c’est la Dick’s Drive-In

Wendy’s is promoting its “Baconator” high-calorie, high-fat sandwich… and salt, lots of salt. Jack in the Box is advertising a “Ribeye” burger. McDonald’s features “Buttermilk Crispy Tenders.” (And don’t forget their occasional McRibs.”) At Burger King, you can get a “Farmhouse King.” (1,220 calories) In-N-Out has its “secret” menu. Going against the trend, Dick’s Drive-In has pretty much the same menu as when Dick Spady opened his Seattle restaurant in 1954: Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers – Regular and “Deluxe” – French Fries and made-with-real-ice-cream shakes. No breakfast, no fancy stuff. Dick’s doesn’t do special orders or accommodate requests for substitutions.

Mr. Spady died in January 2016 at the age of 92. The business, still owned by the family, has grown to six restaurants, including the newest in Edmonds, on the northern edge of Seattle. Dick’s patrons chose that locale; more than100,000 voted their preferences for the new location. A seventh restaurant is in the works, after 177,000 ballots cast, in the city of Kent, near SeaTac airport. The Queen Anne, Seattle, location is the only one with indoor seating. All the others are order-at-the-window takeout. The older buildings have been remodeled, adding customer rest rooms. Dick’s owns them all; none are franchised.

Dick’s is known in the Seattle area for paying higher than the prevailing fast-food wage, as well as medical and dental benefits. Employees can take advantage of child-care assistance and scholarship opportunities. According to the web site, Dick Spady founded Dick’s Drive-In with the following business philosophy:

  • Make a profit
  • Invest in your employees
  • Invest in your community

You have probably noticed asterisks on restaurant menus warning you of the danger of food-borne illness from undercooked food are a legacy of the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli outbreak in 1993. Undercooked hamburgers served at fast-food outlets in California, Nevada, Idaho and Washington put 171 people in hospitals and killed four children. Jack in the Box had decided that cooking their burgers to the recommended 155 degrees made them too tough; they served their ground-beef patties at 145 degrees. The resultant law suits cost them $50 million.

Dick’s no-substitution policy served them well. During the Jack-in-the-Box fiasco, the local newspaper surveyed area restaurants about how they handled customer requests for burgers cooked rare or medium. Dick’s did not equivocate. They cook all theirs well-done. Period.

* Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same)

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