The Clever Way Steak 'N Shake Figured Out How To Improve Its Menu

If you're from the eastern half of the U.S. and someone comes to you looking for a fast and locally-loved burger (except in New England, where the ghost of Friendly's reigns supreme), you're likely going to suggest a staple that's been around longer than most grandparents nowadays: Steak 'n Shake.

Steak 'n Shake first opened its retro red-and-white diner doors in 1934, after Gus Belt turned his poorly-performing gas station into a burger-lover's dream (via Restaurant News). Belt wheeled out barrels of expensive steak to grind in front of guests, showing them that the very burgers on their plates were nothing but the freshest quality around.

Belt was more than just an entrepreneur — he was a "showman," as Thrillist puts it. His "steakburgers" were his heart and soul, and it was his mission to make sure that each and every customer was satisfied with their fast-casual meal when they sat down at one of his tables. While the restaurant quickly grew to become a popular franchise, Belt attempted to keep tabs on his customers' desires with a plan as unique as he was.

The owner of Steak 'n Shake did some sleuthy detective work

According to Mental Floss, Belt's plan was to do a little bit of extra, well, digging. He would sift through the garbage after closing to see what customers ate and what they left on their plate. If several orders left the same half-eaten items on their trays, or if a customer sent a food item back to the kitchen, then it was back to the drawing board.

Sound gross? Yeah, we think so too. But Belt's dedication led to several accomplishments for the franchise, which is highlighted from its international growth in recent years — there's even a location in Dubai (via Mental Floss). Belt's quirky restaurant recon and evenings spent dumpster-diving have led to success for Steak 'n Shake. The chain was even a key player in inspiring Shake Shack, says Thrillist.

Twenty years after opening the original location, Belt passed away and left the restaurant business to his wife, Edith, reports Restaurant News. She sold the company in 1969, but Belt's legacy lives on. After all, the menu served up in locations all across the globe wouldn't be full of fan favorites if it weren't for Belt's rummaging way back when.