A Chain Reaction

15 Jul

For many, one of the strongest draws of a chain restaurant is the perceived consistence of quality. If you walk into a KFC in Arkansas, you expect your food to be made to the same standards as your KFC meal back home in New Jersey. Customers are happy to find familiar menus, familiar service and familiar tastes.

But how can you be so sure? Many chains are actually operated by franchisees rather than the master brand. Some companies regulate their franchisees’ practices rather strictly, from requiring that the franchisees purchase specific types of plastic spoons to ordaining the entire menu. But other companies give their franchisees some wiggle room. In fact, the famous Subway promotion of $5 Footlongs was created by a franchisee who simply needed to boost his weekend sales. $5 Footlongs are now a very successful chain-wide promotion… That never would have happened if the franchisees were only allowed to do Subway-approved marketing.

So in some cases, giving franchisees wiggle room can lead to improvements for the parent company. But what about when those franchisees slack and make the chain look bad? Enter the franchisee police! I recently read about private investigators who specialize in quality assurance for chain restaurants; in other words, they make sure that franchisees aren’t getting away with anything sketchy. They test Dunkin Donuts to make sure they’re the right recipe instead of a lower-cost alternative. They double check beef patties to make sure they’re the right weight. They stake out (!!!) franchisee locations to make sure the owners aren’t doing anything that’s off-brand.

It might sound extreme, but it actually makes a lot of sense. For starters, these folks are functioning as a sort of Loss Prevention. When you go to a clothing store, there’s always a LP guy to make sure no one walks out of the store with unpaid merchandise. But actually, a large percentage of loss at many retailers comes from the employees who either walk out with goods in hand or give friends unapproved discounts. In this case, the “restaurant security officers” are making sure that the franchisees don’t do anything that shortchanges the company financially, or customers in terms of quality. And second, it’s just plain good for the brand. No master company wants their brand threatened by a silly franchisee trying to cut corners or make a few cents. If a company like McDonald’s wants to promote a certain brand image, they need to be positive that their franchisees comply. And when a franchisee puts the wrong kind of sauce on a Big Mac, or uses different napkins, or changes the menu altogether- the brand is changed.

It’s funny to think about these guys sitting around forensic labs examining hamburgers. But I’m happy to hear they’re making sure I’m getting my money’s worth instead of substandard beef. And from a brand perspective, it makes complete sense to keep an eye on what their franchisees are doing. Now if only I could find a way to get a side gig as an ice cream “quality assurance” officer…


2 Responses to “A Chain Reaction”

  1. bdole July 15, 2012 at 3:37 PM #

    All true, except that you’re getting lots of consistency in a chain – even franchise-owned – but not getting improved quality.


    • Felicia July 16, 2012 at 8:16 AM #

      well yes, thus the comment about “perceived quality.” i’m definitely not claiming that chains are the best place to go if you’re looking for a premium experience.


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