How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chain Restaurants

Last weekend in London I had a cute little lunch at a cute little patisserie in Soho, and was feeling all satisfied with myself until I was on the Strand later in the day and saw the same patisserie—same food, same interior, same smell coming out the door.

Oh, I thought, deflated. It’s a chain.

Suddenly I felt scammed. These punks tricked me! They made me think their little bakery was all artisanal and small-scale, when actually it’s some venture-capitaled, focus-grouped, conveyor-belted profit factory. They probably have a corporate headquarters in midtown Manhattan, some Yale econ grad staring at the surveillance cam footage of my purchase, trying to moneyball me into buying more next time.

So my immediate reaction was Well! Never going there again. But now that I’ve thought about it, I’m less sure of my reaction.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Of course it’s a chain. Soho is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world. Thatcher, gentrification, celebrity chefs, they ran mom and pop outta there decades ago. The only businesses that can afford Soho rents do so through high volume, high margins and manufactured cosiness. That “grandma’s cinnamon roll” smell coming out the door is as deliberate as the font above it. What did I expect?

So I should have known. Next up: Who cares? I had a tasty meal at a reasonable price in a pleasant environment. It was precisely what I wanted. What’s the difference if there is a duplicate of my experience happening elsewhere? Or 100 duplicates? Or 1,000?

When I lived in Copenhagen, my favorite bakery was called Lagkagehuset (“layer cake house”), and it had the best bread on the planet. There was only one location in Copenhagen, family owned, and I glowed with self-satisfaction every time I bought a dense loaf of bread or a misshapen (artisanal!) breakfast roll there.

A year after I left Denmark, it was bought by a private equity firm. Now there are nine of them in Copenhagen (industrial!), and last time I visited I walked past one at the airport (monetizers!).

But you know what? The products are exactly the same. Still dense, still misshapen, still crazy-overpriced, still so salty you want to dip them in a cup of water like a hot dog eating contest. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that now I can buy them in nine places instead of one.

Which brings me to my last point: What am I actually against?

Among my people (urban, lefty, low BMI), places like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Applebee’s have take the role of a kind of punchline, the culinary equivalent of Coldplay. For us, they’re not restaurants or cafes, they’re totems of America’s—and the world’s—relentless, inevitable march toward sameness.

I’m generally sympathetic to this. Starbucks kills independent cafes, McDonald’s cuts down rainforests, Applebee’s wants you to have diabetes.

But in every other aspect of my life, this doesn’t bother me. I wear Nikes, I shop at Safeway, I use rapper-endorsed headphones to drown out the clacking on my MacBook. All of this is just as mass-produced as anything from Starbucks, and yet I willingly (OK, maybe grudgingly) submit.

But chains underpay their workers, my conscience shouts. They get foodstuffs from poor farmers and nonrecyclable lids from petroleum! They donate to ugly political causes!

All that’s probably true, but there’s no reason to think an independent restaurant or café is any better by default. Maybe the guy handmaking the gluten-free scones at that ‘small batch’ bakery makes the same minimum wage as the teenager at McDonald’s. Or maybe he owns the place, and thinks women never should have been given the vote. Just because I have no way of knowing his conditions, impacts or beliefs doesn’t mean they’re not there or that they’re not problematic.

So if I don’t object to chains in principle, and I don’t object to the goods and services of some chains in particular, then all I’m left with is opposition to chains as a class signifier. I reject them not because the food is bad or they’re worse for the planet than other corporations, but because I personally don’t want to be associated with them. Starbucks is for tourists, Applebee’s is for flyovers, McDonald’s is for the poor.

I’m not defending chains, really, I’m not going to start actively seeking them out or anything. I just need to be honest with myself about what I’m avoiding, and why.

My favorite cafe in Berlin is called The Barn. Silky lattes, snobby staff, handwritten prices, brownies dense as Jupiter—it’s perfect. Just before Christmas they opened a second location, closer to my house than their first. If I’m lucky, next year they’ll open a few more.


Michael Hobbes lives in Berlin. He blogs at Photo: rennaisancechambara


87 Comments / Post A Comment

Slutface (#53)

When the only restaurant in a 25 mile radius from your apartment is a 99, you’ll eat there and you’ll like it.

Weasley (#1,419)

There is, of course, a relevant South Park episode.

Megano! (#124)

But, McDonald’s isn’t exactly the same everywhere! In Canada, even some provinces have their own regional menus! (Not that I am advocating for McDonald’s to take over everything, or that ppl should eat there every day, but still).

EM (#1,012)

@Megano! Yeah! In Nova Scotia they have a McLobster.

I fucking love McDonalds. I have plenty of friends who have worked at bougie independent restaurants where they were treated terribly and the food was falsely promoted as organic and the kitchens were filthy. I will take the devil I know who can provide me with hot fresh french fries at 2AM, thanks.

megsy (#1,565)

@Michelle McPoutine is le horrible. Just butting in.

EM (#1,012)

@megsy Totally horrible, absolument.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

It’s not as easy to buy locally made sneakers as it is to eat a local restaurant. If you want to eat in a chain, go for it. You don’t have to justify it but don’t make excuses either.

@josefinastrummer What do you mean? I just have a team of workers in my basement going 24/7 to make all my stuff. I’m the most sustainable mofo around.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@stuffisthings Haaa yes! But are they growing the plants and producing the plastic down there, so you are REALLY sustainable?

@josefinastrummer We’ve got a nuclear reactor running on locally-sourced uranium with artisanal fuel rods.

This reminds me of the ever-obnoxious discussion about musicians “selling out,” which the author touches on with the Coldplay reference.

You may enjoy your hometown band/local bakery, but if you truly support them and want them to succeed, don’t you WANT them to make it big? Yeah in an ideal world they would make it big and still use sustainable resources and pay a fair wage(/keep making good music), which doesn’t always happen. That can change if we support small local companies who’s values we support, and continue to support that organization/band/whatever once they hit the jackpot.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@polka dots vs stripes Not everyone wants to make it big, especially in the restaurant business. Maybe they are happy with one, successful place. And supporting a local chain is cool, because it’s local. But it’s really not that hard to see the difference between going to Starbucks or to an actual cafe run and owned by people who actually live in your city.

@josefinastrummer I didn’t mean to sound like there isn’t any difference between the two, just that (if the person wants to make it big!), that isn’t a bad thing for a small location to grow and expand. I think I specifically said, we should support small local companies…..and then continue to support them if they become more than small and local.

@josefinastrummer “an actual cafe run and owned by people who actually live in your city.”

Like a McDonalds franchise for example?

deepomega (#22)

@josefinastrummer So you’re saying that any restaurant that DOES want to make it big is… what, exactly? No longer local?

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@deepomega Did I write that? Nope. If my local coffee shop did well enough that they became a “chain” in the sense that they had more than one location, I would think that was fantastic. Apparently it’s popular in my city, Philadelphia, to own a bunch of restaurants and call them different things, but sell the same items. I think that’s cool because it’s a bunch of local people being successful. I wonder why they aren’t calling themselves a chain…

But sorry that I don’t think opening a franchise, like McDonalds or a Great Harvest bakery, counts as supporting local business because, to me, it doesn’t.

Sandy505 (#3,017)

@josefinastrummer That’s because you’re a moron. I’ll take the group of immigrants busting their ass providing me with decent food 24hrs a day at a McDonald’s or other fast food joint (as several of my friends’ families did) over the hipster douchebags who feel like you are bothering them by going to their overrated P.O.S. “slow food” craphole.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Sandy505 I’m the moron, Sandy, because I don’t think McDonalds is good my local economy? You know where else immigrants work? At family owned, non-chain restaurants. But I guess you wouldn’t know that because you are too busy going to Starbucks. You enjoy your food and I will enjoy mine.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@Sandy505 Also Sandy, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Down thread I mention that I love McDonalds french fries. Are they only fries I will eat? Nope. But I do like them. Do I also think Applebees is crap? You bet. It’s too bad it’s so black and white for you. You are missing out on a lot of good stuff with that attitude.

chic noir (#713)

@Sandy505 – What do you have against hipsters?

Chuck13 (#3,148)

@josefinastrummer Um, you think that opening a chain restaurant doesn’t support local business? Where do you think these places get their workers, from Mars?

I eat all sorts of good food from a variety of places. I just can’t stand people who look down on all chain restaurants as horrible places. In my experiences these people are also the same ones that irrationally hate Wal-Mart, will spend $5 for a banana because it’s from Whole Foods, and think anything outside of NYC, LA, or SF is “flyover country.”

deepomega (#22)

Also, the idea that a “chain restaurant” means “headquarters in manhattan” is goofy. Any restaurant with two locations is a chain, which includes a lot of great restaurants.

@deepomega Yeah a lot of local DC favorites have multiple locations, which technically makes them chains, I guess? I always wondered where exactly the transition from chain to not-chain occurs.

petejayhawk (#674)

@deepomega Also, Applebee’s is headquartered in Overland Park, KS.

WestEgg (#3,237)

@deepomega That’s true, and something I appreciate — what’s wrong with a little success? On the other hand, I recently overheard one of the girls upstairs from me refer to Busboys & Poets as a “massive franchise”. Wut?

Roxy (#1,469)

McDonald’s has REALLY good coffee now. Plus it’s often the only sit-down place open at 6:30am.

@Roxy sit-down place? If every McDonalds lopped off it’s entire dining room, leaving only the drive through and some bathrooms, I doubt I would ever notice.

zou bisou (#1,637)

I really enjoyed this article. It showed some real self awareness and made me think about my own habits.

pilcrow (#1,713)

I’m going to post a slightly dissenting opinion here. While I think it’s a good point Michael makes that some of these knee-jerk reactions he had to chains aren’t about the business per se, but about the “uncool” factor, I don’t really agree with the idea that just because you don’t know if your local artisan is a jerk, you can’t condemn large-scale and unsustainable business practices. Which, frankly, go pretty much hand in hand with scaling up. Also, chain/not-chain may be a false distinction. As people pointed out in the comments, a small local chain is not the same as a franchise is not the same as a national mega-chain.

Lily Rowan (#70)

So if I don’t object to chains in principle, and I don’t object to the goods and services of some chains in particular, then all I’m left with is opposition to chains as a class signifier.

YES. Thank you.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

I had a friend who looked upon chains with disdain because she “objected to their food sourcing and business practices”.
We then went to a non-chain for lunch where she proceeded to order a whole lot of food without asking the waiter any questions about food/coffee sourcing for their restaurant, or how fair his or his colleagues’ wages were.

*class signifier*

OllyOlly (#669)

For some reason this bothered me extremely “Among my people (urban, lefty, low BMI).” Like all people with high BMIs are clamoring for Applebees? That fat people never appreciate artisinal food?

Am I being hypersensative?? Is this weather front making me grouchy??

I don’t know, the author just seemed like a jerk after I read that line.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@OllyOlly Oh yes, didn’t you know? Only fat, conservative, suburbanites eat at chains. That’s why McDonalds and Starbucks always fail in cities…
I don’t think you are being hypersensitive. I think the writer is hypersensitive that he might lose favor among his “people” and have his urban, lefty, low BMI cool card revoked.

@OllyOlly No it’s no just you. I generally agree with the authors thesis, but that must just be because I’m fat, despite also being liberal and urban.

Maladydee (#909)

@OllyOlly yeah I felt like that “low BMI” line was a low blow too.

selenana (#673)

@OllyOlly Is that the class signifier he’s talking about? I didn’t realize that being invested in your local community was a class thing.

lizard (#2,615)

@OllyOlly that made me hate the author. he just had to throw that in.

@OllyOlly Yeah, not just you, it was gross. Me and my ~cool thin friends~ and all.

cherrispryte (#19)

@OllyOlly Clearly the author needed to prove that even though he was defending chains, he wasn’t a no good dirty rotten fatty mc fat fat! No, sir! HE IS BETTER THAN THAT.

Also, clearly, it is the fatties of America who love chains and eat at chains and that is a huge part of why chains are destroying everything good in this country. Because if fatties like ’em, they can’t be good!

@cherrispryte All my fat is locally grown.

Erin@twitter (#2,395)

@OllyOlly It’s a low blow. Then again, I’m a fatty who drinks Starbucks, I can’t appreciate my local economy (obvs)

ATF@twitter (#1,471)

I think, like most things in life, it really does depend. I tend not to eat at certain restaurant chains because I know I”m going to get a plate of food that looks and tastes like it’s reheated junk from a freezer. And I’ll probably always pick a local pub over McDonalds for a burger because 1. BEER and 2. tastier burger. The pancakes and eggs at the brunch place near me taste infinitely better than what I could get at Dennys.

But for other things, I prefer chains. I like the coffee at Dunks or Starbucks a lot more than the coffee at the three different coffee houses near my apartment. Burritos from Chipotle taste about the same as ones from Bolocco or El Pelon, so I’m going to go to whatever is closer to me at that moment a burrito craving strikes (those can be so sneaky).

And then there’s the fact that sometimes a local restaurant has the room to be a lot more creative. They don’t have to worry about making their new mac and cheese dish a national smash. But they also have to worry more about making it exceptional because if it doesn’t taste good, word will get around the neighborhood that they’re terrible.

So go with what you like is my point basically.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@ATF@twitter YES! I don’t drink coffee, so I don’t know the difference between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks and local shops. But I know I love McDonalds french fries and I don’t care who knows. Eat what you want and don’t grovel/apologize for it.

Fig. 1 (#632)

I suppose the main distinction between local and chains is that: profits go to HQ with chains, profits stay in the community with locals.

I worked at a fast-food chain over the summers between uni. We made minimum wage, trying to save for school. The owners had an island to summer on (not a cabin, not a condo…an island). Not to mention they used the security cameras to spy on us, the workers, and not for security (they didn’t put tapes in the machine so when someone DID break in they had no record.) Perhaps I am a little bitter. Also the owners used the n-word and were generally hateful.

@Fig. 1 Were the owners at a remote “HQ” or were they members of the “local community” who owned a franchise? What’s to stop the owners of a local restaurant buying an island to summer on, or do any of the other horrible things you mention? I mean, there are SOME local restaurants that make a point of treating their workers decently, but they’re the exception and not the rule. And, unlike Starbucks, they rarely offer their employees health insurance.

selenana (#673)

@stuffisthings Yeah, but given a known evil (huge corporation regularly does things like illegally bulldozing site of ancient ruins) vs. unknown evil (maybe the owner cheats on their spouse? i dunno), I will take the chance. Also, I don’t think it’s true that you don’t know if locally owned places are douchey. If you live the community and talk to local people/frequent places with any regularity, you can get a sense about if the owners are jerks, if the workers seem happy, if there’s noticably high turnover, or if there are rumors about dickishness. True, this is easier to know the smaller/more close knit the community, but even in my big city I notice some of these things about the businesses that I visit in my immediate vicinity. Also as Fig 1 said local business owners tend to spend money at other local businesses.

@selenana Yeah, ask me about some well-regarded local spots in D.C. that are known for their ethical stances and involvement in activism, and how the employees are treated there. The happiest person I know in the food/bar scene, in terms of job sanctification, is the manager of a Caribou.

Derbel McDillet (#1,241)

@stuffisthings Yeah, I wanted to point out that there are some potential benefits to working for a larger company, like FMLA and an actual HR department to voice complaints with, as opposed to having to tell your supervisor/the owner of the business/the only other person in the building to quit touching you. Granted, larger companies can been very creative about screwing their employees, but just from experience following up with HR depts vs. very small employers when working in mental health, the employees of larger businesses received more support from their employers in terms of sick leave, FLMA time, and the ability to adapt positions or transfer to others.

Sandy505 (#3,017)

Amazing how close-minded and ignorant some people can be about things like this. Oh My! Not paying $40 for a piece of sushi that looks a modern art masterpiece in a wildly overpriced neighborhood?!?! Perish the thought!

I mean I don’t want to seem like I’m reflexively defending “big business” on this thread, because I’m not. I’m just arguing against the idea that small and local is either a) inherently better (for employees, for the environment) than big and corporate or b) somehow intrinsically more likely to better.

Thanks to a lot of outside pressure, many corporate chains have actually spent significant resources to think through the impact on the environment and community and to reduce it where it doesn’t hurt their profits too much. They also generally face greater scrutiny when it comes to labor abuses. Non-union labor groups like the ones mentioned recently on this very blog have won millions of dollars in back wages by suing big restaurant chains, resulting in binding agreements that affect thousands of workers. Small restaurants with a handful of employees can engage in this kind of behavior with impunity.

Plus I think there’s a false dichotomy here between “big corporate chain” and “local artisanal organic co-op.” What about all the mom-and-pop restaurants that don’t make their own in-house ketchup? What about the hole-in-the-wall Chinese takeout place, with the unpaid family members as employees and the styrofoam takeout boxes? What about all the independent upscale restaurants with sexually harassing, tip stealing cokehead bosses? Or the bars where bartenders are always hanging around asking if their paycheck from six weeks ago has been cut yet?

After this thread, I’ve decided to just eat at home forever.

@stuffisthings “There’s a false dichotomy here” – Here’s the core of this. You mean we can’t group things into this-or-that categories to quickly make decisions about how to live our lives? We have to think critically? Own the fact that we don’t always make the right one? Try to do better next time? Sounds like a lot of work.

Tuna Surprise (#118)

I’m with you 100%. My ex-husband was a chef and most of the places he worked at were of the locally-owned non-chain variety. Some were better than others, but most offered no benefits (paid vacation, paid sick leave, health insurance, retirement, etc). And more than once he had employers who bounced paychecks, never paid, never provided W-2s, tried to classify everyone as salaried employees so they didn’t pay overtime, and on and on.
His last job was a mini-chain (maybe 10-15 restaurants) and they offered a week of paid vacation and a craptacular health insurance plan but that’s the best shake he ever got.
If we really want to make a difference, we should support congress passing wage laws, healthcare coverage and food supply laws that benefit everyone rather than trying to make ourselves feel better with the veneer of responsible dining.

plastico (#3,143)

“My favorite cafe in Berlin is called The Barn. Silky lattes, snobby staff, handwritten prices, brownies dense as Jupiter—it’s perfect. Just before Christmas they opened a second location, closer to my house than their first. If I’m lucky, next year they’ll open a few more.”
I’m sure they will. the most overrated, overpriced and overhyped place in town. the whole thing is planned around the actual coffee buzz and was always meant to spread.
nothing in there is authentic. the whole story is…maybe not a lie, but at least well planned.
but if you take it as the example for an artisan, independent and attitude driven spot, I do not wonder that you get caught by the attraction of chains.

harrumph (#3,169)

@plastico Word. Nothing says authentic like a Berlin cafe where nobody speaks German!

Also, Jupiter’s not much denser than water. Those brownies must be shitty!

And, finally, yes: the BMI thing was embarrassing. Poorly done all around, Michael Hobbes.

mahiki (#1,550)

Is the little patisserie you’re talking about called Paul?

This has been a contribution.

Laura@twitter (#3,144)

@mahiki that was my guess too! I love Paul. The coffee + pastry breakfast offer is pretty cheap (for London) and you get one for free if you get a loyalty card plus can earn free coffees. *sigh* I miss working next door to a Paul but my boyfriend still does and brings me home macarons :-)

cmcm (#267)

@mahiki That was my first thought as well! It had to have been Paul. They’re in France too so they must be legit :)

mahiki (#1,550)

@Laura@twitter I moved back to the US a few years ago and Paul is one of the things I miss most about London!

Alice (#392)

@mahiki I was thinking Patisserie Valerie.

@mahiki When our French friends come to town one of our standard stops is Paul, so that they can be baffled by the ridiculously high prices they charge in the U.S. and leave without buying everything.

The best description I’v heard of that place is “Oh, it’s definitely the best patisserie… in the Charles de Gaulle airport.”

@cmcm They just opened up in DC, so you don’t have to cross the Atlantic!

mahiki (#1,550)

@franceschances Dangerous info! Why does DC get all the good London chains? :(

cmcm (#267)

I think the point you’re missing is that cafes/restaurants do not exist solely for the purchasing of food/coffee. For me, it’s not about the product, the working conditions for employees, profits, etc… it’s that small and local is about the COMMUNITY aspect of it.

The difference between your mom and pop run shop and a chain is that you can become a local at the former, they know your name, what you order, and the cafe becomes a place where you interact with other local people. And small local places also foster other activities, supporting local artist, music, causes, etc. A chain simply cannot act as that same sort of hub.

@cmcm Why’s that? I used to work at a Starbucks and we had lots of regulars, and I knew their names and their orders and gave them free drinks sometimes. I was even allowed to do so per coorporate policy. And lots of customers who came in recognized one another and formed relationships through the store, both with the employees and other customers. On the other had it’s possible to go to local places and not get that kind of treatment. There are a number of small bars and restaurants in my neighborhood that I frequent and no one ever seems to recognize me at all, and there are of course some that always do. The people who work at chains are still people, they don’t become robots just by working there.

@Punk-assBookJockey People who work at, own, or manage chains don’t live, spend money in, or know anything about their local community, obviously. Every single employee at every single chain restaurant is helicoptered in each morning from atop a Manhattan skyscraper. That’s why they are paid so little — helicopter fuel is expensive!

cmcm (#267)

@Punk-assBookJockey Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so black and white about it, but I just have a hard time with the homogenisation of high streets… I don’t mean to say that the employees of chains are robots that live in a vacuum at all! It’s more the fact that the physical space of a Starbucks in one city looks and feels exactly the same as a Starbucks in any other city.

What I personally prefer about, for instance, my local cafe is that they sell the artwork of local artists, they have a petition up about the demolition of a local pub, they advertise local babysitting and book clubs and stuff. I do think there’s something to be said for this sort of community activity that chains can’t encourage because they are generally the same no matter where they are.

@cmcm Sure, those are some understandable reasons. It’s interesting, that’s actually one of the things many chains pride themselves on – standardization. The latte I get in Kansas City is the same as the one in Chicago as is the one I order in California or even Hong Kong. It’s comforting to a lot of people when they are away from home, or when they move to a new city to see someplace and know what to expect when they go in there. It may not be the best coffee or atmosphere in the city I’m in, but i know its good enough and there won’t be any surprises when I’ve been adventurous all day and I just want a cup of coffee. That’s basically the deinfition of brand, I guess.

chic noir (#713)

@stuffisthings Every single employee at every single chain restaurant is helicoptered in each morning from atop a Manhattan skyscraper. That’s why they are paid so little — helicopter fuel is expensive!

Ok your sarcasm just killed me.

LHOOQ (#1,634)

This piece would have been better if the author could have resisted the urge to write the line about ‘[his] people.’

Chuck13 (#3,148)

On a related note, there was a great obit in The Economist for Fred Turner, who turned McDonald’s into the successful business it is today. A true American success story.

I would guess it’s mostly the comfort that comes from feeling as if things are closer to you. I know sometimes these days I’ll look at the ingredients on deodorant or Pasta-Roni or bright yellow mustard and have a kind of panic about giant inhuman vats with exploited workers falling in. To look at a carrot (ingredients: carrot) or a buttery pastry at the farmers’ market with uneven chocolate frosting is a comfort. Someone may have considered more than INPUT: PROFIT in creating this, maybe.

I’d like to think that labor is a form of love (the restaurant “really cares!” about sourcing meats ethically, etc) and it is a qualitative difference quite often!

There is also something to be said about “character,” right? I think part of the reaction is against homogeneity — part of the reason people move to big cities is to experience something that’s not replicated at every freeway exit (good and bad!) Sometimes the difference isn’t better quality but wacky decor or appeal to a really specific ethnic community or “we’re not shutting down during the Occupy march but we are donating sales and tips to the local food bank.” Some things aren’t scalable but that does not mean they’re not worth having.

ADDITIONAL, BROAD UNSUPPORTED STATEMENT: Americans really believe in INDIVIDUALISM! And they really really love mixing in a lil guilt with their pleasures.

Freetzy (#448)

McDonald’s is fucking gross and if I had to eat there I’d almost rather just dumpster dive something from the garbage out back, because what’s the difference? But Starbucks gives their part-time employees health care and their coffee is fine.

chic noir (#713)

@Freetzy well I like that Sarbucks gives it’s employees health insurance although I’m curious how comprehensive the health insurance truly is. If you need to go to the emergency room for something, how much of your bill will be covered?

Any former Starbucks employees who used the Heath insurance care to chime in???

Oh and their coffee tastes like charcoal but I like it for some reason.

Chuck13 (#3,148)

@Freetzy Right, because I’m sure all those small, independent restaurants give their workers great benefits.

And I wouldn’t know what dumpster diving is like, but I’ll take your word for it.

Erin@twitter (#2,395)

@chic noir Any health insurance is better than no health insurance. Even if it’s just catastrophe insurance.

No other hourly cafe jobs I’ve seen offer any sort of benefits, besides free coffee and an apron. That’s just my experience, but still. For what it’s worth, my friends who have worked at Starbucks have enjoyed it, and my local Starbucks at home has had some of the same employees since I was in high school 10 years ago.

@chic noir Of course it’s possible that it’s changed plans since I worked there (it’s been about 4 years) but the health insurance I had from there was good. Aetna PPO. I could go to any provider I wanted and the copays were your typical 20 dollars for most things. I had prescription coverage which was very helpful. There was even some coverage for alternatives like massage and chiropractic care. You had to average 20 hrs per week to qualify which they assessed quarterly, and there was a 3 month waiting period after the start date to qualify. I was in college so I rarely worked more than 25 hours a week and got benefits. I cut back to less after getting insurance through school. But I also got paid pretty fairly starting out, more than minimum wage for sure, plus tips, and got regular raises and other benefits besides health insurance. It was a pretty good part time college gig.

petejayhawk (#674)

So many comments suffering from that pervasive, bullshit false binary syndrome that has infected so much of the internet.

Not all chains are created equal. Size, quality of food, social responsibility, benefits offered…these differ as much in chains as they do in local restaurants.

Chains serve a purpose. Anyone who remembers trying to get an edible meal in an airport or off a deserted stretch of interstate highway 25 years ago knows this.

That said, I live in Chicago and rarely shop or eat at national chains, mostly because the local options are just better. I’ve also lived places where that is not the case.

newglasses (#2,928)

@petejayhawk A bit irrelevant to the benefits or liabilities of chains, but I know they were around 25 years ago, especially on interstates and in airports. 25 years ago was 1988, but let’s go a bit further back, 40 years ago, to 1973, so say, 1973 to 1983. I lived in various small towns and rural areas in Kansas during that time, even Lawrence, though I didn’t go to KU, and 1983 was the year I finished my degree. There were plenty of chains, including McDonalds, Hardees, Pizza Hut, IHOP, Taco Bell, Denny’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, etc. plus many chains that no longer exist. On the road, eating at a chain was often the only option because any local restaurants were not located right off the interstate, but one of the chains was usually there, and people were in as much of a hurry then as they are now.

The difference today seems to be that even the smallest small town has several chain eateries rather than just a McDonalds or just a Dairy Queen. And you are still out of luck if you want to get something to eat late at night in deep rural Kansas or Missouri, because everything is closed and the gas pumps are credit card only. Ask me about driving from Wichita to Topeka after 9 pm, ha!

Shostakobitch (#776)

McDonald’s makes me able to shit through a screen door at 10 paces but caring or even thinking about this kind of makes you a precious dandy. Just shut the fuck up and choke down whatever slops they throw in your trough.

bacon (#1,500)

Some things that can happen with chains:
The quality may start out high, but once the brand is established and the local competition is booted out, it goes down and the price goes up.
Yes, they hire local labor but they don’t pay as well, particularly after local competition has disappeared and the whole town is controlled by chains.
They lobby in Washington against increases in the minimum wage.
And steal the tips, or use tips to excuse paying employees well.
Franchises rake off money to HQ which doesn’t get spent in the local economy. Many franchisees are not much more than sharecroppers (Subway most famous for this).
They avoid taxes by paying “royalties” for “intellectual property” (design, marketing, brand franchise, etc) to subsidiaries located in low-tax countries like the Netherlands (see recent fuss about Starbucks in the UK)

Thank You!!

Thank you for recognizing some truths that our popular culture often seems loath to acknowledge, namely, the beauty of free market capitalism. Conditions, motives, consequences, sources, and intentions are at best murky and too numerous to consider; they are as unknowable as the thoughts in another man’s head.

If you delve deeper into the root of your erstwhile chain bias you may discover something far more sinister than the consumer driven march toward sameness; you may find those chain trashing values are championed by advocates of a much more permanent and much less consensual conformity.

I’ll wade into the messy details just a bit and ask: If not for the thousands of McDonald’s, Starbuck’s, and Applebee’s, how would those millions of employees support themselves? How would those poor farmers survive; who would buy their crops?

bacon (#1,500)

@MiltonFriedman’sGhost I guess the same way they did before McD’s, Starbucks and Applebees came along?

This sentence – “Thatcher, gentrification, celebrity chefs, they ran mom and pop outta there decades ago” – is complete and utter sensationalist bullshit, pulled out of thin air because it sounds good.

Soho may have gone upmarket in recent years, but it’s still full of independent businesses: clothes shops, hairdressers, cafes and Vietnamese, Chinese and Italian restaurants run by immigrant business-people.

Apologies if I sound pissed off, but I’m a journalist. Do some research. Speak to people. Soho has changed but it’s not wall-to-wall Starbucks. And Patisserie Valerie is gross.

KBLF ♥@twitter (#3,174)

“Starbucks is for tourists, Applebee’s is for flyovers, McDonald’s is for the poor.”- McDonald’s is definitely NOT a food for the poor. And Starbucks isn’t just for tourist. I see a lot of people drinking Starbuck’s coffee but they weren’t tourist at all. Just people who appreciates great coffee! :)

urban, lefty, high BMI over here. BRING ON THE DUNKIN DONUTS.

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