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What's a chain vs. merely "multiple locations"

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Reading a thread on the New England board raised this question for me: At what point do you consider something a "chain" versus a place that has simply multiple locations? Is it corporate ownership that makes it a chain? Can a family have ten spread-out branches of their own sub shop and still not see themselves as a chain?

What's the difference-- with examples, please!

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  1. Good question. I was thinking about this, too, because a few places I like have branched out to 2-3 different places. I wouldn't call them chains. And, I was surprised to find out one of my favorite small restaurants, which always had a small, homey feel to it was actually a small chain. I'm in NoVA and there's a "chain" of about 6 restaurants (Great American Restaurants) that I think have more of a corporate chain-feel than the small homey one that has over a dozen. Is this like the definition of "pornography" where you know it when you see it? I remember the original TGI Friday's in Boston. It's so weird to me, still, to think about what a big chain it is. Come to think of it, Legal Seafoods is similiar. A friend of mine loves Starbucks because she went to school in Seattle in the late 70's, early 80's and it was a great little coffee shop. She said she knows it's a major corporation but it still has a soft spot in her heart. But, at some point, these little mom and pops either branch too much where they can't control the quality anymore or they sell out.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      I too was wondering about this, and would like to hear from The Chowhound TEAM. I like most of the GARs, but they are becoming a little "corporate", as a manager at the Merrifield Sweetwater's suggested I email corporate about his excellent customer service(which it was). Look at their website - it is pretty corporate, but I'm not ready to call it a chain, as it is not duplicated outside of the DC metro area. How about Crisp and Juicy? Is that a chain? Multiple locations, with similar decor and menus, but not found outside of the area.

      1. re: nickdanger

        They do have excellent service. One reason I would not call it a "chain" is that each restaurant seems to have different specialties. While you can get some of the same dishes at all, each one has unique dishes.

    2. It becomes a "chain" when the decisions are made by the Accountants and not the Chef/Owner/Culinary Visionary(s) of the "Original" location.

      1 Reply
      1. The likeliest explanation would be that the multiple branches extend across multiple boards. Take Pinkberry. There are 'multiple location' restaurants that are more corporate than Pinkberry and with more locations that are properly discussed on the L.A. board (Poquito Mas, etc.). But Pinkberry has a location in New York.

        1. Agree with JBC.

          Another distinction - The daily specials should come from a combination of the head chef's imagination and what is locally available AND NOT via fax from head office trying to get rid of surplus product!

          1 Reply
          1. re: newJJD

            In that vein, Rock Bottoms have locally inspired beers and menus, ala Rock Creek Ale and crabcakes in DC, but they are clearly a chain and belong on this board. I agree that multiple branchs on multiple boards equals chain.

          2. Although there is technically little different between a "chain" and "several locations", I guess that the real question being asked is "when does a restaurant become too big?" In that case, I would say that when outside investors come into the picture, the quality of the restaurant can drop off.

            Ideally, if a successful owner only has to answer to him or herself, decisions can be made much easier. Including other investors (partners, shareholders, etc) who are only interested in return on investment can dilute the quality of the end product. Eventually, if the quality is diluted enough, you end up with McDonalds, Outback Steakhouse, and Olive Garden.