Are the chains the same, or do they have regional quality differences?
>> Is it possible, in general, that big city chains are inferior?
I don't really think that has anything to do with it. If the franchise owner and/or manager receives and properly stores and rotates ingredients, trains the staff properly, compassionately supervises the staff, and maintains the premises, a chain restaurant can succeed regardless if it is in rural America or in the heart of a big city.
Several years ago, I did "secret shopping" work for several different chain fast food operations. Some were in the heart of a major city, others were in suburbia, and others were in more distant rural areas. Let me tell you, scrutinizing 12-15 McDonald's, Burger Kings, and/or Popeye's each day for nearly two weeks on a rotating monthly schedule was a real eye-opener!
There was always one consistent stand out. A McDonald's located in the urban core in a rough neighborhood. All around it, the other fast food establishments I regularly visited only earned average, mediocre or poor marks from me on the majority of the many areas that I needed to note. Yet this one particular McDonald's was always stellar. The grounds were perfection, the bathrooms were spotless as was the dining room, service areas, and counter. The staff was cheerful, helpful, attentive, courteous and efficient. They actually counted my change back to me each time like clerks used to count change back to customers years ago. The employees were also fresh scrubbed in exceptionally neat and tidy pressed uniforms.
The food was always terrific. Orders were always correct and complete. Hot foods were hot and cold foods/drinks were cold. Each order came complete with appropriate plasticware, napkins, straws and extra condiments. Burgers were properly and neatly prepared with lettuce, meat and cheese centered on the bun and not hanging out and with condiments spread across the bun instead of lumped on in one swift squirt on one small area of the bun.
This establishment never earned less than a "very good" from me and most generally they fully earned "excellent."
The key obviously was the management style. Those who were managing the shop -- I don't know if they were the franchise owners, general managers, shift managers, whatever -- were always a presence. They were always helping and monitoring and guiding and most of all, kind to the employees and to the customers. The staff obviously picked up on this kind of nuturing and I always felt that they young people who worked in this shop were destined to succeed in whatever they chose to do in the future because they were being given a solid work ethic and they were learning respect. They thoroughly acted as though they enjoyed what they were doing, loved the teamwork, and were honestly striving for customer service. A rarity at most of the other places I visited.
Is hometown a factor due to pride? Is there a list somewhere of all the chains and their hometowns?
(Franchise owners. thank you, KCJ)
I would imagine the employees' attitude would make a big difference. In some areas where chains are taken less seriously (big cities) it might be more difficult to take the job seriously. Doesn't it translate to unhappy employees? Is it possible, in general, that big city chains are inferior?
Location, or the feel of the place would make a difference. I remember retreating into a McDonald's in 29 Palms with my dad on a chilly day. We took a seat with Big Macs and large fries and gazed outside at Joshua trees. It was SNOWing - barely a few hours ago we were in L.A. It was wonderful. I don't know if it was a better burger, it just tasted good.
Well, that wasn't the point of this thread.... (actually, a scenic location would definitely get points)
Weather aside, there must be other factors which might make them far from feeling identical. Like availability of fresh produce?
I always figured in the case of Pizza Hut that Wichita was where they tested things, and the big bosses were right there and could keep an eye on things. The further you got out of Wichita, the less chance of falling under the big boss' watchful eye.
Mike says that when Pizza Hut first arrived in Oregon they were absolutely awful. Acted like they were the be-all and end-all of pizza (in an area where folks had been eating and enjoying pizza for years) and just made lousy food. They ended up closing most of their restaurants, and now all over Portland there are lots of old Pizza Hut buildings that are now something else. There are a few Pizza Huts there now that are halfway decent, but nothing like I remember when I lived in Wichita and so did they.
I don't know if it's the same sort of thing, but when I was a little kid Kentucky Fried Chicken appeared in my hometown. Up till then the only take-out fried chicken was my grandpa's Kwik Chick. KFC came in and started trying to foist off some really bad chicken on what they thought was an unsuspecting public, but it didn't fly. (I remember having some of their chicken at a Girl Scout banquet. It was soggy and overseasoned and generally awful.)
Funny thing was, that KFC bought their chickens from my grandpa (in addition to his store he was the poultry wholesaler for much of the town). So he knew just exactly how much chicken they were using. And he knew they weren't doing well.
I've definitely found regional differences. In fact, it doesn't even have to go as far as regional; I see differences in the same chain right in my own community depending on who the franchise owner is.
Sonic is my prime example. I have three Sonics within a very short distance of me (Kansas City). I find that two are very good and one is pretty dreadful. It transcends the preparation of the food. The good ones have mostly cheerful and efficient employees, consistently good quality products, clean premises, and give senior discounts. The lousy one strikes out on all four counts. The difference between the three? Different franchise owners,
There are also three Sonics along my regular route to my Mom's in Lake of the Ozarks which is about 3.5 hours away from me. I might stop at any of the three while enroute. I can't really say that any of the three are "bad," but they are different and there are certain things I will or will not order at each of them.
I've had the same kinds of experiences at other fast food and even sit-down chain restaurants across the country.