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Jul 24, 2012 05:54 AM

What constitutes a "Chain" restaurant.

I am relatively now to Chow and very new to this board so I apologize if this topic has been covered . . .

I wonder what people think constitutes a restaurant "chain"?

When does a chef's multiple enterprises move his restaurants into the "chain" category? Is Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill a Chain with 3 locations? What about his "Burger Palace" concept currently with 10 locations? Bobby Flay Steak has one location and Bar Americain two, are they chains because they are a part of his restaurant empire?

The same can be asked about dozens of "celebrity" chefs and not so celebrity chefs who open up multiple incarnations of their restaurants or tweak a theme and open up multiple restaurants serving different cuisines?

Finally, what about "restaurant groups" in DC we have Great American Restaurants and the Clyde’s Restaurant Group. Do all of their restaurants automatically become "chain" restaurants because they all have the same owners? Or are only the ones who actually share the same name become "chains"?

Are chain restaurants the sleazy underbelly of the food world . . . . we don’t know how to define them but we know them when we see them?

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  1. personally I differentiate between local and national chains.
    National chains - the ones we love to hate - olive garden, red lobster, etc etc.
    The diner we frequent now has 4 locations in our area and a 5th opening soon - a local chain. For me, Bobby Flay's restaurants and the like would also fall into the local chain category.

    1. I view a chain as any two linked and like entities. In terms of restaurants, then, I view a chain as any two or more restaurants that share some of these characteristics: ownership, concept, function, name, logistics, menu and/or operational control.

      Thus, Bobby Flay's two Bar Americain restaurants, which you mention above, would constitute a chain. Great American Restaurants, though, would not constitute a chain in my parlance; however, within that group the three Sweetwater Tavern locations would constitute a chain.

      2 Replies
      1. re: MonMauler

        That's the technical definition and I agree.

        1. re: MonMauler

          Very sophisticated and very correct answer.

        2. IMO the term "chain" itself brings about confusion. Common ownership is not sufficient. The important characteristic is there are multiple locations under some type of common control and they are, by practice, alike in appearance to the customer. Thus, simply being two or more restaurants with a common owner does not alone make them a "chain" in any sense that should matter to customers. What matters is that different locations have a similar offering and similar appearance, recognizable by the customer. In short, they follow the same FORMULA. This usually includes a common name, menu, decor, logo, dress, food production methods, and other elements.

          1. With addition to some of the points already brought up I believe the "chain" title belongs to those locations that do not do ALL cooking from scratch on premises.

            In other words once a restaurant is being supplied all their sauces from a centralized location that then ships it to each individual store to just be re-heated and served as instructed it is a chain. Above and beyond the similar styling to create the comfortable and recognizable feel to patrons who are traveling the precise exact taste is equally important to the chain atmosphere so many of their dishes/sauces are prepared at centralized locations and shipped regionally to the stores in the area to keep the consistency the same.

            That to me is a chain.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jrvedivici

              We might be splitting hairs here but I would put forth that less than 1% of all restaurants do ALL cooking from scratch and the real number may be closer to zero. (I have been in back of some of the most famous restaurants in the US and can honestly say that I have seen convenience products in all of them.)

              I would point that I owned 5 restaurants with the same name and we received no sauces from a central location, all was made in house including all soups salad dressings etc. I'm not sure if you consider me a chain but my customers sure did.


              1. re: jrvedivici

                + 1 for RetiredChef.

                Basically nobody does everything from scratch. Many things are done elsewhere and combined on premises, whether chain or individual restaurant. Further, theoretically even if someone owned several restaurants that each did do everything from scratch but with the same recipes, and had the same decor and uniforms etc., IMO no question that would still be a chain.

              2. There are some legal definitions. E.g. in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a chain restaurant is defined as one with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name (the Act requires such restaurants to provide nutrition information -- implementation is delayed). On the other hand, NYC defines a chain restaurant as one with 15 or more locations nationwide