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Are Chain/Franchise Restaurants safer?

Hi all. By safer, I mean sanitation and short term health safety, not taste related or long term safety.

This question came about because I read another CHOWHOUND response a few days ago. The responder said that his friend is scared to eat in non-chain restaurants. My first gut inner-response was that this is baseless and I personally ate from mom and pop restaurants all the time. However, I gave some more thoughts today, and I think this statement has some merits to it.

Let's just say $3-5 hamburger restaurants. I expect McDonald (or Burger King or Wendy...) has a more systematic food safety control than an average mom and pop store. McDonald must check its food source very careful, has a tight food transportation timeline, a very rigid cooking protocol, and worries to death about lawsuits. This is why McDonald hamburgers are often on side of overcooked. Now, I can understand that your local organic hamburger restaurant which sells $15 hamburgers will likely to have very good food safety control, but that is a very different class of restaurant.

I believe this to be the same for Red Lobster, Apple Bee's...etc.

I am not encouraging or discouraging people from eating at Chain restaurants.

What do you think? Do you think, on average, chain/franchise restaurants produce safer foods? Thanks.

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  1. Haven't there been some photos and/or video clips of chain restaurant workers doing some pretty gross things to the food?

    I think the best safeguard is a strong muni inspection program, which you generally find in larger cities, and perhaps counties.

    You can't know how stringently the home office inspects the franchise-owned places. However, I'd like to hear from actual franchise owners and workers.

    Also, bear in mind that when the bottom line is the major goal, everything else might suffer, As in the hidden food stores in the Seven Seas ship which the Feds found in a recent inspection of the Silver Sea. The same pressures are felt in all food industries. I don't know that the chains would be less likely to feel that pressure.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sueatmo

      <Haven't there been some photos and/or video clips of chain restaurant workers doing some pretty gross things to the food? >

      I agree and I think these are true. However, I also think they are selective observations. In other words, we only hear the bads from franchises, but not from mom and pop restaurants. Who to say workers in a mom and pop store work more professionally. For example, we get to hear about food poisoning from franchise restaurants like Subway and Jack in the Box:


      But I am very certain that food poisoning happen in many mom and pop restaurants, they just don't make it to the news. I had three food poisoning incidents in my life. Two are from local small restaurants and one is from a small market.

    2. Since chain restaurants depend a lot on centrally processed and prepared items, they are probably safer. Inventory is packaged or frozen until it is cooked and not left up to potentially unsafe storage and handling by an individual restaurant.

      However, when something does go wrong at a chain and bad food slips though, the impact is far more widespread.

      1 Reply
      1. re: pamf

        < the impact is far more widespread.>


      2. When it comes to food safety, chain restaurants usually aren't the best, but neither are they anywhere near the worst.

        If someone has had a bad experience with food poisoning and is afraid to eat in an unsafe restaurant, a chain restaurant is probably a safer bet than a random unknown restaurant.

        1. I remember a recent article about a restaurant worker who had been fired for doing something disgusting and posting a pic of the act on Facebook or Twitter. The article said that events of this sort usually happen at restaurants that are part of big low-end chains, and suggested that this was because the workers have so little respect for the chain. If this is true, then a Mom & Pop should be better.

          5 Replies
          1. re: drongo

            A few years ago I spoke with a young worker at a "mom and pop" pizza place and this person was not happy. I suspect that generalizations cannot be made on this.

            Its too bad this has not been studied.

            1. re: drongo

              I think the best mom & pops are easily better than the best chains and the worst mom & pops are worse than the worse chains.

              If you're desperate to avoid the worst experiences and have no way of evaluating a restaurant before you walk in the door, then chain dining is for you, so long as you accept the penalty of never having the best experience.

              1. re: FoodPopulist

                You are possibly right, but I am wary of the first assumption, that the best mom and pops are always going to be better than all chains.

                But perhaps you mean all independent restaurants? A Mom and Pop means to means to me a specific small independent restaurant.

                If you are in a smallish town, it is entirely possible that the safest meal will be found at a chain burger joint.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  If you are in a smallish town, it is entirely possible that the safest meal will be found at a chain burger joint.

                  I beg to differ. I worked in a diner in a small town (not smallish, but small.) To say the owner was anal about cleanliness and food safety would be an understatement. As the one who did most of the cleaning, I can tell you firsthand she worked my butt to the bone.

                  1. re: al b. darned

                    I said "it is entirely possible. . ." If you worked for an extremely conscientious owner, then great! I hope his restaurant does well and makes him a comfortable living.

                    But I've seen places that weren't that great in smaller towns. Had very disappointing food too.

            2. There will always be exceptions ...there are good chains and bad ones....but as your query is posed.....I can definitely tell you Chains are safer from a cleanliness position. They have more staff'labor and have stricter standards for safety and food handling procedures. The also have daily and hourly schedules for cleaning both front and back house. It's not unusual for them to have night cleaning crews come in do the job professionally. They do not neglect the purchase of health code required chemicals and cleaning products.....All their equipment is NSF rated and changed as needed or required for any menu changes.

              If any cleaning or safety procedures are not maintained.....it's not the chains fault by specifications.....but rather an employee and his manager for not seeing it gets done properly....because they do not care or are simply lazy. All chains have an employee handbook for each position that must be read and signed off on.

              1. I like to eat at taco trucks and where I live there are close to one billion trucks. Many are afraid because of sanitation concerns, but at one of my favorites, when the ladies aren't cooking and serving, it's non-stop cleaning. Love it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: James Cristinian

                  Plus, taco trucks don't have a back door to piles of food containers and garbage attracting vermin. I used to share a big dumpster/trash compactor with several restaurants and it was disgusting!

                2. Every episode of Bar Rescue, Restaurant Impossible, and both the UK and US versions of Kitchen Nightmares provides ample support for those who would avoid independent resaurants, if not all restaurants!

                  1. Interesting question. I'm guessing that employees of privately owned restaurants may have more loyalty and practice health safety more conscientiously to a familiar owners face than a faceless corporate owner, but it could work both ways if the familiar relationship is unfriendly.

                    1. I have hurled my guts out from food poisoning at both kinds of places. I personally don't think one is safer than the other, just like I don't think a mom and pop's food will automatically be better than a chain's.

                      1. I really disagree with your dichotomy of Chain / "Mom and Pop" restaurants.

                        I generally avoid anything that I would describe as either a "chain restaruant" or a "mom and pop restaurant". Both of these I would generally associate with relatively mediocre food (although for somewhat different reasons).

                        I live in London and well its just not a sensible kind of dichotomy here. There are chains, budget restaurants, takeway joints, pub food, mid-priced restaurants, and fancy joints (that are in the Michelin starred level).

                        I worry about food poisoning at dodgy looking take-away places and just generally avoid chains like mcdonalds cause the food is shit.
                        I would not expect to get food poisoning at a gastro-pub or mid-high priced restaurant.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: echoclerk

                          Mom and Pop just means independently owned. Most, practically all, gastro-pubs, for example, are "mom and pops". American slang.

                        2. Having worked at Pizza Hut for several years in high school and knowing other people who worked in fast food, there are things that happen in fast food restaurants most people are better off not knowing. This is mainly because fast food places hire a lot of people who are just there because it's a job - they have no passion for food, no vested interest in the business, no care for hygiene for the sake of the customer. I've seen boxes of cheese get dropped and picked up to be used. I've see old slimy mushrooms and sour pineapple get used in pizzas. We had a huge cockroach problem where one evening when cleaning out the salad bar a huge cockroach ran out of the brocolli container in the salad bar. There were employees that didn't always use soap after using the restroom. Most people didn't property clean the breadstick sauce dispenser, where sauce was left in the pump overnight even after a run through the dishwasher, only to be dispensed into the sauce cup of the first person to order breadsticks the following day. I once saw someone lift up the cheese and spit a loogie underneath then cover it back up because a customer gave him attitude over the phone.

                          Mom and pop places are usually owned by the person working behind the counter so they(at least the successful ones) do care about the food, have a vested interested in the business, have a care for hygiene for the customer. Those that don't will quickly find themselves out of business. Yelp is a huge resource to found out the general vibe of hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop type of place. You can find out if the food is good, you know they have a vested interest in the business. Hygiene you can get a read on once you walk into the place and observe. Are the people handling your money the same people handling your food? If they do are they wearing gloves? Does the place look/smell like it gets cleaned? Is the kitchen in view of the counter or is it hidden in back behind a wall where you can't see anything?

                          Fast food places try to make preparing and serving the food as easy as possible with the least amount of employee interaction - this way the company knows the food is consistent from store to store. The more food prep the chains leave to the whim of the individual employee means the higher the chance something goes wrong. I'm sure a lot has changed since I worked at that Pizza Hut to ensure a more automated process, but ultimately I feel that fast food/chain restaurants hire mostly people who are there only for the paycheck, which should always be a concern no matter what the parent company does to try and make their food safe.

                          1. I think you'd be surprised if you actually look up health code inspection records. In my town, Chicago, you can look up health code violation citations online and they seem to be equally split between single-location and chain restaurants.

                            Having said that, it's not like there's a rash of food poisonings here so even though you could be an alarmist and worry about food safety at unfamiliar places, odds are pretty good that if the restaurant has been open for some time then they've passed more than a few inspections.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: ferret

                              < think you'd be surprised if you actually look up health code inspection records. In my town, Chicago, you can look up health code violation citations online and they seem to be equally split between single-location and chain restaurants.>

                              Thanks for the information. Now, do you happen to know the approximate numbers for chain vs privately owned restaurants? This will give us a percentage.

                              Let's say there are 400 health code violations in Chicago, and 200 for chain and 200 for private. However, there are 3000 chain restaurants and 1000 private restaurants. This would mean private business has health code violation three times as frequent as chain.

                              Like more people died from choking on water than people died from taking vanadium, but it does not mean water is more dangerous than vanadium.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I get the statistical analysis part, my point is just that it's foolhardy to broadly assume that being part of a chain implies a standard of cleanliness and food safety above and beyond a single-location restaurant. They also put their pants on one unhygienic leg at a time.

                                The US Census does have some gross figures:


                                But not enough to get you to where you want to go.

                              2. re: ferret

                                Our local paper prints the restaurant inspection results every week and I would say the violations are generally pretty evenly split. There are more locations operating satisfactorily than not and the chains versus non-chains is about evenly split.

                                As far as violations, the inspectors are equally thorough at both. You can find chains with some pretty serious violations just as much as a local joint, and minor violations at both.

                              3. Chain restaurants source out their supplies for meat, poultry, vegetables etc. While they will establish standards they want met, it doesn’t mean the Supplier will meet them and try to cut a corner or two. The big chains have been burnt more than once because someone in the Organization was offered a great deal on a product and was willing to overlook the Suppliers track record, or do checks to insure they were following through. I have a brother that has worked in QA in the food industry for some heavy hitters. He has had to personally step in more than once, step on toes, and say don’t buy from XYZ. And he has been proven correct more than once as well. Greed will get the better of anyone.

                                1. I am not a fan of chain restaurants. I have some seen some shady things in my lifetime. I love mom and pop shops because their restaurants are their livelihood.. they have a lot more to lose!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: adrianar

                                    Most chain locations are run by moms and/or pops whose restaurants are their livelihood. Especially places like Subway.

                                    1. re: ferret

                                      Yes, we overlook that the owner of a single outlet of a chain might be independently owned and operated.

                                      The biggest prob with chains I think, is the lack of management in the evening. I've personally experienced service when it has been totally in charge of HS age kids, and it is not reassuring.

                                  2. Doesn't a decent percentage of food borne illness result from things that "went wrong" far back in the food chain? Lettuce or jalapenos or whatever tainted in the field, e-coli introduced at the packing plant?

                                    I'd expect those types of problems to be about equal in chains or local mom/pop places. High end places that "source" their ingredients from local farmers, maybe they get better stuff.

                                    Anyway, I tend to avoid most chains, especially fast food, because I don't like the food.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: tcamp

                                      <Doesn't a decent percentage of food borne illness result from things that "went wrong" far back in the food chain? Lettuce or jalapenos or whatever tainted in the field, e-coli introduced at the packing plant? >

                                      I agree.

                                      <High end places that "source" their ingredients from local farmers, maybe they get better stuff.>

                                      Yeah, but that is a totally different story. Now, we are comparing $100+ per meal vs $5 per meal.

                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        The 60 or so who were sickened at Noma in Copenhagen, often regarded as the best restaurant in the world, each paid hundreds of $$$ for the experience.

                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          I am referring on average. I understand that there are exceptions. I know in rare cases antelopes have documented to kill lions, but usually speaking, lions kill antelopes.

                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                            As Rick replied to a question in Casablanca: "You have no sympathy for the fox?" "Not particularly. I understand the point of view of the hound, too "

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Or as I would say "Most of the time, the hounds kill the foxes"

                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                I prefer to root for the underdog. In this contest, not the dog.

                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                  I thought you said you understand the point of view of the hound? :)

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    Richard Blaine (Rick) said that....:)

                                      2. re: tcamp

                                        Sure does. In fact, the first thing I think of when I hear of a new ecoli outbreak for produce is that I'll avoid TJ's for awhile. Seems like they are always on the list of retailers hit. It takes a very large chain to have the resources to not only insist on certain produciton protocols, but have the resources to do on site inspections to insure they are in fact in palce and being followed.