... Sometimes the best topics come from talk radio. I was listening to a rather large and well known local talk radio station the other day on the way home from an interview and the host was talking about chain restaurants.
You know - Chili's, Chevy's, McDonalds, etc. The places that are everywhere you go and are always the same no matter where you are. The focal point of the discussion was whether or not an individual city council should have the power to ban or limit the number of chain restaurants in their city.
He started taking callers, one of which was from a small city in Marin County, and that's when I tuned out the situation and started a conversation with myself (in my head) about the topic. Should a city be able to limit the number of chain restaurants?
I could see the point from all sorts of angles. On one hand it would be encouraging to the smaller privately owned restaurants that were in the city. It might even encourage someone to start a small diner or other eatery to take up the slack. On the other hand the restaurant business is a nasty and hard business to be in and most go belly up rather quickly. The revenue that a city could gain from a chain restaurant would be encouraging too, as opposed to someplace that might fail rather quickly and the space remain empty for potentially months on end (unless it's San Francisco where there is no shortage of chain and independent restaurants, and space is always snapped up quickly if the owners don't "reinvent" the place).
It would be encouraging to parents with small children that they don't have to go to a chain restaurant and instead patronize someplace that their family could grow up with. DH and I have two restaurants practically within spitting distance of each other that we've taken the kids to since they were very small (the kids, not the restaurants) and they know us well at both: one Mexican and one Chinese. The service is always good, the food is always excellent.
On the other hand, do you really want a city council having that sort of power to decide what the food landscape of a city should look like? Do you really want them deciding that you shouldn't have a second or third pizza place to choose from because there already is one in place? I'm not so sure that I like that idea.
There's a local city on a drive just over a large hill or two from me that has practically no chain restaurants. Santa Cruz. A rather... unique place to live. The closest thing they have to chain restaurants is a Togo's (which started locally) and a Pizz'a My Heart (another local eatery with multiple locations). That's all. There are ordinances in place that forbid anyone from opening a Round Table or Burger King or Krispy Kreme in that city. The sprout crowd that lives there loves it. The non-sprout crowd that lives there doesn't love it so much. I worked with someone who lived in Santa Cruz and she was happy to be working over the hill so that she could get a burger fix once in a while or head to Olive Garden for take out.
I thought that some of the restaurants in Santa Cruz were kind of unique for a small town and that it's not a bad thing to not have the temptation of chain food and formulas always around. I'm that sort of foodie. We all know I have a taste for french fries and burgers - I've talked about it enough here - but would I really miss it if it wasn't there in the first place? This individual said yes, absolutely I would. Part of the problem is that some of the places down there could charge whatever they wanted for something. No competition from McDonald's? Great, we'll charge $8 for a small burger. No other fried chicken chain? Cool. A plate with a breast and thigh done with an old fashioned fry is going to be $9. And so it goes.
They could change the menu and pricing whenever they liked. But, I said, that's the good thing about an independant restaurant - they make changes and you get something new. Yes, she said, but you get really tired of the places that don't care if the quality is there or not because they're the only game in town and can charge $15 for something that would cost $7 in the heart of Silly.com Valley.
Good points all of them. I always did think it was a little strange that Santa Cruz didn't have chain restaurants and I could understand it from the point that it is a rather alternative town with hippies and people who hate cars and non-conformists and vegans up and down the street. For that sort of place it might not be a bad thing to have no chain situations - it encourages all of the small business owners of the area, and there are quite a few down there. But I don't think it would work in larger cities...
...although it might be nice to reduce the chances of having three Starbucks within two blocks of each other.