How far can a franchisee diverge from the corporate standard in a chain resturant?

I always remember the anecdote in the difference between a corporate restaurant and a franchise restaurant from the same company was that “A corporate McDonalds is just your normal McDonalds, while a franchised McDonalds could put spaghetti on the menu if it thought it could bring in additional guests”. (Note, I know Spaghetti was indeed a McDonalds item at one time but not for long)

But could a franchisee actually do that? I know standards between different corporations and even regions differ but are there any real life examples of franchisee restaurants going in a completely different direction from corporate?

For example I can’t see any real difference between two chain fast food places near me, one being a corporate owned while the other being a franchisee (by the front door window is a sign that tells you if it’s corporate owned or not and what number to call in case you have a complaint against the franchisee), the franchisee doesn’t use the standard brown napkins at the corporate place and uses cheaper white napkins I noticed but that’s about it. I have noticed in general in the past franchisee’s are the most likely to refuse to honor a coupon while corporate stores honor the coupon every time.

Are there any examples of you guys finding franchisee restaurants that completely differ from normal?

Different franchises put different degrees of control on their operators. The precise details of what is and is not allowed are laid out in the franchise contract. McDonald’s has always allowed for a limited degree of autonomy to allow for regional preferences and innovation (the Big Mac was invented by a franchisee) but not by much. Given that McD’s locations have to buy supplies and food from corporate-approved distributors, it would be difficult to diverge much from the approved menu.

Here is an article from the Kansas City Star late last year about a dispute between Little Caesar’s corporate HQ and one of their local franchisees. It’s not a menu issue, but a difference in pricing between corporate’s nationally advertised price and what the franchise wanted to charge.

Just an anecdotal thing – when I lived in Salt Lake City the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise – the very first one Harlan Sanders sold – was to Pete Harmon’s. If you went to a Pete Harmon’s you could get KFC, but you could also get it with things like cooked carrots and other vegetables. Harmon’s also had sit-down tables and waiters.

when I was growing up in NJ, the local KFC franchise was “Gino’s”, owned by football player Gino Marchetti. they not only served KFC, but also burgers and cheeseburgers and the “shoestring” French fries that I’ve never seen at KFC.

So, yeah, evidently franchisees – at least those using their own names on the restaurants – can diverge significantly from the standard setup for that franchise.

it was years before I learned that there were Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises NOT associated with some other restaurant, where you couldn’t get burgers and fries.

Re: Cal Meacham’s experience, my mother-in-law from Cleveland went to her grave calling KFC “Kenny King’s.” One nostalgia site called King’s “KFC with waitresses,” although the menu showed ice cream, shakes and pies, as well as the usual KFC fare.

The Dairy Queen franchisee in St. Louis developed the Blizzard, to compete against the frozen custard desserts that remain very popular in the area.

That article talks about other disputes between corporate and that franchise operator, but as for the pricing issue, I always remembered seeing disclaimers in fast food ads that not all franchisees participate in the promotions.

Come to the Philippines. McSpaghetti has been on the menu for a long, long time.

The Filet-O-fish sandwich was also invented by a franchise operator, so he could offer Catholics an alternative to hamburgers on Fridays.

There was a lawsuit in 1962 when Carvel Ice Cream franchisees tried buying supplies outside the Carvel supply chain, saying gravelly voiced Tom Carvel was charging them too much. Tom responded that they were hurting the product (and revenue to the corporation) and said the U S Supreme Court agreed with the corporation. Tom said “Thank You”.

Did you hear that anecdote from Mitch?

I wonder how much say McDonalds franchises have in what they “DON’T” want to sell?
I’d like to see a McDonalds with an ultra scaled back menu that consisted of nothing but burgers, shakes, fries, and pop.

Harman stole the recipe and agreed to a franchise arrangement to avoid getting sued or worse (the Colonel could be a violent man sometimes), so there may not have been a lot of attention to detail.

I’ve seen McDonalds stores in mall food courts where that’s pretty much the entire menu.

Standalone franchises have also been known to have such a limited menu on special occasions; on the company’s anniversary, for example.

There are McDonald’s locations in Canada that are in smaller than standard size spaces, and that serve a limited menu - I don’t know whether it’s because they’re missing equipment in the kitchen, or freezer space, or both.

That’s called In-N-Out. “Those are good burgers, Walter.”

McDonald’s uses most flash frozen proteins and fries, and relatively non-perishable pre-made sauces and condiments, so shelf life of items that aren’t as popular is not really a problem. I doubt there is much on the corporate controlled menu that does not sell well, but one of their most popular and highest margin proteins is the unappealingly named Chicken McNugget, which I doubt either franchise owners or the corporation would be willing to remove from their offerings.


A person once told me they were at a Wendy’s once that had home made pie.

I don’t know if this is still the case but it was 20 some years ago… Black Bear Diners used to have almost complete control over their menus. The parent company just required the food to be good and took reviews very seriously.

I don’t eat at them often but when I have it’s in the same region and it seem to be pretty uniform now…but I’m not sure if I’m just eating at ones maybe owned by the same franchisee.

In the early days of franchising things were pretty loose, but companies are much more strict about brand image these days. A friend that owned a Dominos Pizza was dinged by corporate because the cant of the logo was off a few degrees on a sign.

As the first comment after that piece observes “That certainly is a different story than the one I heard.” everything I’ve read indicated that Pete Harmon got the recipe and franchise through a legit deal.