ROADSIDE EMPIRES: How the Chains Franchised America by Stan Luxenberg

ROADSIDE EMPIRES: How the Chains Franchised America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Some commonplace objections to McDonald's, Holiday Inns, and franchised chains in general--along with lots of scattered facts about how they operate. Luxenberg sees the fast-food chains, in particular, as a social and economic evil foisted on us by advertising: ""As children become acquainted with fast food, they also learn about the muffler chains, hair salons, and motels they will one day patronize. More important, they come to believe that nationally advertised products sold in shiny outlets are superior to local goods."" Never mind that ""nationally advertised products"" dominated the marketplace long before McDonalds; Luxenberg has no apparent recollection of earlier, local and regional eatery chains--nor of the dismal fare at many a friendly lunch counter. He doesn't link Holiday Inns to the rising postwar standard of living, long family auto trips, or the Interstates--nor does he seem aware of the bona fide attractions of standardized accommodations and services. He's unhappy with the unlovely aspects of the chains (their ""predictable mediocrity,"" etc.)--without understanding their mass appeal. And even when he has a case, he muddles it. Decrying the exploitation of teenage labor by the fastfood outlets, he gets entangled with the drawbacks of all unskilled service jobs (in an increasingly service-heavy economy) and opines that it would be better if teenagers' parents earned more money and they didn't work. Talking about low productivity in those outlets, he attributes it to high employee turnover (which sounds reasonable--but how long does it take to learn to serve up a Big Mac?) and to lack of ""bold transformations"" (but what, beyond today's constant time- and labor-saving adjustments, has he in mind?). In any case, higher productivity would not mean lower prices: as Luxenberg properly notes, the chains have discovered that they increase profits by increasing prices. There is a fair amount of industry lore--the sagas of Colonel Sanders, Roy Kroc, and other go-getters; the regular updating of motel and fast-food premises; the necessity that all units of a chain keep up to snuff--and it brings an occasional insight (e.g., an expert's reference to McDonald fare as ""salty candy"") as well as some raising, at least, of the issues: the failure rate of franchise chains, the rebellion of franchisees. But overall this is trite, half-baked social criticism and a muzzy source of information.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking