Boycotts and Franchises
People have asked me if I plan to boycott Papa John’s Pizza and/or Applebees, because John Schnatter and Zane Tankel, CEOs of Papa John’s Pizza and the New York franchisee of Applebee’s, respectively, have rumbled about cutting hours and wages of employees in order get around coming health care requirements.
Well, as it happens, it’s been years since I’ve eaten at either. The closest Papa John’s is eleven miles away and there’s a local-owned place that makes pizza, and, you know, I try to support local-owned business and such, and Papa John’s doesn’t deliver out to me anyway. Likewise, when the Scalzi family has a hankering for comfort food from affordably-priced casual dining restaurant chains, Applebee’s isn’t usually where we go for that. So I suppose I could boycott them both, but as with Chik-fil-A, as a practical matter, boycotting them would be me just not going to them with intent. I don’t know how much of a difference that will make.
However, I think it’s worth looking closely at the details of the Schnatter and Tankel statements, and at the corporate structure of the restaurants in question. Both chains run on the franchise basis, which means that the franchisees are largely responsible for the operations of the stores and the staffing choices. When Schnatter was talking, he was saying how he could see how franchisees would cut employee hours, not (as far as I could see) that he was ordering them to do it. If I found myself in Greenville, at the Papa John’s there, I suppose I would want to know what the franchisee there (which I believe is PJ Ohio, LLC) plans to do with its employees.
Likewise, when Tankel was talking about his plans, his plans affect only those Applebee’s that he’s got the franchise for, not any other. For example, my local Applebee’s is franchised by these guys, who as an example of their own business philosophy have on their Web site a page discussing their commitment to “inclusion and diversity.” It wouldn’t be accurate or fair to boycott my local Applebee’s because of something a different franchisee not operating my local restaurant does; likewise, boycotting the entire national chain because New York’s franchisee is a dick doesn’t seem the right thing to do either.
On the flip-side of things, during the Chik-fil-A blowup earlier this year over same-sex marriage, a New Hampshire franchisee of the company co-sponsored an LGBT pride event. The question there, I suppose, is whether the on-the-ground support for LGBT causes in New Hampshire obviates the anti-equality statements of the company’s CEO. For some people, the answer will be yes. For others, not so much.
The shorter version of this is that the very nature of franchised businesses can make it difficult to figure out whether or not the corporate values of the restaurant or store on the ground near you are something you can support. And simply as a practical matter there’s also the question of how much research one can reasonably be expected to do in order to discover whether, say, the local McDonald’s or Taco Bell franchisee is a company whose politics and policies are in line with one’s own. This isn’t to say it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done if one feels strongly on a matter. Just that — surprise– things are often not as simple as a call for action on Twitter or Facebook can make it seem.
This may especially be the case when one lives in an area whose general politics are manifestly not one’s own. I mean, look: I live in a county that just went 70% for Romney, surrounded on all sides by counties who went for Romney by similar margins. Franchise or locally owned, if I shopped only at the places where I knew the owners or companies held my personal political values right down the line, I’d be commuting an hour each time I shopped or wanted a burger. After a certain point you have to decide where your line is. There are places that don’t get my business, or will ever get it, because I find their corporate beliefs or practices problematic. But I’m not going to stop going to the local ice cream shop because the owners put a Romney sign in their window.