An industry expert recently told Megan McArdle that fast-food chains are beginning their slow, inevitable decline—an opinion she dismantles for Bloomberg. McArdle acknowledges chains suffer from "added layers of bureaucracy" and sacrifice quality as they try to "wring out economies of scale," and that should give independent eateries a "fighting chance." But where we eat is a problem. "We're turning to restaurants when we're away from our known turf," and we don't want to risk a rotten experience. And that's where the chains have an upper hand: "Even the worst chain food … is not as bad as what you get [at] a bad local place," she notes.
And she argues that there are plenty of bad ones placed exactly where the hungry traveler is: near hotels, along the highway, by airports. Chains are incentivized to provide a consistently not-awful experience. "That place on Route 66 where you stopped this summer … where you got food poisoning? The owner isn't worried that you'll never come back," McArdle writes. The same can't be said of McDonald's: Eat one bad burger at one location, and you may never frequent another McDonald's again anywhere in the world. McArdle admits we're not at "Peak Chain" (the costs of labor, real estate, and the food itself are all steep), but she says that while she hopes for a foodie future that's "artisanal, local, and unique," she fears it will actually be "bland, inoffensive, and globally recognizable." Read her dismaying take in full here. (Read more opinion stories.)