The Chain Gang

by Conor Friedersdorf

In a post about calorie labeling in restaurants -- and a New York City law requiring chain restaurants to post caloric information -- Matt Yglesias writes:

What seems really wrongheaded about the NYC law is to limit its effect to chain restaurants. If the data on this kind of very soft paternalism looks promising, then I’d want to see its scope expanded.

That sounds like an excellent way to create marginally more chain restaurants! There are more than 350 McDonald's in New York City. There are occasional minor menu changes, but the offerings are relatively static. The calorie labeling cost per restaurant is relatively low... compared to the cost for a single burger joint that has a rotating daily special, occasionally changes bun suppliers, and changes menu items frequently as it tries to experiment and gain a foothold in the neighborhood.

There are a lot of people -- and I am one -- who love one-off restaurants, specials written on chalk boards because they change everyday, fish dishes that depend on the catch, always changing menus, the use of local in season produce, etc. I do not want marginally less of these things! More broadly, the proliferation of regulations more easily born by large corporations than by small business owners is one reason why so many places in America are overrun with chains -- as opposed to singular businesses that provide unique products to consumers and rewarding livelihoods for their proprietors. Of course, every little regulatory burden seems like a good idea on its own. But they all add up. Does Matt really want to make the rest of New York City look a little bit more like Times Square?