The city council of small-town Cotati, California, recently extended its ban on chain restaurants by six months, and is planning on implementing permanent restrictions on outside vendors in the next few weeks. You can take a look at the "arguments" for the ban (read: self-serving nonsense) in the council’s March 28 minutes.
Unlike, say, New York’s zoning restrictions on fast-food restaurants, which are primarily motivated by a paternalistic impulse to keep “bad” foods off people’s plates, Cotati’s ban is meant to protect “mom and pop” operations from — in the words of local café owner Carolina Clare — “these huge migratory birds that come into town and suck up all the resources.” (As an objective and financially disinterested observer, we trust that Clare has the interests of the whole town in mind. Right.)
The council’s decision to transform local laws into a club for local bistros is just one outgrowth of the anxiety some people have about national chain restaurants. But before big-city legislators get inspired by their small-time counterparts, here’s a reminder: People choose to eat at chains. If officials want them to choose otherwise, they should encourage local eateries to do what every other business must do in the face of competition: improve their products, or offer something their larger competitors can’t. (Also: Chains are just mom-and-pop restaurants that got really popular.)
And for people on fixed incomes who can’t afford "local" gourmet fare, sometimes those chicken nuggets are just what the family pocketbook ordered.