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dependent or chain establishments (Walker, 2009). Independent operations are not associated with a national or regional brand or name, the owners usually play a role in the day-to-day operations of the facility, and they may have greater flexibility in the types of foods served than do chain restaurants. A company or individual may own multiple independent restaurants, but because each location operates with a different menu or concept for the dining experience, these restaurants are still considered independent establishments. In contrast, chain restaurants are a group of restaurants that have the same name and marketing strategy, and menu items that are generally standardized across locations (Walker, 2009). For these reasons, consumers expect the same food and service regardless of the individual location. According to the National Restaurant Association, 206,000 of the restaurant locations around the country are part of large chains with 20 or more units.33 With multiple locations, chains generally serve far more customers and provide more meals than independent restaurants. While the definition of “restaurants” may vary among groups that track information about the nature of such operations, data from the consumer and retail market research information company NPD Group, as reported by Bassett et al. (2008), suggest that nearly three-quarters of all restaurant “traffic” nationally is represented by fast food chain restaurants.

In contrast to commercial establishments, non-commercial establishments are typically located in or contracted by organizations that are not focused on foodservice as their primary business. These operations include corporate and school cafeterias and foodservice kitchens for health-care facilities (Walker, 2009). Military feeding operations can also be categorized as non-commercial foodservice operations. Generally, non-commercial or institutional foodservice operations provide large quantities of a limited variety of menu options, some of which are not standardized and may be rotated on a daily basis. Some institutions have their own in-house food-service staff; however, it is increasingly common for institutions to contract with a managed services company, such as Sodexo, Compass Group, and Aramark. These companies often cater to thousands of locations with varied food needs (Walker, 2009).

The National Restaurant Association (2008) in its annual sales reports for the entire restaurant/foodservice sector provides data on the basis of more specific subcategories. These include full-service restaurants ($181 billion); limited-service (fast food) restaurants ($157 billion); cafeterias, grill-buffets, and buffets ($5 billion); social caterers ($6 billion); snack and non-alcoholic beverage bars ($20 billion); commercial foodservice contractor/managed services ($38 billion); commercial lodging restaurants


Personal communication, M. Sommers, National Restaurant Association, Washington, DC, October 30, 2009.

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