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Pricing Decisions in Franchised Chains: A Look at the Restaurant and Fast-Food Industry

  • Francine Lafontaine

This paper examines empirical issues of pricing and price dispersion within franchised restaurant and fast-food chains. Given the per se illegality of resale price maintenance (RPM) under current U.S. Antitrust laws, and the fact that franchised outlets are independent businesses under the law, franchisors must delegate the power to set prices to franchisees whereas corporate chains can control downstream prices directly. The issue I examine is whether it matters empirically who, between the franchisor or the franchisee, gets to choose downstream prices, and why. After discussing a number of reasons why prices chosen by franchisees may differ from those that a franchisor would pick, I show, using data from all restaurant chains in the metropolitan Pittsburgh and Detroit areas, that there is price dispersion in fast-food franchising. I then show that the amount of price dispersion relates to the amount of franchising in a way that suggests that 1) franchisors are not able to control franchisees' prices indirectly to the same extent that they control company-owned unit prices and 2) the prices in franchised and corporate units are systematically different. Finally, I show that prices are systematically lower in corporate restaurants. This suggests that the reason behind the price differentials is not franchisor opportunism, but more likely double marginalization or, potentially, the existence of positive horizontal externalities among restaurants in a chain.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5247.

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Date of creation: Sep 1995
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5247
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  1. Severin Borenstein & Nancy L. Rose, 1991. "Competition and Price Dispersion in the U.S. Airline Industry," NBER Working Papers 3785, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Klein, Benjamin & Murphy, Kevin M, 1988. "Vertical Restraints as Contract Enforcement Mechanisms," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages 265-97, October.
  3. Sass, Tim R & Saurman, David S, 1993. "Mandated Exclusive Territories and Economic Efficiency: An Empirical Analysis of the Malt-Beverage Industry," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 153-77, April.
  4. Pratt, John W & Wise, David A & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1979. "Price Differences in Almost Competitive Markets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 189-211, May.
  5. Richard E. Romano, 1994. "Double Moral Hazard and Resale Price Maintenance," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 25(3), pages 455-466, Autumn.
  6. Krueger, Alan B, 1991. "Ownership, Agency, and Wages: An Examination of Franchising in the Fast Food Industry," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(1), pages 75-101, February.
  7. Heckman, James J, 1978. "Dummy Endogenous Variables in a Simultaneous Equation System," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(4), pages 931-59, July.
  8. Lafontaine, F., 1988. "Contract Theory And Franchising: Some Empirical Results," GSIA Working Papers 88-89-33, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  9. Gal-Or, Esther, 1991. "Optimal franchising in oligopolistic markets with uncertain demand," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 343-364, September.
  10. Gillian K. Hadfield, 1991. "Credible Spatial Preemption through Franchising," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(4), pages 531-543, Winter.
  11. Masten, Scott E & Meehan, James W, Jr & Snyder, Edward A, 1991. "The Costs of Organization," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 1-25, Spring.
  12. Minkler, Alanson P., 1990. "An empirical analysis of a firm's decision to franchise," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 77-82, September.
  13. Smith, Richard L, II, 1982. "Franchise Regulation: An Economic Analysis of State Restrictions on Automobile Distribution," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25(1), pages 125-57, April.
  14. Gallini, Nancy T & Lutz, Nancy A, 1992. "Dual Distribution and Royalty Fees in Franchising," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(3), pages 471-501, October.
  15. Bonanno, Giacomo & Vickers, John, 1988. "Vertical Separation," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 36(3), pages 257-65, March.
  16. Andrea Shepard, 1993. "Contractual Form, Retail Price, and Asset Characteristics in Gasoline Retailing," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 24(1), pages 58-77, Spring.
  17. Klein, Benjamin, 1980. "Transaction Cost Determinants of "Unfair" Contractual Arrangements," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(2), pages 356-62, May.
  18. Graddy, Kathryn, 1997. "Do Fast-Food Chains Price Discriminate on the Race and Income Characteristics of an Area?," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 15(4), pages 391-401, October.
  19. Barron, John M & Umbeck, John R, 1984. "The Effects of Different Contractual Arrangements: The Case of Retail Gasoline Markets," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(2), pages 313-28, October.
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