I'd like to know what franchise meas as a verb in the following sentence:

Catering in this school has been franchised to the company.

The native speakers I consulted, both American, don't seem very sure of its meaning.

I know the verb typically means (of a large company like McDonald's) to permit an individual or a smaller company to sell products or offer services in its name. But in the example above, I can hardly imagine a large "catering company" sold the right to sell its products in a school to a smaller company. Perhaps this is because I haven't heard of catering companies in connection with franchise agreements in my country. Could it be that it means the authority of the school gave permission to a company to provide catering? Could 'outsource' be used in this context to replace 'franchise'?

  • Did you look up in a dictionary? franchise verb: 1. grant a franchise to (an individual or group). grant a franchise for the sale of (goods) or the operation of (a service). "all the catering was franchised out" (Google) – Kris Feb 2 '14 at 15:07
  • @Kris usually our community members can do better than the dictionary. From the thoughtful way the OP composed the question, I doubt that a one-line dictionary entry would satisfy him/her. – jlovegren Feb 2 '14 at 16:01
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    I think it's pretty clear what it means: the school has granted the right to serve food at the school to another company. So I think the question is: is the use of "franchise" incorrect here? – Peter Shor Feb 2 '14 at 16:04
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    The usage also strikes me as odd. Do you have further context or a source where this sentence was encountered? What I would expect to hear/read in this case is that: Catering at a school is done through a concession to Company A. Now I wonder whether the more interesting question is "What is the difference between franchises and concessions?" – jlovegren Feb 2 '14 at 16:06
  • @jlovegren I found the sentence in a British dictionary. FYI, I also found an example sentence involving both 'franchise' as a verb and catering in another British dictionary. Maybe this usage is a Britishism? – Apollyon Feb 2 '14 at 16:28

To narrow in the definition on the specific example you gave:

Catering in this school has been franchised to the company.

It implies that the company operates the business, but that the school still controls the brand.

The company may be quite a large one, that runs cafeteria and catering services in many institutions. But the implication of franchise is that the operator is working under the school's name (or the name of a brand the school owns). If you go to a cafeteria, it will be identified as the "Brown Residence Cafeteria" or something similar, not as "Company X Food Services".

Many people would consider this type of franchising (of an institution's activity to a large operating company) a type of outsourcing, but not all outsourcing arrangements would be considered franchises.

Of course, as the other answers emphasize, there may be other important distinctions when using the word in a legal sense.

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    Similarly, I think the word concession is ambivalent about the brand identity; it really only implies the right to operate a business on another organization's property. Sometimes concessions in public buildings just adopt the building's identity, but sometimes they bring in their own -- especially when the concession is a franchise of a fast food company! (Again, as @jlovegren's example demonstrates, legal usage may be more specific.) – AmeliaBR Feb 2 '14 at 16:36

This is not an answer, but I wanted to include this material as a comment on how the New York City gov't distinguishes franchise from concession:

Franchises and concessions are awarded in a manner similar to the procurement process (e.g., by using RFP’s or competitive sealed bids). MOCS oversees and certifies agency compliance with the applicable laws and regulations for franchises and concessions. In certain circumstances, franchises and concessions are also subject to the approval of the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC).

  • Franchises are grants of the right to occupy or to use the City’s inalienable property, such as streets or parks, for a public service, e.g., transportation or telecommunications.
  • Concessions are grants for the private use of city-owned property such as for food sales or recreational activity, with the City’s compensation typically tied to the concessionaire’s revenue. Concessions are also subject to the City's Concession Rules as codified in Title 12 of the Rules of the City of New York.

The FCRC is comprised of six members: two represent the Mayor, one represents the Law Department, one represents the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), one represents the City Comptroller, and representatives of the five Borough Presidents share one vote, which is allocated according to the location of the franchise or concession at issue.

To award a franchise, the FCRC must conduct a hearing and approve the franchise with at least five votes. In Fiscal Year 2013, the City collected $197 million from 60 existing franchises, with the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) as the top revenue raisers, including over $128 million from cable television and $35 million from street furniture franchises. The FCRC also approved ten franchise transactions, including two new information service franchises.

Concessions, depending on their award method, may or may not require FCRC approval. Those procured by competitive sealed bid never require FCRC approval. In Fiscal Year 2013, the City awarded 192 new concessions and collected nearly $47 million in revenue from nearly 600 operating concessions. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) was the leading revenue raiser with restaurants and golf courses.


In the example given, you are using franchise in the business sense relating to a distribution plan or program.

The dictionary definition of the verb franchise in this sense is

(transitive) (business, mainly US & Canadian) to grant (a person, firm, etc) a franchise

The associated definition of the noun franchise referenced in that definition is

(business) authorization granted by a manufacturing enterprise to a distributor to market the manufacturer's products

While there are other definitions, care must be taken in the US because the term has a very specific legal meaning (like corporation), and it varies from state to state.

The terms are often used informally and loosely to mean a unit of a large organization, or a license to sell goods or use a trademark. However, the particular rules in various jurisdictions may or may not consider a given business a franchise. There are specific rights and responsibilities that go with franchising or being a franchise (usually involving some measure of control and support from the franchising body, and the right of the franchisee to obtain goods and marketing materials for an extended period of time).

In virtually no jurisdiction would the simple current ability to provide goods or services be considered a (legal) franchise, or be called franchising.

Outsourcing could be used if the service were regularly provided by the school itself

the act of subcontracting (work) to another company


The Oxford Dictionary of English gives a verbal meaning for 'franchise'. It is 'grant a franchise'. The example it gives is 'all the catering was franchised out'.

But looking at it again it doesn't seem right to me. That example sounds as though it should be 'outsourced'.

To grant a franchise would involve a well known brand, e.g.Costa Coffee, allowing a small company to use its name etc. The ODE example sounds like a large works or office facility handing over all the catering, e.g. for its staff meals, to another company. That, to my mind is 'outsourcing'.

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