Dunkin' Donuts Watching You?

Next time you head to your local Dunkin’ Donuts, all eyes may be on you -- and more than just the ones you can see.

The well-known chain is asking certain franchisees to install surveillance systems in order to keep a watchful eye on individual store performances. Dunkin’ Donuts spokesman Andrew Mastrangelo said the camera systems are being required of franchisees that show an “unwillingness and inability to meet store standards.”

The company has also told franchisees the system will not be closely monitored unless necessary. Out of 8,000 stores worldwide, Mastrangelo said those unable to meet “necessary standards” make up less than 4 percent -- nearly 200 -- of all franchises.

According to the New York Post, the Dunkin’ camera-system requires the certain franchisees to allow Dunkin’ to monitor the stores all day, everyday, or pay for store inspections every other week at $350 a visit. With the use of these security cameras, the mega-chain hopes to monitor these struggling franchisees, bettering store performance and enforcing company practices. But the incident raises concern among franchise owners, and begs the question of what privacy rights they have, if any.

Franchise attorney Kevin Murphy said owners are required to abide by the terms of the "Franchise Operations Manual," which does allow companies to modify and alter contracts after an original signing.

“When the franchise company wants to add a new component to the franchise relationship, such as requiring surveillance cameras, they simply add a section about this to their Operations Manual,” Murphy said. Franchisees can be penalized if they do not comply with the new requirements, resulting in termination of the business and investment.

Representatives of Seattle’s Best Coffee, an expanding U.S. franchise, declined to comment on in-café security procedures. But spokesperson Alan Hilowitz said those procedures are managed, individually, by each franchisee.

“Seattle’s Best Coffee requires franchises to submit to specific in-café monitoring measures as outlined in the Franchising Disclosure Document; however, there is no requirement for cameras in the cafes,” Hilowitz said.

Amy Cheng, franchise lawyer of Cheng Cohen, LLC, said it is important to remember that a franchisor wants to help its franchisees achieve profitability.

“Obviously, to the franchisor’s benefit, the camera would also deter or uncover underreporting by the franchisee, which is a big problem for many franchisors,” Cheng said.