Why You Might See Unexpected Messages On Subway Signs

Subway, like most other fast-food restaurants, has locations that are operated by franchisees. In layman's terms, it's someone who operates the restaurant while under control and supervision of Subway's main marketing. Like most other fast-food restaurants who operate using the franchising model, the relationship between franchisee and corporate has not always been peaceful.

While it's normal for any business to have disagreements between operators, it seems that Subway has had some particularly nasty problems with its franchisees. New York Post reported in 2019 that a "bombshell" lawsuit detailed that Subway corporate management fostered an environment that promoted unfair treatment of franchisees by forcing them to open more stores through veiled threats, harsh and ridiculous rules, and cheated franchisees out of profits. Another franchisee even went on to state in 2021 that Subway had begun to "censor" its franchisees from speaking negatively about the company, presumably to prevent driving away any franchisees from entering the business (via QSR Magazine). A punishment for speaking out, the franchisee stated, could include removal of an 8% royalty rate to the loss of their store entirely.

Perhaps another factor behind the stand-offish relationship between franchisees and Subway corporate is that the fact that some franchisees have announced certain beliefs and ideals "vocally" within their stores using the brand's signs as a medium (via Reddit).

Franchisees can write what they want on their signs

A Reddit channel dedicated to all things Subway recently posed this question to users: "Are Subway franchisees allowed to endorse their own political/religious messages on their signage?" The post included an image of a Subway sign that reads: "Kneel for God. Stand for the flag." Many users seemed to agree that Subway had no power over what exactly their employees put on signage around the restaurant, although some agreed that such political messages should be kept out of the workplace.

"Honestly I doubt the corporate side of subway would care, as long as they make money. But having personal beliefs, whether it's right or left, good way to turn down customers," said one person. Another user noted, "Yes they're allowed. It's their sign. Frowned upon but it's their sign."

While many agreed that what goes on a sign is really up to the franchisee, there have been instances in which a franchisee showed their own political beliefs and left Subway in hot water. The infamous example included a Subway franchisee discriminating against two African-American boys following a "misunderstanding" in store policy (via NewsOne). Subway publicly stated that they didn't condone the franchisee's behavior in any way. Still, an incident like this surely doesn't make the tension between management and franchisees any better.