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Chain Restaurants - Give me your thoughts


Shamanjoe
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I'd like to talk about chain restaurants. We love them, we hate them. What I'm tired of are people that react to the suggestion of a chain restaurant as if you had just suggested eating their favourite pet. Sure there are lots of great little mom and pop places out there, and I'm sure we'd like to support them as much as possible, but what's so wrong with going to a chain once in a while? Some are horrible, no doubt, but there are dozens that are perfectly acceptable, and even some with excellent food.

What are your thoughts on this? Will you go to a chain restaurant? Do you go but not tell anyone? Avoid them like the plague? And if you go, which ones do you like, and why? There has to be at least one chain with redeeming qualities. Let's hear about them.

"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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We really like the Miso salad at California Pizza Kitchen. Shrimp, crab, avocado, rice noodles and fresh leafy stuff. Occasionally we see a thick piece of celery stalk, maybe one out of four, which we just toss. Dressing is good too.

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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I guess it all depends....

Chains--for me at least-- are the poster boy for uniformity. Uniformity in turn, requires ingredients that are available for EVERY location which means that either that they are very common or "carried" by a huge purveyor.

With some, like "Hys" "Earls" or "The Keg", the overall service and food quality are very good, and I know exactly what I'll get, which is a good thing--most of the time. With others, it seems they are just an excuse to keep the mega-purveyor in business, and to boost the production and sales of deep fryers.

So it all depends...

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It does depend on the chain. Olive Garden, no way. Most chains I would avoid in favor of a place that serves what I consider better food. Two burger chains are favorites of mine when I want a burger; Five Guys and White Castle. Famous Daves is ok for ribs if you live in Jersey.

John the hot dog guy

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The only times I can think of that I particularly patronize chain restaurants are when I'm waiting around in airports, where one must acknowledge that Wolfgang Puck's and Outback are an improvement over the dismal airline food that was available in US airports as recently as the 1980s. Jet Blue is trying to improve things at the recently renovated JFK Terminal 6, but there's nothing quite like the aroma of butter wafting from Leysieffer when you walk into Tegel airport in Berlin.

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We do get Moe's from time to time for the sheer convenience when it is a busy night or we are beat. Pizza delivery is the most common chain item, but we have some smaller shops that deliver now and it is much better pizza.

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My outlook on chain restaurants changed earlier this year when I was diagnosed with celiac. I used to avoid them like the plague, but now... Uno's has gluten-free pizza (and beer), Boston Market and Outback have a number of reliably GF options, Chipotle is almost entirely GF if one avoids the tortillas, etc., etc. I still venture into non-chain-land more often than not, but when I'm traveling, hitting one of these places is (alas) easier and usually safer than checking out the local mom-and-pops.

John Rosevear

"Brown food tastes better." - Chris Schlesinger

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I am generally an avoider of chains. When I was still living in Brooklyn, though, and driving back and forth between Boston and NYC, sometimes we'd have to stop (well, I always make a rest stop when I'm on long drives) and if we were on 95 we got into the habit of stopping at Cracker Barrel, because the other options were generally even worse. If we were on 84, then the stop would be at Rein's Deli. I admit that all chains are not created equal, but on the other hand they generally don't offer me anything I want that I can't get elsewhere. Can we make a distinction between a local/regional chain and a national one? I remember when Boston Market was still Boston Chicken and there were only three of them--it was actually pretty good. Most chains start out small, from the kernel of what may have been something decent at the beginning. And yet, to grow, to reach a really wide market, it seems that there must be some dilution. Sometimes they give up the very thing that made them in the first place--to give a couple of local examples: Dunkin' Donuts no longer makes donuts in the individual shops, Bertucci's pizza no longer has wood-fired ovens (I remember when it was just the one in Somerville). And yet this allows them to expand even more!

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Chili's for price point, options, and Surprising good customer service. Which means that yes, mistakes are made but they are corrected so well.

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

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My reason for avoiding chain restaurants if possible is about local economics. When I spend my money in my town I much prefer that as much of it as possible stays right here. And don't forget that when the Little League, local organizations and agencies need something they head right for the local owner.

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Having worked in a few national chain restaurants back in high school, I now realize how heavily processed the foods are at many of them. It is not uncommon for the food to be frozen or shelf stabilized to make it easy for an unskilled cook to put together.

Do I eat at chains? Very rarely. For the same price I would pay at a national chain, I can support local small businesses that typically produce better quality and less processed foods.

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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I just honestly never find anything I ever enjoy in most chains. They offer mediocre uninspiring food, with nothing but the taste of sodium in my mouth. If i want to use up my money, there is no reason whatsoever that tells me I should go to a chain and get shitty food, when I can either make food myself at home, or if i'm going out with friends and we want food and drinks, to just go to a decent place. It just doesn't make any sense to go to a chain around here. Not only that, but I work with a lot of local farmers and small restaurants, of course I would rather support them.

Are there decent chain? Yes there are, just not really around where I am. If there was a decent chain, i wouldnt mind going. Its mostly applebees and longhorn here, and with more restaurants than people in this city, its just dumb to go to one of those chains.

Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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Chains show me no respect by not taking reservations.

Chains have ill-trained waitstaff.

Chains are all the same.

Chains are expensive (for what you are served).

Chains compete with local guys who have their own money on the line.

Having said that there are a few chains that I don't despise. PF Chang, Firebirds, and Chili's when in airports.

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I've never understood why people are so opposed to Chipotle. It's not as if most other mission-style burritos are much better--how could they be? They are good because they are so simple--and when you live somewhere that doesn't have many other options for that kind of burrito, they're a great choice. And when I was growing up in a suburban wasteland, Bertucci's was a more than welcome relief from Pizza Hut, Domino's, etc...and I still think their rolls are delicious. So no, chains are not evil--if what they offer is as good or better than what else is locally available, they can be a very good thing indeed.

ETA: Moopheus, are you serious that Bertucci's doesn't have wood-fired ovens any more?! Well, I take back my praise for them. That's what made their pizzas so much better than typical chain fare.

Edited by conor610 (log)

"Degenerates. Degenerates. They'll all turn into monkeys." --Zizek on vegetarians

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I used to like the Bertucci's in Harvard Square in the late 1980s. I don't know that they really had many locations then, and they did have a wood fired oven as I recall. I was there less than a year ago, didn't order pizza, so I didn't note whether they still had the wood fired oven, but the other food I had was perfectly acceptable and the mussels were even memorable. I guess it doesn't feel like I'm going to a chain restaurant there, since I remember it from when they didn't have 90 locations.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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There's one chain we eat at enthusiastically, and that's Chipotle, I just like how they do things, and the food is decent. It's about 40 minutes away, so it's not like we're eating there every week, it's a destination. Cracker Barrel is a road trip treat, since there's also none in this area, I like some of their offerings, plus I love that little store. It's less about the food and more about the event of it. Otherwise, on a day-to-day basis, I avoid them. There's just too many non chain places to enjoy.

I figure, why? Anything I can get at one of those place, besides the gimmicky overpriced wacky "signature" stuff, I can find better at a local joint. I can see ordering from a chain pizza place if you're in a rural area, or going to Fridays if it's the only game in town, but here in my area? There's a pizza place on every block, a diner on every corner, and a multitude of good ethnic places in between, and if I want something bizarre like a "Deep Fried Mexi-Thai Boneless Chicken Wing Dragon Fire Ice Surprise Salad!!" I can attempt it at home. I'm not even going into the drinks, but these drink-centric places and their wacky gimmicky signature drinks make my skin crawl.

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Can we make a distinction between a local/regional chain and a national one?

Sure. I'd say the local chains are inevitably better than when they get larger.

A few people have mentioned Chipotle, and for some reason, that place just bugs me. Their food is decent, but way over-priced and over-hyped. For my money, there's a small place a few blocks from my local Chipotle that has bigger burritos, cheaper and better, and they don't charge you for a bag of stale tortilla chips that have a weird salt/lime taste.

My favourite chain has to be the line of Clearman's Steakhouses.. I'm not sure how many of them there are across the country (though my supervisor said she used to eat at one in Houston, TX) but the supposedly "original" Clearman's is right here in Pico Rivera, CA. It's called Steak and Stein, and it emphasizes everything right about a chain restaurant. They are moderately priced for a steakhouse of that quality, they have impeccable service, a typical steak comes with salad, cheese bread, a huge Oregon-grown baked potato, and the best onion rings I've ever had.

"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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I'm not even going into the drinks, but these drink-centric places and their wacky gimmicky signature drinks make my skin crawl.

Don't get me started on drinks either. I had a Tom Collins at T.G.I. Friday's (not because I like it, but because it's the only place open when we get off work at midnight that's close and not a seedy bar) that tasted like Sprite with a splash of gin. ::shudders::

"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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not a fan of chains but.....

when traveling there are times you have little choice. I try to plan ahead as much as possible but there are long, lonely stretches of inter-state where there is absolutely nothing but chain places. That being said Fuss loves Waffle House and Steak & Shake and I will tolerate Longhorn's & Chik-fil-A (note 3 of the 4 are--or were--Atlanta based so we are helping the home folks!) so if we have to stop at a chain those are the options and the only options (we used to hit Subway but they have gone seriously down-hill). Once we arrive at destination then it is all about the locals and I would not step foot in a chain any where near home.

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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My outlook on chain restaurants changed earlier this year when I was diagnosed with celiac. I used to avoid them like the plague, but now... Uno's has gluten-free pizza (and beer), Boston Market and Outback have a number of reliably GF options, Chipotle is almost entirely GF if one avoids the tortillas, etc., etc. I still venture into non-chain-land more often than not, but when I'm traveling, hitting one of these places is (alas) easier and usually safer than checking out the local mom-and-pops.

I have kiddos with food allergies, so my reasons for patronizing some chain restaurants is pretty much the same as John's.

Cheryl

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You can all pick your own worst chain restaurant experience. Sometimes I think about the fact that at some point in history, some place in the country, this food was So Good that the owners made so much money they could expand...and expand.

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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I'm not crazy about them, but there are some I like mainly due to memories associated with the places from days when I was growing up. Eating out ANYWHERE was a treat, and Piccadilly was one of the few places Daddy liked to go, so there is a warm spot in my heart for it.

For me, it depends on the invitation. If someone invites you to a chain restaurant to eat, then it's preferable to go and find something you can eat and enjoy the company than to make a comment about the person's choice of restaurants. The person might take any comment you make as an insult, or he might think that you think you have better taste than him, which you might, but it's not okay to tell him. :cool::biggrin:

One time in my rude days someone asked me if I wanted to go to TJ Applebee's. :huh: I told him I didn't eat at Applebees but would love to go some place else.

"Why don't you eat at Applebee's?"

"Because I don't have to. With all of the wonderful restaurants and food in Louisiana, why would anyone eat at Applebee's?"

Then, he said, "Okay. What about Chili's?" :rolleyes::laugh: I went to Chili's... but here's a surprise...the relationship never really went anywhere.

Rhonda

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If you're having trouble deciding which chain restaurant to visit, you can consult this handy flowchart to help with your decision.

Note the restaurant in the center which has no way to get to it.

(My personal opinion - chain restaurants are handy when on the road, or in the middle of a shopping mall trip, but are otherwise not so great. Except for Five Guys, which is awesome.)

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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Talking about "chains" is meaningless until you define the term. If multiple locations is the only criterion, then Craftbar, Oceanaire, Rosa Mexicana and even Bouchon are all "chains," yet I'm confident that most people wouldn't talk about them in the same way they talk about McDonalds, Subway or Olive Garden.

It's also easy to forget that restaurants that expand into chains can only do so if they're successful -- which means that a large number of people think they're good. Here in Atlanta, Richard Blais opened Flip Burger Boutique to heavy acclaim. His team has now opened a second location in Birmingham AL -- and people are elated over the news. He makes no secret of the fact that he wants to expand further. When does Flip become a "chain" -- and when will people begin to treat it with disdain for being one?

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I don't have anything against chains philosophically, it's just like any other consumer decision. If you like it, you patronize it. Most chains, to me, produce uninspired, overprocessed bland food. Most eaters, however, are not as aware of what they eat as egulleters. They view the perceived repeatability of food in restaurant chains as a positive because they're not particularly adventurous diners. I say perceived because most chain restaurants are franchises and they can vary in quality a lot based on local management so a lot of the appeal is the menus are all the same at each location.

That being said, there are a few chains that I like. Our local (Annapolis, MD) Bertucci's makes the best pizza in town, has decent fresh salads and sends you home with some really good yeasty rolls. People in better pizza towns will say, correctly, that that's because you don't have any really great pizza joints. True enough, which makes me appreciate even more the effort Bertucci's goes to to make a good pie. We also have a Mexican place called Baja Fresh that makes a very good burrito with all fresh ingredients and a bevy of decent salsas and condiments in a salad bar set up so you can get as much as you want.

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