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chadum

Seattle: Chain restaurants opening in downtown

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There is an article in today's Seattle Times about several chain restaurants following Cheescake Factory's lead and opening downtown.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/busi...downtown29.html

I'm split on how I feel about this. On one hand I don't like the idea of chains opening and pushing out independant restaurants, but I do understand that a vacant retail/restaurant space downtown is not a good thing.

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You gotta admire a new eGulleteer that throws out a very inflammatory topic for their second post, congrat & welcome chadum...

Althought I've talked plenty of smack about chain restaurants, the fact is that the issue usually gets argued from a bass-ackwards point of view, at least in my opinion. The idea that national chains, be they restaurants or retailers, "push out" local independent business is an economic fallacy. What pushes them out is local consumers deciding that low prices and large quantities are more important to them than higher quality and more interesting food. These chains are successful because of consumer tastes, nothing more, nothing less.

All that being said, national chain doesn't necessarily equal bad food either. I've been known to eat at Claim Jumper from time to time (THE HOR-ROR!!) and the fact is that they have some things on their menu that are quite good, by any measure. Elsewhere on eG I know some have said that PF Changs offers some good things too, so I would probably be inclined to give it a try.

With that, let the flogging of chain restaurants begin!!......


Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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I have had pretty good food at most of the major chains and in a pinch on travel they are just fine. Todai, however, can {expletive deleted} my {expletive deleted}!

Ben


Edited by Schielke (log)

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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Hi everyone. Well here goes my two cents worth. I am sure that all of us have eaten at a chain restaurant from time to time. They fill a niche and are, for the most part, a known quantity food, service, and decor wise. The nice thing is that we can choose to eat there or not. We have that freedom. I do agree that the public is partly to blame for the proliferation of these restaurants. However there is another culprit in the wings and that is the "greedy" landlord. It is not uncommon for the little "mom and Pop” or "Local" enterprises to be hammered by increased rents of fifty to one hundred percent, over a short period of time, imposed by landlords who are interested only in the bottom line. :angry: (This is alluded to in the article.) Unfortunately it is usually the large chain restaurants, or other enterprises, with deep pockets that can withstand this kind of financial blackmail. I have lived in Seattle since 1940 and seen this happen time and time again. Well that's my two cents worth. Thanks for listening. :smile:


Fred Rowe

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I'm not sure I buy that argument--extortionate rent increases are nothing new, but successful urban midrange chains like Cheesecake Factory are. The more dense and successful an urban core you find yourself in, the less likely you are to be surrounded by national restaurant chains. I can't quite explain why that is, though. Maybe our resident economist would like to chip in again.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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I have had pretty good food at most of the major chains and in a pinch on travel they are just fine.  Todai, however, can {expletive deleted} my {expletive deleted}!

Ben

I thought the problem with Todai was that eating the food there was comparable experience to {expletive deleted}'ing your {expletive deleted}! :wink:

Maybe our resident economist would like to chip in again.

BLAH BLAH BLAH network effects BLAH BLAH BLAH market segmentation BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH shallow versus deep markets BLAH BLAH BLAH specialization BLAH BLAH.

Is that what you had in mind?

Edited to add: forgot BLAH BLAH BLAH economies of scale...is it all perfectly clear now?


Edited by tighe (log)

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Yes, clear as {expletive deleted}.

In all seriousness, the phenomena you identify is interesting. I can explain why large national chains haven't generally done well in dense urban areas as opposed to smaller cities and suburbs, but why they recently have been able to be successful is more of a mystery which I will need to ponder. Besides, I have to go to Paris now....


Edited by tighe (log)

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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This is a great topic. For working moms like me, Outback Steakhouse, Cucina! Cucina! and Red Robin are life-savers when you (meaning the tired mom) just wants a served meal for your family...besides McDonald's. However, I refuse to go to the Cheesecake Factory or Todai with my 3 1/2 year old son and make him wait for 1-2 hours during peak waiting periods. I try to support the small neighborhood restaurants whenever I can...especially when they know when to offer the family friendly stuff--neat toys for the kid, cool coloring books and decent children's menus (beyond the same mac-and-cheese and chicken fingers..he likes to eat, too).

Small, family-owned restaurants can learn from the "big boys" - signage is visible from the street; websites are user-friendly; menus make you want to order more; the servers know how to upsell beverages, appetizers and desserts; the take-out menus look good and are in a visible area near the register; the separate, colorful drink menu, hanging point-of-sale pieces and stand-up POS at each table are inviting; the big boys ask their drink vendors to "assist" in paying for the menus (at one restaurant I worked at, the distributor paid for the drink menu b/c we gave their brands major coverage in the drink names...not a decision I would have made, but it made business sense to the GM); average checks are higher; and employee training and development is taken seriously.

One of the best servers I have ever experienced recently admitted his first server job was at Outback Steakhouse, which has a great training program. This guy was amazing. On his last day before going back to school, I told him how impressed I was with his service. And, he remembered the first time he served me and the hubby (and told me what we ordered for lunch that day). Restaurant chains can be a good thing, especially if they are training awesome servers like Jed!

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"The idea that national chains, be they restaurants or retailers, "push out" local independent business is an economic fallacy. What pushes them out is local consumers deciding that low prices and large quantities are more important to them than higher quality and more interesting food. These chains are successful because of consumer tastes, nothing more, nothing less."

National chains succeed in lowering their prices and serving larger quantities by using the capital of a corporation to buy at lower prices, resulting in lower revenues for farmers, ranchers, and other food producers. They can afford the higher rents until there is no one else in the neighborhood and all of the business is theirs. The Cheesecake Factory has a safety net and we all pay for it with industrial food served in a fakey dining room with robot service. Unfortunately, because of the effective training programs and consistent food people feel safer eating there than at a small neighborhood place where the chef may change or the servers may move on, and the result is dissatisfaction in the independent business experience.

It doesn't excuse the Outback Steakhouse from corrupting our tastes. Who doesn't go to Wal-Mart anymore? They have everything. But going shopping without thinking about the overall result of supporting them results in known devastation, the loss of small businesses and downtown business cores. They already pay just minimum wage. Once there are no other places to work will everyone be making that wage?

The problem isn't that we go to large chains to be happy, it's that we're afraid to eat at the small places because of the fear of not getting our money's worth. Our perception of what's worth it in this country has been changed by the chains, and I think for the worse.


If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

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Maybe midscale chains are taking off downtown because downtown is no longer just a place for sophisticated, citified palates like ours. There still seem to be some markets where chains can't compete, though. Chinatowns and other Asian neighborhoods may have a McDonald's or two, but not a P.F. Chang's. There are no chains that compete with high-end restaurants other than steakhouses. I'm sure there are chain executives trying to figure out how to break into these markets, and it'll be interesting to see what they come up with, but for now, enjoy: downtown restaurants are still the province of small business.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Mamster's phenomenon of a dense urban core with very few chains in my opinion is because of parking availability. Most chain restaurant consumers are driving from the suburbs or other nearby areas and don't want to pay 8-12 bucks for parking while they wait 1-2 hrs for a table and then another hour to eat.


Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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That's probably part of it, although parking in Portland is easy and cheap, and they don't have a Cheesecake Factory. I know the Seattle CheeseFac does a huge business with tourists and business travelers staying in downtown hotels.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Mamster's phenomenon of a dense urban core with very few chains in my opinion is because of parking availability.  Most chain restaurant consumers are driving from the suburbs or other nearby areas and don't want to pay 8-12 bucks for parking while they wait 1-2 hrs for a table and then another hour to eat.

i suppose that's possible, but here in philly, that is not the case.

within the past 2-4 years, maggiano's, buca di beppo, olive garden, and chili's have or are opening in downtown philly. cannot say what the wait is for these places though. parking would probably be about 10 i think.


Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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I agree with Mamster's comment re: chains not competiting against the high-end restaurants. The only example I can think of is Roy's...now popping up all over the country. This high-end restaurant chain is now in 12 states (!) and has trademarked its cuisine as Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. The chain has not been successful in all locales and has already closed one or two restaurants. My husband and I miss the days when there was only one Roy's (Hawaii Kai, a Honolulu suburb we lived in for seven years). Prior to becoming parents, we would stop by on a Saturday night with no reservations, my husband wearing an aloha shirt and khaki shorts with slippers. We would eat pupus and drink beers downstairs in the bar area.

Roy's

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I agree with Mamster's comment re: chains not competiting against the high-end restaurants.  The only example I can think of is Roy's...now popping up all over the country.  This high-end restaurant chain is now in 12 states (!) and has trademarked its cuisine as Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine.  The chain has not been successful in all locales and has already closed one or two restaurants.  My husband and I miss the days when there was only one Roy's (Hawaii Kai, a Honolulu suburb we lived in for seven years).  Prior to becoming parents, we would stop by on a Saturday night with no reservations, my husband wearing an aloha shirt and khaki shorts with slippers.  We would eat pupus and drink beers downstairs in the bar area.

Roy's

Roy's is owned by, you guessed it, Outback Steakhouse.


"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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Well, I'm not sure about other cities but Seattle's size and density, to my mind, make it only barely more urban than suburban and I often feel that outside a few neighborhoods a lot of the populace are more suburban than urban. Seattle's "dense urban core" is pretty tiny, really, and may not have the force on its own to fight off the rampant suburbanization of the surrounding region.

Granted I may be somewhat slanted in my view from 3 years working on the east side which is becoming more and more like Dallas by the day -- i.e. ugly cookie-cutter housing developments interspersed with strip malls and with most of the stores and restaraunts that pop up being chains. I wonder if it isn't in part an influx of bored east-siders that's making downtown more suburban in taste.

I'll add, as an additional heap of salt, that before moving here I spent 9 years in New York City so my sense of urban may be somewhat skewed as well.


Bacon starts its life inside a piglet-shaped cocoon, in which it receives all the nutrients it needs to grow healthy and tasty.

-baconwhores.com

Bacon, the Food of Joy....

-Sarah Vowell

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Yeah but what about Flemings? It couldn't be owned by Outback. Could it? I hear that someone bought the Icon Grill with thoughts of francising it's potential. Is this true? Has Fleming's in Seattle closed? What about Roy's is it gone? Niether list Seattle locations in thier ads.


Edited by Coop (log)

David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

http://www.starlinebyirion.com/

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Yeah but what about Flemings? It couldn't be owned by Outback. Could it? I hear that someone bought the Icon Grill with thoughts of francising it's potential. Is this true? Has Fleming's in Seattle closed? What about Roy's is it gone? Niether list Seattle locations in thier ads.

Fleming's in Seattle is no more. There is just no way that that many high-end steak houses were going to make it.

iCon was bought by the parent company of Applebee's and there was some talk of transplanting the concept, but I don't know if its happened yet. Last time I was at iCon, it didn't seem like the change of ownership had changed the quality or style of the food, which is a good thing. That was several months ago however.


Edited by tighe (log)

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Portland is getting a PF Chang's too. In the Brewery Blocks, across the street from Sur La Table, diagonal from Whole Foods. Has the one in Seattle opened yet? Has anyone tried it?

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Well, I'm not sure about other cities but Seattle's size and density, to my mind, make it only barely more urban than suburban and I often feel that outside a few neighborhoods a lot of the populace are more suburban than urban.  Seattle's "dense urban core" is pretty tiny, really, and may not have the force on its own to fight off the rampant suburbanization of the surrounding region.

Isn't there an Olive Garden (and several other chains) in Times Square?

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Here in Minneapolis, the city's major magazine had one of those annual restaurant polls. The top rated "neighborhood restaurant" was Applebee's.

Yikes.

Bruce

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Every year the Seattle Weekly does a Best of Seattle poll, and every year the results consist of the readers picking something old hat, or a chain, and the editors printing the result with a comment like, "Come on, people! Can't you do better than the Cheesecake Factory?" It was funny the first few times.

If you go by the Red Robin next to the University Bridge, they have a big banner up proclaiming them best casual or best family restaurant (something like that) in the Weekly poll.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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