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The chain restaurant topic


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Never been to an Olive Garden--I grew up in an Italian family, don't think I could stand it.

Usually if I go to a chain restaurant, it's because I'm on the road and don't want to take the time to find something else--which I will do if I'm not in too much of a rush. The place that really weirds me out is Cracker Barrel--I mean, aside from the food (though I like the biscuits)--every one of them is exactly the same. Same building, furniture placement, displays, everything. It's kind of scary.

I have eaten in some really terrible places avoiding chain restaurants, which I figure is part of the adventure of travel. On the other hand, I've had pleasant surprises too. But it does make you at least partly understand the appeal of the chain, at least in some places, for the locals.

I ate breakfast in a Marie Callender's for the first time when I was in Vegas in May; it actually wasn't that bad, no worse than an ordinary diner. I also ate in a really bad diner in Vegas, so I had some comparison.

Definitely one of the things that bugs me about chains, not just restaurants, is the homogenizing effect. You go someplace and it looks just like the last place you left, it looks like a mall. Why bother to travel if you're just going to go to a chain when you get there?

"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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With a few exceptions like Waffle House, Krispy Kreme, and The Palm I abhor chain restaurants and will tread the gastronomical precipe of unknown local eateries to avoid them.<p>It gauls me that hundreds of thousands of non-urban kids are growing up believing that Olive Garden is great Eye-talian cuisine, that all seafood must be drenched in orange red oil a la Red Lobster or that Chi Chi's fried ice cream is as Mexican as it gets.<p>I disagree that Olive Garden can be the best restaurant in any town.  Nor would I ever seek a safe harbor of consistency.  There is always a buffet or a tap room or a local dinner house to try.  

LOL, in New Jersey, going to Olive Garden is considered as sacrilege as going to a Sizzler in Texas. WHY? Look around you. WHY? :laugh:

Oh, and by the way, Waffle House rocks my world.

Edited by laurenmilan (log)

"Give me 8 hours, 3 people, wine, conversation and natural ingredients and I'll give you one of the best nights in your life. Outside of this forum - there would be no takers."- Wine_Dad, egullet.org

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The place that really weirds me out is Cracker Barrel--I mean, aside from the food (though I like the biscuits)--every one of them is exactly the same. Same building, furniture placement, displays, everything. It's kind of scary.

Interestingly, the first and only time I'd ever eaten in a Cracker Barrell was on a solo road trip; I think I was somewhere in Indiana -- yes, in fact, it WAS Indiana. I remember specifically stopping in a specific town because it was the birthplace of John Mellencamp and home to the country's biggest Wal-Mart.

Oh, this was a trip where I was expressly on the lookout for kitsch.

But for some reason it seems I managed to have sidestepped the more upscale chains throughout my entire life up till now, my 30's. (Fast-food chains we got where I'm from, but Olive Garden/Outback/etc., no.)

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Yes I really do think that - especially suburban and rural kids, many of whom I believe grow up without any exposure to non-chain and non-fast food dining out.<p>
Quote: from tommy on 12:34 pm on Aug. 12, 2001

[do you honestly think that people really think this?  come on.

<p>

When driving through Tomah, WI, we sometimes stop at Taco Bell off I94. There is a plaque in the restaurant, dubbing it the "Best Mexican Restaurant in Tomah."

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As a survivor of a terrifying suburban upbringing, I'm not really against chain restaurants. It was at chain restaurants that I first tasted fresh spinach, pasta other than spaghetti with "meat sauce", lettuces other than iceberg and a lot of other stuff my parents hated and therefore never served. (I also remember being luridly fascinated by the ball of marge on Denny's pancakes, which never quite melts.)

Now that I have developed a palate, cook from scratch and spend far too much time prowling egullet, I'm still glad I was exposed to chain restaurant food. I don't eat at chains now, but judging from the convenience foods available at supermarkets, they serve meals far superior to what most North Americans eat at home.

It's easy to bemoan homogeneity, but it's one of the defining characteristics of our culture. Our friends and neighbours shop at big-box stores and go on all-inclusive holidays. Why is their culinary counterpart so reprehensible? I suppose feeling superior is one of the privileges of being snugly ensconced in an elite subculture.

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I actually prefer Chain steakhouses to independent steakhouses. Not much originality is needed for steak, and independently owned steakhouses tend to be expensive.

Don't get the hate for Outback. I've always gotten a perfectly decent steak dinner there, for half the cost of someplace like The Prime Rib in philly.

Of course, a lot of chain steak places are expensive, namely Cap Grille, Mortons, Sullivans, and Ruths Chris.

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Happy to report that all the New England Red Lobsters have closed down. :raz:

Wicked pissa!

Then again, Red Lobster is a sacrilege in any state. Life is too short for frozen seafood.

"Give me 8 hours, 3 people, wine, conversation and natural ingredients and I'll give you one of the best nights in your life. Outside of this forum - there would be no takers."- Wine_Dad, egullet.org

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  • 2 months later...

Well, it looks like I'm wandering into this discussion way late and I probably won't get any response, but you never know!

First, I have some experience with the liquor industry and it seems to me that the Prohibition era has definetely left its mark on America. I don't know of any other country that cedes control of alcoholic beverages to individual states, resulting in my wandering in Pittsburgh to find a six-pack of beer in a supermarket (easy come, easy go in Hawaii) only to discover that the beverage is only sold in government establishments in Pitt, PA. In Japan, you can get a can of beer from a vending machine!

But we're stuck with the system, constitutional amendment and all that

My question is, anybody have an opinion about Flunch in France and Autogrille in Italy?

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Recent personal experiences:

Outback: Forgot to fire one entree. The waitron (and management) were clueless as to how to deal with such a situation. She did ask if everything "looked" OK though and topped-off the kid's soda for the tenth time. Must of failed Kangaroo Kindergarten.

Bucca de Beppo: see above. No comp, but lots of smarmy theatrical bullshit. We were sitting at the Pope's table so I can't really complain.

Cracker Barrel: see above. This incident was notable because we had to wait about an hour for our food (we were on the road after a long weekend, tired and spent, and just hoping for dinner). The manager was comping shit left and right. But not to us, though we complained. I guess we weren't dressed right. So forever fuck Cracker Barrel. Their meatloaf sucks anyway.

PJ

"Epater les bourgeois."

--Lester Bangs via Bruce Sterling

(Dori Bangs)

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My question is, anybody have an opinion about Flunch in France and Autogrille in Italy?

I might suggest you target your questions separately to the France and Italy forums. On the other hand, it's possible you'll only get answers asking "Why would we go there with so many other choices?" I've never been tempted myself. McDonalds is thriving in France, but I generally see a youthful local crowd in most of them. I suppose in the big cities they attract a crowd of tourists, but they're probably largely not the sort of tourists who spend much of their time on a site obsessed with food such as eGullet.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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This seems as good a place as any to post this. I pondered giving it its own thread (that's just how much I enjoyed it!), but it didn't seem like it would be interesting to others.

I was at Heathrow about a month ago on my way to visit the US (so, international terminal area, a little slice of hellish wasteland for food). Had time to kill, and was starving, so I was prowling for something affordable and not McDonalds.

Right NEXT to the McDonalds was a place called Pret a Manger. I have seen a location in London (so, it's clearly a chain of some sort), but never tried it. They have ready-made sandwiches for you to choose and purchase. According to their info sheets, they make them all day long, so they are fairly fresh.

I chose a BLT. It was possibly the best BLT I've ever had. :wub: The bacon was clearly fresh, at least cooked that day. The meat wasn't hard, the fat wasn't stringy, it was just perfect. (For those keeping track at home, and who know the difference, it was American-style bacon, not British) The lettuce was crisp, the tomatoes were a shade of red and still retained some flavor, and the mayo was... um, mayo-y. :raz: The bread was just substantial enough, a whole wheat grain. mmm.

I considered buying more for the flight, but didn't. I do know where I'll be going the next time I'm stuck in that pit, I mean, terminal. :smile:

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Ahh... Happy memories of Pret a Manger. A few years ago I spent a few days in London on a trip with my two grown kids. Pret a Manger saved our bacon. (Pardon the pun.) In between museums and such, that was our stop for a quick and restorative bite. While we ain't exactly poor, that is the only way we would have survived in London with enough money left to see more of the country. :raz: The sandwiches and other offerings were always fresh and tasty. I LOVE that place and wish we had something comparable here. Yes, we did find some interesting and affordable Indian restaurants and such but sometimes you just need to grab a sandwich and go.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I think there are several Prets open in NYC.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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That is truly good news, Jin. Hopefully the concept will spread. BTW... One of our favorite things to do was to load up and go to a park and have a picnic. We went into several of the stores in various parts of London and I do have to say that the quality was quite consistent.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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During a trip to London with my daughter a few years ago, Pret was also our lunchtime standard.

Do the Pret locations in NY have the same menu/food as those in London? Are there locations anywhere else in the U.S.?

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Different people place different meanings on "value", unfortunately.  One of the ways the chains lure people in and make them suck up to their concept of value is by making it seem that you're getting your money's worth by perpetuating the concept of "bigger is better".

I think the economics of it are that the food costs are among the lowest-cost inputs that the restaurant has. It's much easier, i.e., less expensive, to make the portions bigger than to do anything else (such as hire more staff to increase the staff-to-customer ratio, reduce the number of tables to give customers more room, etc.) that might improve the customer experience.

Edited by lueid813 (log)
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You know, it's possible this has nothing to do with anything, and it's also possible I've said this on this thread before, but: I love Bennigan's chicken strips. Love them.

Noise is music. All else is food.

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fifi- The picnic thing sounds lovely. The parks in London are gorgeous, and to have one of those BLTs with me would just be sublime. :smile:

It's good to hear that they aren't just in the UK. I thought I had seen one in NYC the last time I was in town, but I hadn't had my Pret epiphany at that point. I would happily go there again.

I'm not surprised to hear that they are owned, at least partially, by McDonalds. I guess I should state that the reason I was looking for a place other than McDonalds because I don't like the pathetic, grey, wafer-thin disks they pass off as hamburgers. :hmmm: I also just prefer to avoid fried food, unless it's really worth the fat grams (and, McD's doesn't fit that bill) The airport isn't the place to try to make a stand for the little guy; just about every retail and food establishment in there is going to be part of a chain.

Pret was an excellent alternative, complete with fresh, interesting ingredients. It's what Subway wishes it was. (okay, except their tuna sub. Guilty pleasure. :unsure: )

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With the exception of White Castle (none near me but if I am near one, I gotta have a bag of sliders) and running for the border about once a year (where we drop about $35 in take out and pig out for a week), we shun them.

Particularly dislike Red Lobster (have only been dragged there and have had consistently bad food and service) and the Olive Garden (if that is Italian food the Roman empire would have fallen sooner). The same company tried to launch another chain, but with Chinese food, about ten years ago. Sorry, I forget the name, but there were a few near where we lived in Florida. The food was execrable, even by lousy US Chinese food restaurant standards (there was a time I ate almost all my meals in NYC's Chinatown).

When forced to eat in a restaurant that we are dubious about, usually follow the wisdom "When in doubt, order the cow."

Have had a lot of bad beef following that advice, but if they can ruin cow that badly I hate to think what they would have done with the fish. And the decision has kept us from praying to the porcelin god half the night, I have no doubt.

In an Applebees (or any restaurant of that ilk) used to order a burger, rare, but no one will serve one less than cremated any more.

Often, now, just order appetizers and share.

Make it sort of a tapas meal, without the good food.

And why in the heck are there not more tapas restaurants in this country anyway?

But I guess that is another thread.

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auntdot, you're talking about Darden Restaurants, but I don't know what the name of the chain was.

I, like the majority of you, am not a fan of the chain restaurant. I live in the suburbs, but there are all sorts of delightful ethnic restaurants near me -- and a couple of more upscale chains that I don't mind on occasion -- but the fact remains that I've never had a satisfying meal at a Chilis or Macaroni Grill or whatever. And it's kind of a shame, because I can walk to three chain restaurants from my apartment.

That said, we have a couple of locally owned chain-esque restaurant groups here in the DC area that I am happy to eat at -- the Great American Restaurants group and the Clyde's group. What are the opinions on places like that?

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That said, we have a couple of locally owned chain-esque restaurant groups here in the DC area that I am happy to eat at -- the Great American Restaurants group and the Clyde's group. What are the opinions on places like that?

Great American Restaurants restaurants are indeed great. Artie's is my favorite, followed by Sweetwater Tavern.

I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

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