What about consistency at sit-down chains? (Cont. from below)
You posed the question, referencing the appeal of the uniformity of fast food chains, from city-to-city and state-to-state:
"Is the same true of chain sit-down restaurants? Is there the same uniformity among Chili's or Applebee's or Red Lobster or TGIF's?"
This will probably get my chowhound membership revoked, but I think that there are instances in life that seeing a sit-down chain, and already being familiar with their menu, is a godsend.
Here in Japan, TGIF's is just starting to make a foothold. (By the end of the year, they will have 21 restaurants in Japan). The other 2 big sit-down chains that are quite well-established here are Tony Roma's, and Hard Rock Cafe. (I know, let the groaning begin). These places also happen to be in some of the cities where we have our stores.
After going to these cities (Osaka, Nagano, Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, Kyoto) to work on some technical problem for 15-20 hours straight, there are times - seldom, thank God - that I just DON'T want to even THINK about what to grab for a bite to eat. In these rare instances, I will make a bee-line for one of the above-mentioned places, order a cold one, and something familiar off of the menu, and just vegetate. Then, the next night, I'll ease my guilt by going to some place that I've never been to, or hunt down some local speciality.
Personally, this is the value in the uniformity of the chain restaurants, especially in a foreign country. There are times (usually after a particularly arduous day) when I just want to be in some place that reminds me a bit of America. And in Japan, these are the places where I can just go for a few hours, relax, and not have to make any decisions more complex than "Yeah, bring me another beer".
My wife used to work at a TGIF, and she says that there was a great deal of pride (if that's the word) taken in making sure that every individual order of any given dish was exactly the same: Same number of olives, same number of jalapeno slices, etc.
On the other issue related to this, there are certainly times when I don't want to think about what to eat. Luckily for me, I live in NYC, and can get what is, for me, comfort food, at better places than TGIF.
You have absolutely hae nothing to feel guilty about, Andy. Peter points out, rightly I think, that we New Yorkers can be "lazy" and have more interesting alternatives than chain restaurants. Heck, we can get that food delivered to our apartment. There is no reason whatsoever for me to go to McDonald's, because Burger Joint will deliver me a superior product almost as fast. Likewise, what reason is there to go to a sit down chain resaurant in NYC? About the only ones I see in Manhattan (e.g., Olive Garden, Chevy's) are in Times Square.
re: Dave Feldman
In the same spirit, I guess, Yoro No Taki, a chain with 2200 restaurants in Japan, which probably makes it the Japanese equivalent of Denny's, or at least the Autogrill, seems to pop up on the West Coast everywhere there is even a tiny concentration of Japanese expats. Whom I assume are grateful that they can get a salt-grilled mackerel just like the one at home.
My dad travelled all over the world for business and loved all the people and the different foods. But sometimes he just wanted something familiar and simple. When we lived in California, we occasionally had a fried chicken, collard green, mac & cheese, creamed corn, biscuit feast. We could (and DID) get wonderful Mexican food, fresh and exotic fruits and veggies. But sometimes you want what you know!