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Dec 28, 2006 07:02 PM

Chains you're tired of making excuses for?

Have a chain that you enjoy, yet you constantly see it getting ripped here or elsewhere? Tired of having to defend it over and over again? Is that what's troubling you today, poopy?

Me too. In my case it's Outback. I go there for the pork chops, and the wife loves the chicken pasta. We use call-ahead seating and never have to wait. So ease up. The desserts are good too.

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  1. Chipotle, Chilis, Outback, Flemings, Taco Bell.

    1. All chains are purely money makers, built by the rich to make themselves richer. They are not quality food establishments. Even places like Ruth's Chris are easily outdone by other steakhouses here in Atlanta. I don't hate, but I truly dislike all of them.

      14 Replies
      1. re: HaagenDazs

        Oh. I didn't know that.

        I'll stop going to Taco Bell and Arby's.

        1. re: HaagenDazs

          Aren't all places made to make money? I'd hate to open up a place and not want to make money. ;)

          1. re: Kari

            Well, yes... I'm most certainly not bashing the man/woman who opens up shop and makes a living. I love to eat (why else are we CHers?!) and I respect anyone who has the guts and the ability to open their own place. But go to a restaurant where the owners are sitting behind a large wood desk at the corporate headquarters watching the stock price and you can see that the quality has dropped like a lead brick. I admire the owner that is there 99% of the time. That's a good sign. They are either working in the kitchen, perusing the customers or, running quality control. You won't see that at Applebee's.

            1. re: HaagenDazs

              I admire the owner that ISN'T there 99% of the time, but has built a successful business that maintains quality. I think you had the point on the public ownership or desire thereof. Simply being a chain doesn't bring down the quality. Taking the focus off the food and service does, though.

              I suspect that the somewhat subjectively "better" chains, even if publicly owned, maintain a level of focus on the food, though they'll still suffer from the public ownership.

              Remember hearing about the standards of quality at the first KFC's and McDonald's? I'm sure it was there for a while at first, but after a decade or four of Wall St. influence, we end up with what we now despise.

              1. re: Dennis S

                In regards to quality, "Taking the focus off the food and service does [bring down the quality of a restaurant]..." Agreed, and that's kind of my point. When was the last time you were at Red Lobster and the owner of Red Lobster (now I don't mean the MANAGER, I mean the owner) came up to you and asked you how your dinner was or showed the cooks a better, maybe more authentic way to create a dish? It happens all the time at restaurants all across the world... but they aren't chains!

                I think there's a point where you're equating success with consistent quality. Applebee's has consistently mediocre to low quality, not great quality... but they maintain it! ;-) But consistency doesn't equal quality. The goal of a chain restaurant is to create revenue, not give the public high quality service and food in my opinion. Advertising goes a long way in this world, and I'm not saying I'm immune to the ads in this world, but they tend to skew our view of what is good and what isn't. For instance, take a different subject: liquor. Jack Daniel's is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE seller. The problem? It's mediocre stuff. There's so much out there that is so much better. And to top it all off, most people don't even realize it's not bourbon.

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  Just went to RL, the first chain in ages we've frequented. The reason? An organic produce gal I know works there at nite, so we went in to see her after Xmas shopping.

                  I gotta tell ya, the food, all of it, was so SALTY, I had a hard time eating it. EVERYTHING.

                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                    Ummm.....not to belabor the point, but Red Lobster (along with Olive Garden) is owned by Darden Foods, which, in turn, is owned by General Mills. General Mills is a publicly traded company and is owned by the shareholders. So, technically, is Red Lobster. There is no single "owner". From at least the manager level and up, stock options are probably offered as part of the compensation package, which does give the management staff some degree of ownership, no matter how small. Is it incentive enough for them to do a bang-up job? Maybe, maybe not, the corporate playbook dictates what they can and can not do and how much latitude they have to operate and make decisions independently. And when the bottom line is involved, typically, corporations don't extent too much latitude to subordinate management no matter how competent.

                    The Wall Street Journal ran a good piece yesterday about the new upscale menu items many chains have been adding to their menus. By and large, the majority of the additions have not been well accepted by the customer base. A lot of the failure was attributed to the chain not truly understanding their customers, i.e. why they patronized the restaurant and what it is they really want. Applebee's was prominently featured in the article and their R&D management admitted they've made mistakes with new items. There were also comments from diners sounding off about why they didn't like the new items.

                    The biggest mistake most independent restauranteurs make is beign under capitalized. The chain corporations have very deep pockets in many cases and can go place and do things the independent can nott. The purchasing power of most chains is phenomenal and no indie resto can possible match. This ability to control the cost of what goes on the plate, coupled with tight internal procedures allows the chains to provide consistency at a low to mid-range price. It's not a level playing field.

                    There is a huge difference between what a publicly traded (i.e. publicly owned) company with sophisticated resource/supply chains and good internal controls can do vs. what the average independent operator with limited resources and perhaps adequate internal controls can do. They each focus on what they do best. The corporate chain focuses on the bottom line and controlling the process not the product. The indie operator focuses on controlling the product and hopes that the process is good enough to effect a positive bottom line.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      ***but Red Lobster (along with Olive Garden) is owned by Darden Foods, which, in turn, is owned by General Mills. **

                      General Mills spun off its restaurant group in 1995 to their shareholders of record and holds NO interest in the Darden Restaurants.

                      1. re: jlawrence01

                        Thank you for the information. I really couldn't remember if GM still owned them or not. However, if they turned control over to the shareholders, it should still be a publicly held company, no?

                  2. re: Dennis S

                    Actually, I'd argue that being a chain DOES being down the quality. The second you hire untrained minimum wage labor to do the jobs that should be done by people passionately involved with food, you lower the quality.

                    This is how chains make money -- they have food "products" that get shipped across the country and are then assembled by people with little to no training. The key requirements here are that the products are easy to preserve, travel well, and be extremely easy to assemble by people with little to no knowledge of food. Flavor is a secondary concern. This is why chain food is often just overcooked frozen meat with too much salt, no spices and a big glob of melted cheez on it.

                  3. re: HaagenDazs

                    HaagenDazs, I understand that you are anti-chain restaurants and probably won't be caught dead in any of them. I'm curious, what do you (and those similar to you) eat on a daily, weekly, monthly & yearly basis? Humour me, will ya?

                    1. re: Peechie

                      I'm lucky enough to live in NYC, where there are plenty of non-chain offerings. When I go elsewhere, I seek out the smaller local restaurants, or just cook at home. Occasionally, I'll get dragged to a chain by a relative I'm visiting -- in those cases I just grin and bear it, marvelling at the idea that people actually eat this cardboard-tasting stuff regularly.

                      Peechie, are you saying you eat the stuff because there's no alternative where you are? I've definitely been to places (like the detroit suburbs) where the pickings are slim -- it's depressing.

                      1. re: oolah

                        the absolute BEST deep dish pizza I've ever had was in the detroit suburbs. if you ever go back, eat at pizzapappalis. (a local chain only around detroit.)
                        how about boynton beach fl? anyone ever find a good restaurant there?

                1. re: ChefGirl412

                  I second Round Table -- especially the Italian Garlic Supreme, skinny crust.

                  Although, come to think of it, I've not heard people bash Round Table.

                  1. re: ChefGirl412

                    They got rid of RTP's here years ago. I loved them. WAY better than Dominos or Papa Johns or Pizza Hut.

                  2. Um, mine would not be a chain restaurant but rather a chain grocery store that claims to offer a unique shopping experience. I'm afraid to even utter the name anymore lest I be drawn and quartered.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Velma

                      Please say its Trader Joes! Its the most overrated place on the board. Uh oh.....

                      1. re: Velma

                        you mean that you LOVE whole foods right? b/c otherwise you must be crazy. just kidding, i can see how people don't like it. but i have an unnatural loyalty to the place. where else can i consistently get good fruit? and have the place of origin on the label so that i can eat as locally as possible, even when i don't have time to make it to the famer's market. i know i'm paying more there, but i do enjoy the shopping experience very much. do they claim it's "unique?"

                      2. Pretty much any chain that ever gets mentioned here. Apparently there's some thrill to posting and telling a bunch of strangers about how superior and much better developed your own palate is to those of the ignorant masses flocking to whatever given chain establishment you don't like.

                        I particulary love the threads wherein a poster asks if anyone has any pointers on what to order at a place they don't frequent but have been given a gift card to, and there's always three or four responses about how they shouldn't go there in the first place, or some similar unhelpful comment.

                        But since you asked, Cracker Barrel, Red Lobster, Outback, etc., all get a lot of flak here, but as far as a family meal, they are OK. Am I going to get something there that will make me think about it for days afterwards? No, but I also know where I can go when the kids go to grandma's and my wife and I want to have that sort of dining experience.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: wabbitslayer

                          I have to agree with wabbitslayer - chains are simply made for convenience and you need to accept the tradeoff. I live in restaurant hell so I go to the only chain available
                          (Applebees) not becuase I even like it, but it is palatable and consistent. As far as capitalism - how many spin-offs of Jean Georges are there? I do not presume they are for simply altruistically presenting a culinary experience. Sorry if the spelling is off - it was a long day and I am tired - so I went to a chain tonight when my favorite local restaurant had a long wait. I didn't come away inspired - but sated and on time - there is something to be said about that

                          1. re: swarttav

                            Ditto, ditto, ditto, to both wabbitslayer and swarttav. My son goes to college in Stockton CA--a culinary desert for sure, and whenever I go see him there, we end up at a chain. CPK, Outback Express, Chili's, Applebees are the "highlights" and get repeat visits. The "local" non-chains restaurants don't seem to do much business, for some reason.

                            I will also tell you than when my son worked for Red Robin, he got a thick training manual, and was "tested" before he was allowed to work. And he was only a host, not a server (he was underage at the time). We ate at BJ's the other night and had great service, as good or better than what I've gotten in much higher priced establishments.

                            If you know what to expect, you won't be disappointed. Most chains don't aim for fine dining or cutting-edge cuisine, so don't complain when you don't get that.

                            1. re: rednails

                              I think in your discussion, you miss a very important aspect of the whole equation and flow of things.. the target market, the customers, the people who enable these "poor quality, packaged food" places to survive. There is a simple demand for it... whether the reason is consistency, convenience, the uniform, the chairs, the whatever.. the point is.. there is a market for them. For every person that hate McDonald's there are 10 more than loves it. Facts of life.

                              I don't hate that we have chain restaurants, I dont like all of them but that's my taste. I won't snub my nose just because someone else loves a place I don't.

                              I've been to my share of hole-in-the-wall gems, five star restos and everything else inbetween.. I have an appreciation for all of it. There is a time and place and need for everything. Facts of life.

                              1. re: swarttav

                                Applebees is palatable? WTF? It is the worst restaurant in history. And I like plenty of chains!

                                1. re: tamerlanenj

                                  Ditto. I laughed when I read a couple of posts lauding Applebees, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster, all of which I can not tolerate, and I happily eat at many chains!

                                  Well, all I can say is that our great variety of tastes can only help capitalism! haha

                                  1. re: luv2bake

                                    I'm not lauding Applebees (note that I put "highlight" in quotes). But I will say that they make my life easier as a Weight-Watcher by having a separate section of their menu dedicated to that program. Sometimes I have to compromise (alot) in order to reach my dietary goals.

                                    I will also go on the record that Marie Callendar's has the worst food anywhere. Their pies used to be good, but the one and only tie we ate at MC in Stockton, I was so put off by my dinner, I didn't want any dessert.

                                    1. re: rednails

                                      I frequent the Marie callendar's in Arcadia regularly. Their Cabo san Lucas chicken salad is great!