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Jan 2, 2007 03:26 PM

Food Franchises That Don't Suck

Do you know of any? I'm thinking places that feel local, have fresh food, probably more high-end stuff.

Any thoughts?

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  1. Does In-N-Out count? All of their burgers are made fresh and inspired Chef Thomas Keller to open his own burger joint (he's an unabashed fan of In-N-Out).

    8 Replies
    1. re: SauceSupreme

      In-N-Out is entirely corporate, they won't franchise it because they know there will be loss of quality somewhere on the line.

      1. re: SauceSupreme

        Where is Keller's burger Joint? I have to go there.

        1. re: normalheightsfoodie

          burger bar is in mandalay bay in vegas ( or at least that's what i remember ). didn't get to try it because of reservations at his other restaurant, fleur de lys.

          1. re: ktown378

            thats actually hubert keller, i think thats his brother. thomas keller's place is bouchon at the venetian

            1. re: da_seuss

              Hubert and Thomas Keller are not related. Hubert Keller owns Fleur de Lys and Burger Bar in SF/Vegas. Thomas Keller owns French Laundry, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Per Se, and his newest venture in Yountville Ad hoc.

              1. re: winonerd

                bouchon in vegas is not good. and dont expect a plate for your bread either

                1. re: foodwhisperer

                  Horsefeathers. Bouchon in Vegas is quite possibly the best breakfast I've had *anywhere*. And if you don't have a bread plate, Miss Manners says it's perfectly acceptable to put your bread right on the table.

                  1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                    I agree.... the breakfast here is great. We had a thick creamy crab bisque type soup with chunks of crab meat.... it was a special of the day. But definitely, breakfast here is very nice. Dinner's are nice here too.

      2. Dairy Queen Grill 'n Chill is pretty tasty. Tomatoes and lettuce on the burgers always seem fresh. Salads look nice. Some things aren't so great (buffalo chicken strips), but you can't go wrong with their burgers and fries. Only thing I really question is their approximation of garlic bread...

        Longhorn Steakhouse is nice for a higher-end experience, too.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Heatherb

          Dairy Queen varies widely by location and management. The one near me is wretched.

          1. re: KCJ

            Don't order two burgers and 2 fries for 2 bucks fries ok burgers were like soy woodchip dogtreats.I like the ice cream stuff though.Higher end burgers ok.

        2. I'm a fan of Panera bread. It can get silly sometimes, but i like being able to order soup and a salad at a fastfood joint

          17 Replies
          1. re: sixelagogo

            But Panera has the WORST coffee in the word, and it's a crying shame....

            1. re: qzq

              Not to mention the carafe which maintains coffee at sometimes searing temps. I suffered a burn to the roof of my mouth from a small initial sip. I was in discomfort for over a week. Other than that, I too like Panera's.

              1. re: feelinpeckish

                Paneras started out in St. Louis as St. Louis Bread Company, and it was really pretty good even when they franchised locally. The quality has dropped a bit since they went national but I still like it.

                1. re: Phaedrus

                  Panera's breads are passable (though overpriced). Their soups, however, have to be the worst ever.

                  1. re: The Professor

                    If the choice is between fast food or Panera's, Panera's win hands down. I like their soups, well not all of them. But enough of them so that choosing one involves thought.

            2. re: sixelagogo

              Panera's portobello mushroom asiago sandwich is deadly good.

              1. re: Bunson

                One statement -- apple raisin crumb bagel. OHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

                1. re: mrsbuffer

                  I loved Panera's vegetarian garden veggie soup with a salad combo... now that they've taken it off the menu, I'll have to suspend my visits as I refuse to eat their new veggie soups: black bean or 'fiesta con queso'. Why Panera, WHY WHY WHY??

              2. re: sixelagogo

                I tried Panera the for the first time at Thanksgiving and then again on our trip down yonder for Christmas. Both times I thoroughly enjoyed my sandwich. Most recently I tried the tuna and had it on stone ground rye and it was just flat out good.
                It came with a bag of chips which even my 13 yo neice wouldn't eat.


                1. re: Davwud

                  I like Panera...but the one by me has been slipping service-wise. I had one guy who kept pretending to ring some fake bell and wouldn't listen to my order until I played the game. Too much egg-nog? Before that, DH went and they had both register areas open but neither of them would take his order either. By the time he was able to order, the line was out the door - one thing about chains - bad service doesn't turn people away.

                  1. re: TampaAurora

                    Quality and service is a bit hit or miss by specific location. I usually get the vegetarian soup of the day with another item as part of the combo. Soup is typically good (except for the time my vegetarian black bean had a nice big hunk of meat in it).

                  2. re: Davwud

                    I love Panera's bagels (when WILL they bring back the Pink Ribbon bagel? So good!) and also their grilled salmon salad. Never tried their sandwiches though, but given the usual good quality of their bread, I'm sure it's good.

                    1. re: FoodieKat

                      I eat their salmon salad because there arent any other great options sometimes, but it is so so so small. it is a good accompaniment with soup in a bread bowl though which is by far their best offering.

                      1. re: yankeefan

                        panera bread's bagels and pastries are top notch. i dare anyone to eat a cinnamon crunch bagel and come away dissatisfied--it is completely off the chain. sure, it's a little "desserty," and maybe a little cloyingly sweet for some people in the morning, but i think it's just perfect with a pat of butter. if you eat this stuff and come away thinking chains still suck, you've lost sight of what really matters where good food is concerned.

                        1. re: beelzebozo

                          I think chains suck in general, *but* I actually like Panera, albeit for different products than the ones you mention. If I'm in the 'burbs in need a casual lunch and wireless access, I will go to one of their locations (off peak hours...they get crowded!) for one of their sandwiches.

                          I've tried their bagels and a couple of their standards and they do *not* meet my standards. At all. But I haven't tried the cinnamon item you mention. I will, next time.

                    2. re: Davwud

                      I love Panera, their new ham and cheddar breakfast sandwich on ciabatta? is Awesome and I LOVE their hazelnut coffee. Whoever said their coffee sucks is much more of a coffee snob than me I guess ;) Of course, I do go half and half with the dark roast. Plus, their everything bagel and veggie cream cheese, orange scone, hazelnut crunch bagel and hazelnut cream cheese, and german choc brownie are all really tasty. I guess the disclaimer here is that I don't bake, so it is all way better than what I would make!

                      1. re: bamagirl30

                        Well, you're not drinking coffee. You're drinking hazelnut flavoring added to commercial-grade (not specialty grade) coffee beans. So the coffee really does suck, they're just hiding how bad it does.

                  3. Legal Seafood. Crazy-fresh fish, imaginative preparations, nice atmosphere.

                    Brio Tuscan Grill. I haven't had a meal there that I didn't adore -- though I usually order the same thing (gorgonzola-crusted strip steak).

                    Cracker Barrel. The service sucks, but the food never does. Comfort to the utmost. What deal did they make with the devil that enables them to make huge quantities of fried okra and it's always good?

                    Ruby Tuesday. I was never a fan, but I've been back recently and the changes they've made to their menu are encouraging. Really raising the bar.

                    Let the battles begin! ;-)

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: Covert Ops

                      I have to at least partially object to the all-encompassing idea that Cracker Barrel's service sucks. To me, it's just as prone to good/bad service experiences as any other chain place. I've actually found that, overall, CB's service tends to be more good than bad. It especially helps when, if I'm on the road, I indicate to the server that I'm in a hurry to get back on the road. Not only does it speed things up, but they do things like give you a to-go cup of your beverage and such. It's really a nice added touch that costs them practically nothing, but is, in fact, rather endearing.

                      Yeah, I suppose I'm a cheap date, but it's still better than many places, especially on the road. One of the better chains, in my opinion.

                      1. re: boagman

                        I would have to agree with you on the service at Cracker Barrel. Perhaps it is location based or how well they are managed but at our local Cracker Barrel, most of the time, the service is just fine.

                        1. re: Velma

                          I agree. We often stop at CB when traveling because they have clean bathrooms, a little shopping area to stretch our legs, and something better than fast food. I rarely meet poor service, and I'm probably more critical of service than of food at restaurants.

                          1. re: luv2bake

                            I've only been to Cracker Barrel once, and the service was so bad that we got the meal comped after complaining to the manager - and that's the only time I've ever done that.

                            1. re: addiegirl

                              For what it's worth: For years CB had a corporate anti-gay policy. In my part of the country (SE) employees found to be gay were fired and openly gay and lesbian people were refused service.

                              1. re: JohnFHall

                                For what it's worth, big deal.

                                The restaurant comped addie properly. I've enjoyed c&b the few times I've been there. They have some solid dishes. The chicken fried steak is passable. The biscuits and gravy are downright good. The hashbrowns are solid-plus. And I like the meatloaf.

                                As a patron I have yet to experience the poor service described by addie although I've eaten at many CB's along the east coast, but I could see how it would happen.

                                1. re: JohnFHall

                                  Is that still their policy?

                                  I've never had a problem with CB service or food, but I went with a friend who's trying to cut back on meat and pretty much everything (beans, black eyed peas, greens, stringbeans) had a big old hunk of bacon in it. And they're one of the few chains that serves a decent fried fish.

                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                    Cracker Barrell is not the first place I think of when I want to cut back on meat.

                                    1. re: Phaedrus

                                      We were on the way back from Tennessee and the only other options were McDonalds, Taco Bell, and the International House of Meat.

                        2. re: Covert Ops

                          I'm so glad to hear good things about Legal Seafood on this site (finally!). I really enjoy Legal Seafood and like the fact that it's a chain -- in an unknown city it's a place I can go and be sure the food is good. The clam chowder is second to none and their Sangria is delicious! The seafood is always fresh, the rolls are always hot and overall the service is usually good. At the same Legal Seafood chain (Prudential Center in Boston) I have had the worst service of my life and the best service of my life. The best was so great, however, that it cancels out the bad service.

                          1. re: Boston Foodie

                            I agree. I have had very pleasant experiences at Legal Seafood. My relatives near Boston tell me the new "Flagship" operation on the harbor where Jimmy's Harborside stood for decades is really nice. You can choose your level of formality on the lower and middle floors and the upper open deck is very nice.

                          2. re: Covert Ops

                            I'm not a big fan of the entrees at Ruby Tuseday, but thr burgers & crabcake are usually good, and I do have a soft spot for a salad bar.

                            The food at Cracker Barrel has been going downhill the last few years, which made me want to cry. I LOVED their chicken fried chicken and their turnip greens!

                            1. re: Covert Ops

                              I do like LEgal Seafood.
                              Cracker Barrel isn't a favorite except I like their breakfast sandwich but I have to order it just the way I like it. Service is fine though.
                              Ruby Tuesday use to be a favorite but I have lost interest.

                            2. Just went to the Outback steakhouse and was surprised at how yummy the baby back ribs were. yum. also their steak was not bad and the shrimp on the barbie and deep fried mushrooms really hit the spot.

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: soypower

                                Loved the Outback bread...until I tried making the "Top Secret Recipes" version of it, which is even better.

                                1. re: momjamin

                                  Yah I eat Outback often love there rock salt prime rib and bread is out of this world!There secret in the bread is molassas I heard.

                                  1. re: momjamin

                                    Care to share the recipe?

                                    1. re: sunsuze

                                      It's available for sale at, but it looks like it's here, too: (you'll see its wordiness and why I didn't try to retype it).

                                      I didn't bother with the coloring, so it doesn't come out as dark as the restaurant. Also, the version of the recipe I've printed out (in 2000) must have been v1.0 -- the intro to the version at southernliving (ca 2005) indicates they've refined it a bit, so YMMV.

                                      1. re: momjamin

                                        The KA flour whole grain baking book has a recipe for Dark and Soft Restaurant dinner rolls. In the intro it says " these dinner rolls replicate the soft, mildly sweet, deep chocolate-colored rools served at a variety of chain restaurants( particularly steakhouses) around the country.

                                        I've made them before and even though I've never tasted the rolls at Outback( I dont eat red meat), these rolls were fabulous. They also container no food coloring unlike the top secret recipe.

                                  2. re: soypower

                                    Fast foreword six years and Outback has fallen so far in quality of food that I almost don't want to go anymore.

                                    1. re: soypower

                                      I too have enjoyed a quite few good steaks at Outback and the potatoes are always great. I haven't been in a few years, but it'd be a shame if melpy's recent experience is universal

                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                        Based upon my experience and a long, recent discussion in another forum with folks all over the U.S., it's been in serious decline all over for several years now.

                                        A few folks still like it.

                                        1. re: mcf

                                          Yea, it's been at least 3 or 4 years since I've been. Also, the wait for a table is awful usually.

                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                            Not nearly as much as it used to be, here. I really miss how large and delicious their Caesar salad was. Everything shrunk, the service was no longer attentive and charming, the quality was just not there... I am very nostalgic for their salad, though.

                                          2. re: mcf

                                            I stopped in for an early dinner after having avoided the place for nearly two decades. With suitably low expectations, I thought it was alright: service was attentive, steak cooked to order, decent sides. Nothing horrible but nothing to make me go out of the way.