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Why are chains so big with younger people?

I am a college student, and like most college students, I use Facebook.

One Facebook group demands bringing "Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Panera Bread to Duluth!!!" along with Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Fuddruckers. And most kids I know go to a chain restaurant, like Applebee's or Olive Garden, when going out with friends.

Why is this? Do they really think chain restaurants offer better food than comparable local restaurants? Is it the atmosphere? The advertising? Most people say they'd prefer to go local over corporate, so...

I wonder...

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  1. To Duluth? I love Duluth but I agree they need more non chain restos. We lived 4 hours north of there for 25 years we never ate at chains unless we were tolling into town at 1 am after riding our bikes 300 km to get there.

    Duluth has so many great non chains

    India Palace
    Amazing Grace
    That Mexican Place
    This really great chinese food place that looks totally divey but is great

    I say no to more chains in Duluth and I don't even live there.

    1. I was a college student. Long ago. And unlike most people my age, I have heard of Facebook.

      Sorry, I like my little jokes. But really, I don't think that chain restaurants are more popular among college students or other people in their 20s than they are with people in their 30s, 80s or anywhere in between. I don't like chain restaurants. At their best all they can aspire to is a minimal standard of standardness. But a lot of people would rather play it safe and choose The Red Lobster than take a chance on a real restaurant especially when all you can eat shrimp is in play. And, I really hate to admit this, but where I currently live, your chances of getting a satisfying belly full of warm, greasy chain restaurant fodder are better than your chances of getting a good meal at a non-chain restaurant. I think most people most of the time just want to go out with their friends and have some drinks and some acceptable food. They would choose better food than chain food if they could but they are not going to search for it. They are certainly not going to fight for it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: inuksuk

        Ditto this.

        Chains are chains because they are popular with the GENERAL populace, regardless of age.

        We, as Chowhounds, often lose sight of the fact that we are MINORITIES. Sure, on these boards here we are amongst friends, but in the real words (ha!) we are far, far outnumbered.

      2. I think one of the reasons is cost. Generally you can get a burger, fries and drink for less at McD's than at a greasy spoon.
        There's the fact that they'll go out en masse and need common denominator food. Or places that offer diversity.
        There's the fact that, it seems, chains are being visited more by parents on the go. So it's what they grew up with.

        Just a few thoughts.


        1. Obvious. Chain food targets children--with energy dense, high fat, salty foods with no challenging tastes.

          1. I think it mimics the general population. Big boxes are the way most people tend to shop and chains are where people eat, outside of large metropolitan cities. Though there are people who don't, most people where I live rarely consider a non-chain. I was complaining that the only place I could get coffee was from Starbucks and no one understood what my complaint was.

            8 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              I agree, chowser, I think its reflective of society generally. Something like 80% of the US population bought something at Wal-Mart last year. Chains, big box stores are a part of our fabric right now.

              One other reason I can think of, though, that college students might want particular chain restaurants (or, I bet if you look, want a Target in their town if they don't have one...etc) is that they're likely communicating with friends at colleges all over the place. Its fun to talk about food and the only common food people in different cities can find is chains. (In this case, by common I mean purportedly the same food; that is, not just burittos but a Chipotle buritto with whatever on it).

              1. re: chowser

                Chowser, I was amazed when my daughter went to college. Her friends thought nothing of spending $5.00+, 4-5 times a day for Starbucks coffee drinks or lunch/snacks from Panera bread. I offered to chip in a but a espresso machine for the common areas of the suite but they others weren't interested.

                My daughter is now a Jr and she is getting more interested in cooking for herself as they will be living in college owned apartments this year.

                I agree that they like chains for the safe tastes that remind them of home.

                1. re: Kelli2006

                  I'm confused. Don't people who post on CH make food at home that is unlike what is found at chains?

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Sam Fujisaka,
                    My daughter is unusually willing to try new foods, but she usually ends up at chain restaurants when she goes out with friends. I tried in the past to interest her in cooking, but she was more than willing to allow me do all the cooking in our home.

                    Now that she will not be eating her all of her meals in the dining hall, she has decided that her culinary skills are lacking. Her room mate is from Hong Kong and is very inventive and talented cook, but Amanda (my daughter) wants to do her part in the kitchen, and misses the tastes that she grew up eating.

                    I am not teaching her individual recipes, but cooking methods and how to assemble ingredients in a manner that they will enjoy. She is studying architecture, and the "Cooking for Engineers" website is amazingly suited to her personality.

                    I am sorry for any confusion my initial post caused.

                    1. re: Kelli2006

                      K6, between your teaching Amanda techniques and the Hong Kong room mate, I think your daughter just about might be set for life. Lucky girl.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Sam. Her roommate Cynthia ( she doesn't use her Mandarin name in English) is living with us for the summer. She couldn't afford to go back home for just 3 months, and found a good paying summer job working with Amanda. I am teaching them both how to make typical American fare, plus the European peasant foods/desserts that I grew up eating, and in return, Cynthia is teaching me to make authentic Chinese and other Asian cuisines.

                        2 more months of Cynthia's instruction and the local Chinese take-out restaurant will forget my name and address. She makes it seem so simple.

                        1. re: Kelli2006

                          Kelli- I had chinese roomates in college, and it was the best cooking education I've ever had. You and your daughter are very lucky.

                          and, I love the cooking for engineers site- his recipe matrix alone is excellent. I've employed it many times when writing out a recipe for others.

                          1. re: Kelli2006

                            K6, would you please relay to Amanda and Cynthia how lucky I think you all are for having the summer of cooking together--from an Asian-American friend of yours in Latin America.

                2. Because they are young and life is about learning and exposure. Many people never see food beyond something that satisfies their hunger pleasantly or familiarly. As I've said before it takes time, money and curiousity to be aware of and to attempt to appreciate profound things or what makes them profound. So where many young people may have the time, they may lack the money and may have never been exposed to food outside of the food court and chain restaurants.
                  I had lunch with a younger coworker at Red Robin. We had burgers. He (knowing that I'm into food) eagerly asked me how I liked it. I said that it was fine. He said he thought that their burgers were great because he was full for the rest of the day.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Chinon00

                    *sigh* ... I agree with many of the posters here when it comes to lack of exposure. When I was fresh out of college, I had a co-worker 2 years younger than me who would always be chatting about food... but the conversation was sadly lacking in "sub"stenance. When the boss asked us to pick a place for a celebratory dinner after we wrapped on a huge project, she raved about Subway, claiming it was "Da Bomb" and the best "restaurant" she'd ever been to... this was the year 2002 in Southern California; not 1969 in some backwater country.

                    Although the boss's choice of Gladstones wasn't exactly a culinary choice either, at least it fits the bill for a fairly decent chain for a celebratory meal.

                  2. I think it's because the chains remind of home. Those first few months living at college, away from home, and home comforts (for the average American college student) make for an unsettling time. Chain restaurants are the same everywhere, especially the same at home. They're like security blankets.

                    I have my own pre-college age son pondering his future and I can't believe how home-bound and incurious and unadventurous some of the kids are these days and I suspect it's because their parents and our media have all taught them to be afraid of everything in the world (outdoors, strangers, germs, and by extenuation exotic foods). So what happens when a fearful young person goes out into the world, logically, he or she wants to bring something of home with them to give comfort.

                    We're getting a new Jack in the Box, tho' there's one just a quarter mile away from the the new one. A piece of pristine desert on the Old Spanish Trail, which the Apache used to use for trading, was scraped in order to have this execrable place erected. I saw a coyote trapped in the fence erected to keep vandals out of the construction area. He wasn't sure where to go now, because his ancestral trail was blocked.

                    I see fewer and fewer wildlife in Tucson with every passing year.

                    Chain restaurants and their counterparts, the big box stores, are a cancer on our landscape. We don't need them, never did, and we only patronize them because they're familiar and cheap. Eventually, our patronage of these places will cost us dearly. We will have lost much and gained nothing but extra pounds of flesh and health problems for the convenience factor.

                    1. When you go to a chain, you know you can get an OK burger, chicken sandwich, pizza, or whatever because you've had the same thing in other towns in other states and maybe even in other countries. When you go into a local joint, you don't know what to expect and are therefore taking a risk.

                      Most folks on CH, myself included, prefer the novelty and surprise of local offerings. A lot of people in the US prefer to have no surprises at all when dining out.

                      1. I think very few children these days are having their palates educated by their parents. They eat prepared foods at home and they grow accustomed to the salty sweet greasy foods that they get at fast food restaurants. Chain restaurants spend a great deal of time and money developing foods that are satisfyingly tasty without being any way offensive. When chain restaurants incorporate a "new" taste they do it in a way that is non threatening - look at some of the so-called Asian items on menus today. As people grow older they tend to be less willing to venture into new tastes and so when your first 18 - 20 years are spent eating within a narrow range of flavors you stick there (I know that's a vast over simplification - please don't give me 20 posts on how you personally developed your palate at age 30/40 etc.!)

                        1. Going out to dinenr in college is a lot more about a social even than the food. A chain is most likely to have something on the menu to appeal to everyone in a large group.

                          1. On a mostly British forum that I have a membership, one member who was planning on going on holiday to the US wanted to know what to do on the trip. I was really, really surprised to read all of these British university students who had been rave about all the chain restaurant food. One said how fantastic the sweet iced tea in Southern McDonald's was. Another raved about Olive Garden. Worst of all, one raved about how fantastic they thought Golden Corral buffet was! I ate at a few chains when I was there 8 years ago, some were okay for chains, and some were awful (the Italian chain that was a virtual clone of the Olive Garden was awful). I ate at chains all the time up until about that point - I think I grew out of it right after college.

                            1. I know what you mean. There's a 24-year-old in my lab, whose first suggestion for a lunch trip is always Panera, Chipotle, Jimmy John's, etc. It's like no place else exists for her. And I agree with the various ideas stated above. The following isn't a new idea, just a slight slant on what's already been said:

                              Kids heading off to college right now were born around 1989, current seniors, around 1985. These kids are among the first to have grown up in an entirely corporately homogenized economic landscape. I, born in 1973 in the western suburbs of Chicago, remember going to the downtown business district of our town, to buy shoes, for example. I remember getting prescriptions at a local pharmacy, not a CVS or Target or Walgreen's. And I remember when the only chain restaurants were fast food franchises where you might have lunch (not our family, but that's a whole other story).

                              These kids don't. For them, being able to get the precise same food all the way on a drive from New York to California doesn't represent a change-it's way things are and should be. Why should food be different than clothing, which you buy at Gap, Banana Republic, Abercrombie and Fitch from coast-to-coast?

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: optimal forager

                                We've driven across the country a few times and it's sad how every town is starting to look like the other. If we wanted, we could have eaten at the same restaurants for every meal and every day of the trips could have become like the movie Groundhogs Day. The biggest blow was noticing that the local mall in Northern Virginia was the same plan as the one near my parents house in the Bay Area in California, with even some of the same restaurants in the same locations.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  There's a term for our ever homogenizing landscape - Generica. You could fall asleep on a drive and never know where you were when you woke up <sigh>.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    Exactly!! That is a big part of the reason why it is SO grating to see posts on my local board complain that my city isn't like X or how can I find Y like in X... Being exposed to new things and appreciating the things you left behind is what makes life so great! If we could find everything everywhere, how boring would THAT be! :P


                                  2. re: optimal forager

                                    Hard to focus on the kids though...college is the first time they're really getting to make choices about where to eat on a regular basis. Their parents had to take them to chain restaurants in order for the kids to have those restaurants be familiar and be a place they'd know to choose.

                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                      On the other hand, my son gets a kick out of going along with the crowd to chain restaurants, because it feels unusual and adventurous for him to be in that kind of environment for a change.

                                      1. re: emi50

                                        Yes! This was me in college. I grew up eating chicken feet, fish heads, lamb marrow, dining in hole-in-the-wall Chinese joints where the waiters didn't speak English and we ordered off the "special" menu, Afghani food, etc. To try out Macaroni Grill or Ruby Tuesday or whatever in college after growing up never going to those kinds of restaurants did feel exotic and fun and different. (Don't worry, I also sought out Jamaican food, Vietnamese, etc. etc.)

                                        Even today, I live in NYC and love that I can have virtually any kind of food I want, from Ethiopian to empanadas, in the span of one afternoon. But every so often I admit it's fun to have soup and breadsticks at the OG or brunch at IHOP...because vive la difference!

                                      2. re: ccbweb

                                        Not exactly true. I don't like chains and because I prepare most all our meals my kids ate at home mostly but went to chains with their friends. Sure we took them to McDs for happy meals when they were little as life was a little more hectic when they were small. They are not really into the McD or BK type chains one loves Olive Garden and one loves Carabas. My kids have asked me to duplicate the meals at these restaurants, which I will happily do so I don't have to deal with the wait and paying the $$ for this kind of food. Chains are much more a part of their lives than it was for me growing up.

                                    2. We (my first wife and I) put ourselves through university and grad school, and rarely had the time or money to eat out. If we did it was never at a chain. We cooked and ate well. Kids spending $20-25 bucks a day at Tar Bucks!!?? No wonder I'm in no hurry to live in the US again.

                                      12 Replies
                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Not only are they spending that much but they're thinking they're getting the best cup of coffee. Do you get the most amazing coffee where you are?

                                        I think it's also a sign of the times. Back when I was in grad school, other than the fast food place, there didn't seem to be the mass of chains there are now. And TGIF was just one single bar in Boston that was a lot of fun.:-( Hmmm, come to think of it, a lot of the places I used to go to: TGIF, Legal Seafoods, Boston Chicken (now Boston Market), Del's Lemonade were not large chains in the past. A friend of mine still fondly remembers Starbucks as a small mom and pop store in Seattle. The price of success...for the rest of us.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          chowser, no one here would pay for a $10,000 (peso) cup of coffee. Mostly people here drink what they make themselves; and very good beans are readily available.

                                          I do have to watch it: I am a cranky old geezer and haven't llved in in the US for a long time.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Is a cup of coffee really that much? I was thinking coffee would be cheap and plentiful, and delicious, where you are--kind of like the land of milk and honey for a coffee lover like me. You know, I've lived continously in the US for the most part (albeit, all over, since I haven't lived in one place more than 4 years) and, for the most part, am still living in the past.:-)

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              I believe that $10,000 Columbian pesos are about $5.00 US, which is what SB costs per cup.

                                              1. re: hannaone

                                                Woosh, went right over my head--thanks.

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  hannaone, thanks. chowser, yes, no one here would spend US$5.00 ($10,000 pesos) for a cup of coffee: but we would spend that much for a bag of very decent beans. I really wish I could take both of you to a high-end coffee shop a friend of mine has set up here--he buys selected specialty, organic fair trade; and roasts and grinds on site. And!!! I've gotten a couple of things on the food menu.

                                                2. re: hannaone

                                                  Starbucks 'tall' coffee is $1.50 in central Illinois.

                                                  Not quite $5.00.

                                                  1. re: chris in illinois

                                                    But a Venti Caramel Machiatto or whatever could easily run to $4.75 or so. Part of the issue is that many people going to starbucks don't get a "cup of coffee."

                                                    Oh, and the starbucks tall coffee here at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where my wife and I are this weekend is $2.60 -- prompting me to actually write starbucks a little note. Unreal.

                                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                                      Is it a real Starbucks or a "We proudly serve Starbucks coffee" place? I have seen that be the difference.

                                                      1. re: Cathy

                                                        I think its a privately owned operation, but nothing about it would indicate that until my wife asked one of the employees. It looks exactly like any Starbucks and has the Starbucks signs. I'm used to the cafes in places like Barnes and Noble that serve Starbucks, but aren't really. The high prices were one thing...the awful and slow service was another. Again, goes back to why chains are popular with everyone, not just young folks...consistency. If they're not offering it, they won't do well. If I were Starbucks, I wouldn't want my name of the door of this place.

                                                    2. re: chris in illinois

                                                      Yeah, Chris, but the $1.50 doesn't support all the hyperbole in this thread ... wait until we hear the price quotes in Italian or Italian lira.

                                                      1. re: jlawrence01

                                                        True, in beads, a tall is probably a silo full!!

                                          2. The portions are large, there are no surprises in flavors, ie it is safe. Blame Howard Johnson's for starting the whole awful thing .

                                            1. My 17 year old would tell you that chains are "big" with younger people because chains tolerate a higher noise level from groups. They also encourage sharing big plates of inexpensive appetizers, offer bottomless LARGE beverages and rarely kick youth groups out. Many chains "celebrate" youth sports, local communities by decorating their walls with photographs of kids!

                                              As for more chowish behavior is usually reserved for family gatherings, special occasions and when mom & dad are picking up the tab. Love em or hate em, chains are just youth friendly.

                                              1. Since when are chains only so big with younger people? This makes no sense to me. In my experience eating at both chains and non chains, I don't see that as any kind of overall trend. Indeed, in some chains you'll probably find a high concentration of seniors. So "Why are chains so big with seniors?" could be just as valid a question.

                                                I'd say young people or any people to a large extent when eating out go for what they're used to as far as chains vs indie, and I suspect it would correlate with the type of area they call/called home. People from suburban and possibly rural areas may most associate going out to eat with various chain restaurants (be they fast food, fast casual or table service casual). They would probably gravitate towards that as familiar. People from urban centers would probably most associate with going out to the indie joints more common to those areas.

                                                Take an urbanite and put him into suburban sprawl hell and he'll be lost for sure from this standpoint, and most can probably see that as obvious. What may not be quite as obvious is you take someone from the suburban/rural environment and drop them into the urban center and they'll be just as lost food-wise. You don't have to imagine a world where Applebees and Olive Garden become the familiar and comforting; we already live in it, or at least those folks do.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: CrazyOne

                                                  Yes. It takes time and effort to search out good independent restaurants, and there'll be lots of bad experiences in the searching. There are times in your life when you just want to know what to expect.

                                                  And chains don't get to be chains if they don't do a lot of things right.

                                                  1. re: CrazyOne

                                                    Mr. Diva and his wife got divorced when his two children were small. He cooked a variety of food for them every weekend he had them, but with their mom they ate a lot of processed food. They had limited palates. Then they went to college, befriended international students, and spent a semester in Europe. They came home with widely enhanced tastes in food. I know I'm talking about a small sample here, but for them at least, college turned out to be an enriching experience. And the older boy is very interested in cooking, and is now living in San Francisco. While before his mother would take him to somplace like Macaroni Grill for his birthday, now I think he'd put up a fight for something less generic.

                                                    1. re: CrazyOne

                                                      I believe that it is less of a urban v. suburban thing but again, as others have said more often a foodie v. non-foodie thing. In the heart of Manhattan you'll find many, many chain restaurants and fast-food joints that are packed everyday. Also, people who live in the city will often shop at malls which border the city and suburbs. As we know even the higher end malls are still chain heavy.

                                                    2. I like chains. Do I like them over good, local places...no, but they serve a purpose (convenience, cost, little packets of condiments). As a child, my Mom was the anti-chain. No birthdays at McD's for me. I remember loving going to my cousins because they went to Arby's and it was the only time I had Arby's. Now I am married to the anti-chain guy and my secret pleasure is having lunch at Taco Bell when I'm having a bad day (or am hungover) or a Chick-Fil-A sandwich when I have a pickle craving.

                                                      8 Replies
                                                      1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                        When I was in college, diners were IT. You could get big plates of gravy fries to share, and bottomless pots of coffee to drink. AND you could smoke cigarettes, lol. My friends and I would hang out for hours on end (the waitstaff didn't always appreciate this, however, lol.)

                                                        I grew up in a town that had no chains, but when I went to college, there were plenty. I rarely ate out because I had no money, unless it was to a diner and I could get a cheap breakfast or plate of gravy fries. The purpose of the diner was purely social, and was often chosen because you could smoke. We were usually there pretty late at night, after a party or a nightclub.

                                                        The first time I visited a chain restaurant was about ten years ago, TGIFriday's. It had just opened in our town, and my husband and I went. We were sooo disappointed. For one thing, we thought it would be cheap. Holy cow, it cost just as much (if not more) than the high quality local restaurants in town. And the food was just awful. We were really disappointed... locals were so excited we got a Friday's, and afterwards we just couldn't see what all the hub-bub was all about.

                                                        1. re: katiepie

                                                          The original Friday's in Boston was fun. I don't remember the food, except they were one of the first places I remember to have potato skins w/ bacon, cheese, sour cream and chives. Between that and happy hour drinks, it was a great place to hang out. My friend met her husband there--he worked for a small high tech start up at the time...Microsoft.

                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                            The first Friday's in Dallas ditto. I thought those potato skins just might be the most brilliant new taste treat ever invented. (Still love 'em and can't do them as well as Friday's does--or did: haven't been to a Friday's in ages.)

                                                          2. re: katiepie

                                                            katiepie, my husband and I were fondly reflecting on diners just last night as we were craving comfort food and our 17 yr old was craving an Applebee's appetizer trio...diners are IT!

                                                            1. re: katiepie

                                                              Diners! Oh, where art thou? The place for malteds and milkshakes, giant western omelets, grilled cheese and dill pickles, or Ruebens or great cheeseburgers and fat fries, and salty homemade chicken soup with oyster crackers, bottomless coffee. The clatter of industrial strength dishes, the high warmth on a winter day, the smell of grease on grill. Sitting at a big booth with friends, sharing food. "You gonna finish that?"

                                                              1. re: jillita

                                                                jillita, you're my kind of poet.

                                                                "AND chicken-fried steak/gravy/mashed potatoes w/deliciously non-"tender-crisp" green beans, and liver w/onions and bacon,......."

                                                                Diners are still easy to find in Maine, I'm happy to say, and some of them really know how to do the old blueplate specials right. I have four within a 15 min. drive.

                                                                1. re: PhoebeB

                                                                  You're very lucky! We have a gimmicky diner, it's 50s style, with actors from the next door theater waiting tables and quite resentful. Burgers taste like dust, fries are chewy and served at 'tepid'. They have an inedible Taco salad which they're quite proud of. Happy eating! And enjoy that blueberry pie later on in the summer.

                                                                  1. re: jillita

                                                                    Don't feel neglected. We have some of those too. But Maine might be the best place in the US to find surprisingly good little mom&pop diners, "Variety Stores" & "Quikmarts" that make outstanding food: breakfast, delicious sandwiches (grilled haddock prob. the universal favorite), steak subs,lobster/clam/shrimp rolls. They're thick on the ground in the little villages and hamlets along the back roads.

                                                                    There's a German deli/3 or 4-booth lunchtime restaurant waaay off the beaten path in Waldoboro--Morse's Sauerkraut--that serves German food I'd put against the best in the world.

                                                          3. In college I was introduced to "cuisine" by a very persuasive personality. He commanded a lot of respect and so I sort of gravitated toward him. In the dorm he'd make the best quiches. I'd try and make them and they'd come out ok but not like his. Then he showed me how he'd take regular milk and add buttermilk to it and hang it under the light bulb in the closet. After a time it would become creme fraiche (which is what gave his quiches that "zing".
                                                            Many of his friends went to the school across Chestnut Street (The University of Pennsyvania) and they too had similar interests in cuisine (and art, music, traveling). So I assumed that Ivy league students were all like this. But then I grew to realize that that wasn't true and that most people just aren't into food (like we were) or music or much of anything else that requires time and effort (unless it of course involves money or other shiny things).

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                                              On the flip side, it's those people who get money and other shiny things who hire chefs & caterers and keep expensive restaurants in business. Symbiosis and serendipity.

                                                              1. re: PhoebeB

                                                                True. However, my college buddy's wife is a lawyer. And she along with her girlfriends must go to every new highly regarded restaurant in Philadelphia. Sadly though, if chicken in some form isn't on the menu, they make a jail break for the dessert tray.

                                                                1. re: Chinon00

                                                                  Pastry cooks gotta live, too :o).

                                                                  (Nothing lawyers do will surprise me. I was married to one for 35 years.)

                                                            2. jfood sees nothing different about the eating habits of today's collegian than those over the last 50 years. In the 50's there were the car hops where you drove your car up to and ordered, you guessed it hamburger and fries. when jfood attended college in the 70's we went to the Tombs and Clydes in DC for, you guessed it, burger and fries. today, college kids go out for a night out and what do they order, burgers and fries.

                                                              so what's different about today's collegian from richie and the fonz. everythings different about speed and demands by the custo. one comedian suggested that the internet has created a mentality that when ordering something, you hit the "order" button and the UPS truck enters your driveway. we want it now, we want it cheap, we want it our way. so the chain resto has filled this void.

                                                              understand that jfood is not a chain eater. you can count on one hand the number of times in the last few years that jfood ordered from a chain, and he did not finish any of those meals. major complaint is that it's just too salty for jfood. but look at the business model and how it attracts college kids. offer a wide variety of food, one wants a salad, another a burger , a third some wings. everyone gets what they want for a price a college kid can afford.

                                                              could you imagine walking into the dorm lounge and saying "hey anyone want to go out for some foie gras and kim chi?" after the laughter dies down, everyone is arguing whether to get pepperoni on the five pizzas that are being delivered.

                                                              It's a rite of passage. the little jfood were not brought up on chain food and we never ate a family meal in any chain. yet when little jfood comes home from her three hour drive, yup there's an empty McD bag in the car. Freshman and sophomore year she was enthralled with the frappe, granday crappay SB coffee drinks for $6. she quickly learned that her alowance went further with a small black. it's something they need to work out themselves.

                                                              wrt chain restos and the college kids. likewise, it's something they need to work out. imagine the reaction in the dorm if your child start espousing a diatribe when the others are going to TGIF's. Lonely is not a good way to spend friday night.

                                                              So to those parents that have kids going off to school, give them a leash, guidance and let THEM decide where to eat. they need to balance the extreme social pressure at college and if they want to draw a line in the sand over Ruby Tuesdays, four years can be a long time. All we can hope for as parents is we gave them a good base and they understand control if they go to places that can turn the Freshman 5's into the Freshman 50's.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. IMHO, I suspect,that younger people do this, in part,because a lot of homes for years have had both parents working,and in turn ate out more,and more,and with the steady growth of chains(decent food at a reasonable cost)younger people now see "chain", or in some cases just restaurant food as being good eating , I could be wrong,wouldn't be the 1st time!

                                                                1. When I was an undergrad I attended SUNY Stony Brook in Long Island, NY. There were not too many local restaurants aside from the pizza/gyro place by campus...thus, our only options were chain restaurants found by malls, strip malls, or close to the mall:} This included the Olive Garden (which we saved for "special" occasions) and Fridays. The Olive Garden was decent enough for our options and our budget (and really when you're a student all you need is some decent food and good company). I knew even then that this was not "quality" dining but did I expect my friends to save enough on a weekly basis to drive out of our way to better quality "local" finds? It just would not have been worth it at that point in our lives. However. remember our location. If I had been attending Columbia (as I did as a grad student), the options would have been more plentiful and cheap too- I never had to go to Fridays once my year and a half there and I was so thankful!:}

                                                                  1. When I was a freshman in a northern california college, way back in, oh, 2001, it seemed like kids from "small towns" were more comfortable with chains and chain-type food in the dorm (I almost choked when one dormmate said he had never had sushi before and never would), and the "big city" kids (myself included) were almost self-consciously driven towards foodier choices. One of my dear friends is in love with the Olive Garden, and I always strong-armed the poor guy and our friends to go elsewhere because I couldn't handle it. Gross generalization here but what I'm getting at is that it's more an issue of EXPOSURE and less an issue of AGE.

                                                                    But Chipotle... I don't understand why people my age (yes, let's all admit it) are downright OBSESSED with Chipotle. I mean, foaming at the mouth obsessed with Chipotle. Counting down the days til one opens nearby obsessed with Chipotle.

                                                                    Check out this website run by a student at GW... it has a "burrito generator" that you can post on your myspace page. Chipotle, burrito, and myspace-- three words that would only come out in the same sentence of a college student. :)

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: amandine

                                                                      Although it's probably not the reason most college kids like Chipotle, the Niman Ranch connection at least puts that chain in the "good guys" category. Can't explain any of the other choices though.

                                                                      To me there is some sort of shift that's happened. In the 80s there were indie restaurants that were all but "institutions" at the college I attended as well as ones I visited to see friends. We rarely, if ever, ate chains. These colleges were not in big cities. There were plenty of Subways, McD's, PizzaHuts, TGIFs, etc. around even then. They were simply other options, but nothing was "the bomb".

                                                                      We also did indies quite often because they were more flexible with pricing and specials - and we knew what days what specials were offered. Saving money was paramount. Our favorite at UConn was a NY style deli in Willimantic because they offered a bowl of great pickles for the table. You could order a bagel and eat a 1/2 pound of pickles... then again, maybe that contributed to their demise ;-)

                                                                    2. Because they never had my dad in the car with them growling, "I didn't drive all this way to eat at [insert random chain restaurant name here]."

                                                                      Actually when I was in college we ate at all sorts of places. Chains, fast food joints, and local places. We were in the hometown of Pizza Hut (we all still maintain that it started a downhill slide when HQ was moved from Wichita to Houston or wherever they went), and they tested all their new ideas in their places there. One spring you could get a medium pepperoni pizza (one per customer per day) for five bucks. We ate a lot of those $5 pizzas, and thought they were pretty good. But we also went to DeFazio's for non-chain Italian food. And you could eat a lot of food for very little money at Taco Bell, which we did; but we also went to the little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that was in a former gas station maybe three feet off the railroad tracks and about two blocks from the big Catholic church downtown, and if you went in there on Saturday night you had to wait because all seven tables were in use by Latino families out for supper after church.

                                                                      In my case, I went to a lot of these chain places because it was the first time I had lived in a town where they were accessible without driving for at least half an hour--and as I mentioned before, if we drove that far when I was a kid, there was not a chance in Hades that we were going to a fast-food joint or chain restaurant.

                                                                      1. My son is in the Navy. Has been stationed in several states. I always ask about the food in each area. Seems that he eats more at chain restaurants. He knows what to expect from each chain. Knows what he likes to order. No surprises.
                                                                        When I'm in a new place, I want to try everything local.

                                                                        1. I would have to disagree that this is NOT a young person thing.

                                                                          I think more and more people are defining their identity by the brands they consume.

                                                                          As in: "I wear Abercrombie and I drink Starbucks. I DON'T wear stuff from Wal-Mart and I DON'T eat McDonalds."

                                                                          Sadly, as we have more and more access to goods and foods from around the world, people are becoming more homogenized in their consumption, and are encouraged by commercialism to define themselves by what they consume.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: veganish

                                                                            "Encouraged by commercialism" may be technically correct, but that also implies that younger consumers are simply sheepish unthinking victims of some vast corporate conspiracy unable to think for themselves...

                                                                            Oh. Never mind.

                                                                            Then again, it's not only for-profit corporate. PETA is probably the best example of a cause group that has observed and co-opted the best and worst of Abercrombie & Fitch-type marketing tactics in communicating with youth.

                                                                            1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                              last year my wife and i went on a vacation.we traveled 3400 miles thru 11 western states.we never went on a freeway unless we had to to get to a state hwy.we only ate in small mom & pop cafes (no chains at all) it was the best time we ever had.we saw things you will never see from a freeway and ate some of the best home style cooking ever,

                                                                              1. re: big john

                                                                                if I was going on a road trip, that's the way I'd do it.

                                                                              2. re: Panini Guy

                                                                                It's interesting how often one sees photos of Nicole Ritchie, the Olsen Twins, etc., etc., carrying Starbuck's cups. I wouldn't for a minute suggest people who like Starbuck's go there because celebrities do, but it certainly doesn't hurt the status of the brand. In any case, we all express ourselves symbolically based on our identities whether we realize it or not. (Just see the women eating hamburger thread, lol.) This has been going on since time immemorial, well before brands and corporations existed.

                                                                            2. All the answers here play a role. Common factors seem to be:

                                                                              1) Food is predictable, generally cheap. and features the three major food groups in generic cuisine: grease, salt, and sugar.

                                                                              2) Noise or even loud music is tolerated or encouraged.

                                                                              3) It's easy.

                                                                              That said, sometimes when traveling, we have to eat at these places, too. At least it's possible in most of them to order a decent, fresh salad and some kind of grilled protein to put on top.

                                                                              I am ASTOUNDED at how much money so many people, young or old, spend in coffee houses. A couple of hundred a month is not unreasonable to them. You could buy a lot of good food or really good coffee beans for that...or even invest for something more important than a cardboard cup of an over-roasted brew. David Rosengarten, bless him, is not enamored of the Seattle-type coffee that seems to have taken over the landscape. He says it is burnt-tasting. I agree. The French came up with this stuff when the only beans they could get came from their African colonies - beans that were inferior to the more flavorful varieties grown in South American. They discovered they could roast the beans to within an inch of their lives to camouflage off flavors and create something more drinkable. It's true that most people who frequent SB's and other coffee houses of this type only buy cream-and-syrup-enhanced concoctions. And these national-chain coffee house drinkers think they're being so sophisticated in their tastes...!!!

                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                              1. re: rexsreine

                                                                                I completely agree about the "french roast" coffee. people - buy yourself a percolator, demitasse, home espresso press, or french press coffee pot.

                                                                                use cafe goya at $3/lb.
                                                                                100x better than starbucks. smells great, no bitterness, deep flavor.

                                                                                the thing that gets me is people think now that's the way coffee is "supposed" to taste. and buy battery acid from other companies as well. someone at work is convinced of this, coffee from the supermarket is much better than the freshly ground beans he insists on buying! and brining in for our communal coffee pot.

                                                                                1. re: fara

                                                                                  For a CH who recognizes that a good cup of coffee is as important as any other part of the meal, there is no chance of getting an excellent cup of coffee from a percolator. None.

                                                                                  And what is a home espresso press?

                                                                                  Coffee is food. To prepare it correct, as with any food, you need to have good ingredients and decent cooking vessels.

                                                                                  Let's start off by saying that Cafe Goya at $3 lb is about to good coffee what Gallo jugs are to good wine.

                                                                                  I'm no Starbucks fan and certainly over-roasted coffee is not the answer. But if you like coffee, none of those suggestions (except the French Press) are CH worthy.

                                                                                  Get your hands on some beans from a Cup of Excellence or Best of Panama or one of the quality African auctions. Doesn't really matter which one. Yes, it'll be expensive, probably in the $13-$20/lb range, maybe more (or splurge on this year's Esmeralda would at $260/lb or so). Or go online and buy from Intelligentsia or Counter Culture or Stumptown or Ecco or Terroir or some other roaster that's considered by coffee pros as top notch.
                                                                                  Then have some supermarket coffee and compare.

                                                                              2. Kelli's daughter--current college student

                                                                                my friends and I often go to chain restaurants because:
                                                                                Its better than the dining hall or what I can make, we can guarantee its edible, we know we can afford to get full, and they don't care if we stay for hours chatting. Also many people don't have a car so we go where everyone will be happy.
                                                                                We are often willing to try out local places if someone recommends them to us. Otherwise we have no clue if its worth it. I get to go off campus infrequently and don't have much money to spare, so I want to have a good time when I do go out.

                                                                                1. I dont mind the occasional chain when out with family in a different city. In fact I find eating out exciting for the most part.
                                                                                  But I never go to chains with my bf (other than the occasional stoned double cheeseburger and the hungover egg mcmuffin breakfast or something fast). We would rather try sketchy china town then harveys or red lobster. My friends in university always wanted caseys, esp since it was across the street. We'd go for a appetizer and the liquor, but would always try to make friends go elsewhere to no avail. For some reason they love the chicken fingers and caesar salad.

                                                                                  With my family, I take them to the local places when they visit TO...but not places that stray from the food for the masses (they are not adventurous really).

                                                                                  1. As a not so recent "young person" I think there are 2 main reasons. The first being, you know the price point you are going for. If you go to a chain, you basically know the menu and the cost. There are few surprises in that area.
                                                                                    Second, you can usually be a little noisy/rowdy and people aren't going to complain, and if they do, who's going to care?? I spent my college years eating at Benihana, while not an inexpensive chain, a chain non the less. We knew what we would pay, and what the atmosphere would be, In retrospect I could have gone to other good local places for probably less $. However, I think when you are young you travel in a larger crowd, and don't want to put too much effort into where you eat.

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: SweetPea914

                                                                                      College towns tend to be meccas for good independent restaurants so I don't really think that most college students are drawn to chains. I know in my college town, you could walk to lots of great restaurants from campus but you'd have to drive or take a bus to a chain. The chains always seemed like they were more expensive and people would always complain about the quality of the food.

                                                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                                                        While I agree that is certaintly true if you went to school in a true "college town" like Amherst or Boston. I however went to school in a NYC suburb that was not really zoned for commercial space. Nothing was in walking distance of campus, so unless you were content with Sabarro's (bleck!) you had to drive anyway. Also it was a very upscale neighborhood so many of the restos were on the pricey side to begin with wether independent or chain.

                                                                                    2. good question. My teens often go to chains - I guess they know the prices and the size of each plate so they know what they can order to share.

                                                                                      I have suggested they go to some of the delis here in south fl for cheap breakfasts - under $3 for eggs, homefries, bagel, juice, coffee or tea but they would rather go to an IHOP. oh well.

                                                                                      1. Advertising. Bingo! Young adults who whined for the predictability and plasticity of McDonald's and Burger King and Wendy's and KFC and Taco Bell and Pizza Hut for eats because they saw it on the tube, and "graduated" to Chile's and Applebee's and Olive Garden and the Cheesecake Factory for "fine dining" don't know any better,

                                                                                        1. I think everyone here is underestimating the value of branding. All of us are brand concious. Just look at the recent report http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/diet.f... where kids preferred any food in a McD's wrapper.. of course, I could also go find the studies where "Napa Valley Wine" tasted better than "Minnesota" (or some non-wine famous state) when it was the same stuff.