Why all the anti-Cheesecake Factory vitriol???
It seems as though there's more negative exchange on this chain than any other & I just don't understand why. First, people complain of the wait & then they complain that the food sucks. If the food sucks so bad, then why is there a wait?
In all honesty, I have to give them props for the fact that they make every single item (save for the desserts) in house. They're not high-end, refined food & we all know that...but I think they do, too.
So, what is it exactly, folks? Why all the hate? Just curious...
I like them too, and all the hate boggles my mind. In fact, they're definitely one of my favorite chains. You might not get five-star gourmet cuisine there, but they're a cut above most (if not all) of the "casual dining" chains. The portions are huge, which for me signifies good value. Even I, big eater that I am, can usually turn an entree into two meals. I don't understand why people say "Wah wah wah, portions are too big, I wish they didn't give me so much food!" Jeez, just take some home -- food often tastes better the next day anyway.
Also, they have enough variety that you can go with a finicky party and everyone can find something to at least tolerate, if not love. It's also a good place to go if you don't know exactly what you're in the mood for. Frankly, I've never had a bad meal there, and some of their dishes are actually really good (Hungarian goulash, I'm looking at you!) Plus, the cheesecake, while expensive, is usually rich enough so that two people can easily share a single slice.
Finally, if you go early enough (as in, not after 6 PM on Friday or Saturday) and avoid December weekends at mall locations, you shouldn't have to wait. I wouldn't wait more than 15 minutes at any restaurant, whether it's Cheesecake Factory or a greasy spoon diner or the French bloody Laundry. If you want to eat there so badly, you can either put up with the occasional wait or just time your meals to avoid the busier times.
On a recent visit to suburbia, we crossed paths with a Cheesecake Factory. I'd never known much about it until reading Chowhound. Of all the chains discussed here, it seemed like CF ignited the most heated passions, which automatically made it seem interesting. (Who isn't drawn to the taboo?)
We eat out fairly regularly, but only hit chains about 10-15% of the time. While I prefer to seek out the local, the ethnic, and the remarkable, I'm not a priori anti-chain. Everyone has their guilty pleasures. Seemed like a visit to CF was worth it just to see what all the war of words are about.
Not much to say about the decor and ambiance -- frankly, whatever, it's a restaurant in a mall. Meets expectations for the environment.
After perusing the menu for approximately 40 minutes trying to narrow things down, we started with the "tex mex eggrolls". An item like this could either be an interesting fusion twist or a hideous abomination.
Truth be told, we really liked them. Interesting combination of ingredients and strong flavors. Decent sized portion for an appetizer. Even the accompanying salsas were decent. Have I had better? Sure. But I've had worse, too, and that's even at certain independent Mexican restaurants.
For mains we tried the Cuban sandwich and some kind of chicken enchiladas things with corn fritter. It doesn't make sense to go into a place like CF expecting their ethnic-titled dishes to resemble authenticity. If it helps, add "-style" in your mind when reading the menu. A Cuban sandwich becomes a "Cuban-style" sandwich. There is a place for this, and CF is the place. Both the sandwich and the enchiladas were satisfying for what they were -- comfortable, accessible versions of these dishes. The best you'll find? Of course not. But to say they were horrible would be a serious exaggeration.
Oh, and I was pleasantly surprised by the 'passionfruit' iced tea. I almost always order iced tea and lament when restaurants don't offer a plain (unsweetened) tea, and only have fruity versions. That said, the passionfruit (unsweetened) turned out to be one of the better iced teas I've had in a restaurant. So there.
Finally, dessert. I'm actually not a big fan of cheesecake. Ordered the chocolate "tower" cake. I think the slice was about as big as my head. When it comes to chocolate, as far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier (I will be). Gotta admit -- the cake beat me -- got about 2/3 through before my fork could shovel no more. Quality? Again, like most of the food here at CF, pretty decent. Best chocolate cake ever? Of course not. Not even going to try to argue that. But a thoroughly satisfying and tremendous hunk of choco to finish off a meal at a reasonable price? Sure.
Verdict: if you've gotta eat a meal in a mall, CF is a good choice. It's not a destination restaurant or a place I'd plan a trip around. But I don't get the Chowhound vitriol either. Sure there are better places for the money, but not necessarily in the mall. There are far worse places, too, both in the mall and otherwise.
Completely agree - very good restaurant chain, foolish complainers. A long time ago I read a published letter from a woman complaining about her husband: "He burns the hair out of his nose with a lit match and he thinks I'm crazy because I voted for Nixon." Lesson learned: everyone's got an opinion and some are sillier than others.
"Lesson learned: everyone's got an opinion and some are sillier than others." As usual, I'm coming to the discussion late but I don't really understand what this is supposed to mean. The OP did solicit opinions, negative and positive I believe from rereading the post. And, I cannot give an opinion on CF just as I can't give an opinion on the TGI Fridays, Bennigans, and Houlihans that have opened in our area in the past few years. We have limited dining out dollars to go around and my personal preference is to spend those dollars at the local places with ties to our community. That is my opinion and I don't find it any sillier than those people who enjoy eating at chain restaurants.
To answer Hooda: The common issue that connects Chowhounders is the chow -- not who owns the property. What the OP wondered was about all the hate directed at a restaurant chain whose dining experience clearly satisfies it's customers. Bad food - poor service - substandard sanitation, etc. are valid criticisms of interest to everyone. Silly criticism, to me, is about non-chowhound issues - like your personal preference of where you want to spend your dining dollars.
I guess I kinda take the attitude that it is a "gourmet diner". A HUGE menu with some things you know they will do well, and others that are totally skippable. I am not a fan of huge portitions, particually at a mall, where if I have my leftovers wrapped, I either have to run them to my car or carry them as I shop. But you don't leave there hungry! Their cheesecake is reliable. If you like it, you will not be dissappointed at ANY CF you hit. If you hate, you know to avoid it at all locations.
I had to reply. I like CF. Its decent food and I almost always bring home leftovers or can share a dish with someone. I only order one thing, the chicken piccata with extra sauce on the side. My husband likes the steak diane. When he is doing low carbs, he likes the fact he can order the low carb cheese cake for 6 net carbs.
The wait does tend to be brutal, but I've had decent meals at the Cheesecake Factory in the past. A large variety of pretty tasty cheesecake is a plus, as is the menu variety.
I cant speak for everyone who may dislike Cheesecake Factory, but I will give my reasons for never wanting to return. Also I dont hate Cheesecake Factory, I am just lucky to live in the Chicago area where I have no use for places like CF, and PF Changs, and the other chain restaurants like them. Hate is such a strong word, I dont hate anything.
Why I do not like CF based on a couple of visits for work functions where thankfully I was not paying for what was received:
#1 Terrible service in the restaurant and bar area. Cocktail waitresses taking 10 minutes to acknowledge you, even when the bar area was pretty much empty,. The wait did not bother me, as long as I can have a couple of drinks, but when they wont serve you because they do not know which tables are theirs that is unaccceptable. Servers in the dining area not knowing that the table was theirs, and forgetting about you. Seems like terrible floor management, training, and poor staffing from what I have experienced.
#2 Mediocre, and forgettable food. The menu is large, but filled with many options they do not do very well. The portions are big, but if I didnt enjoy it the first time why would I bother to bring it home? Not sure why the large portions are a major selling point, or postitive for some on here.
Those 2 points I listed are enough reason for me to never want to go back. I go out to eat for good food, and good service, and if a place cannot deliver on either, it is not worth my time or $$. To me CF is a TGI Fridays on steroids. A place geared towards the masses, not your typical Chowhound poster. Just my 2 cents, and humble opinion.
Obviously everyone has the right to their 2 cents, but...
It's great to live in a city like Chicago where there are lots of choices preferable to CF, but do you always and only eat in Chicago? People eat in lots of different places for lots of different reasons. It helps to be familiar with the options -- and if CF is near the top of the food chain for mall food, that's good to know when I'm, you know, in the mall. Doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
I rarely rate restos on service. It can vary so widely almost anyplace from one experience to the next. Plus, I don't go out to be catered to. Just to eat. Get the food to my table and we're fine.
"Mediocre and forgettable" is obviously subjective. I really liked the tex mex eggrolls. I haven't forgotten them. I would order them again. So not everything is forgettable. I have no idea what kind of batting average the menu delivers on, since I don't have a large enough statistical sampling to know. It seems like you'd have to have tried many of the "many options" to know how many they don't do well.
Large portions are a selling point because some of us enjoy eating. Yes, yes, why would we want to eat something that is not the utter apex of human creation? A Hershey's chocolate bar is not the greatest chocolate bar in the world, but if I'm going to eat one, I'd like to eat a big one. Because it's fun. To eat. Chowhounding is a love of great food, but it's also a love of food. Sure, if the food was a 3/10 I would agree, what's the point of eating more of it, but some of us don't feel that way. Maybe not a 10, but good enough to enjoy eating more of.
Since Chowhound hosts this board called Chains, are not the posters Chowhounders?
For people that love CF, that's great and enjoy, and jfood means that. But if you would truly like to hear why others may not like it, and jfood is not looking to convince, condemn, criticize or anything other than give you perspective from someone that just does not like it.
1 - jfood does not like extra large portions and CF is known for that. For others that like to eat that much at a single seating then CF is perfect. Or for the person that wants a doggie bag, right down the center of the strike zone. Since jfood wants neither, it does not tickle his fancy
2 - On the few occassions that jfood has eaten in, or when he grabbed a couple of slices to eat in his hotel room on the road, he did not think it was a good slice of cheesecake. He actually took a couple of bites and threw them out. And it was not because jfood had just eaten in a 5-star resto. If you know Boston, he ate at Summer shack, had some fried clams and some fish and purchased the cheesecake on the way back to the hotel. Different strokes for different folks
3 - Many like the idea that the menu has something for everyone. Jfood does not like the concept that makes him feel like he's just moseying up to the trough. By having so many choices, it does not give jfood the comfort that the chef really cares but that he is instructued to know how to make everything. Jfood likes a little more attention when eating out
4 - Jfood does not like chains. And by chains he means a national exposure where you do not know if you are in Tampa or Salt Lake City by the decor and the menu. He finds that the salt content is way over the line for him at most chains and the food does not make him happy. And that's why he goes out to eat.
So jfood has nothing virtriol with CF, but for him and his family it does not hit the mark. Likewise jfood would NEVER spend the price of many high-end restos that people fall over themselves about on these boards. He would buy 2 broadway tickets before spending that kind of money at some restos.
Hope this helps and you take it in the spirit it was delivered.
I don't comprehend the concept of lumping together "chains" as one monolith culinary entity. There are different chains and they serve different food. In fact, one could argue that CF's diverse menu, far from being a faceless trough, actually represents growing sophistication in mainstream eating.
On our CF visit, the couple beside us with a young son ordered appetizers of edamame, some Vietnamese-"style" summer rolls, and followed by entrees of steaks (and chicken fingers).
Sure, one could shake one's head and mutter tsk tsk, those summer rolls probably aren't as good as the ones at Kinh Do a few towns over. And the steak probably isn't as good as -- well, whatever chophouse in the area serves great steak. But is there no value in the fact that this average suburban couple is eating -- and exposing their child -- to such diverse choices?
Chains aren't exactly new and, it seems to me, those that proliferated in my youth during the 70's and 80's were a whole lot more homogeneous and tasteless than today.
I am highly sympathetic to the general feeling among chowhounders that the best chow is not often found at chains. This is not a CF "love fest." I am well known for planning entire road trips around trying that one off-the-beaten-path resto found right here on this boards. Sometimes it works out great, sometimes not so much. That's life and half the fun of it.
But that said -- many people do eat at chains and, whatever their reasons, I can't help but feel it's better that they're eating average edamame and summer rolls and mashed potatoes and chicken fingers at CF than sidling up to the Bob's Big Boy-style experience that was ever present in my typical suburban upbringing 20+ years ago.
lots of good points thebordella and if CF introduces people to vietnamese, or korean, or middle eastern or other cuisines, that's great. Likewise when jfood went to Epcot Center and did the world visits, it was a huge yawn. he is lucky enough to have been in Paris and London on the other side of the pond, not in Orlando. But people were thrilled to see what the culture was like in that micro-city. But it did not move the jfood meter. c'est la vie.
Same in CF. Jfood would probably order a burger and fries and hope they did not overcook it if he needed to eat in CF. And he would probably not order the cheesecake, because he did not like it. So he has tried it and for him it just did not work.
In the same vein, all of jfood's friends growing up knew that he was always available to trade his almond joy and mounds because he did not like them and if he was long either of these candies, friends could get 2:1 for Reeses and Milky Ways.
And jfood agrees, chains are not exactly new. He is old enough to remember the sign at McDonalds that actually changed regularly when they crossed each million burger sold.
Different people like different food. Isn;t that the basis for the large menu selections at CF?
I don't have a problem with the Cheesecake Factory either! They put a lot of dishes together on a menu to give a little something for everyone and in my opinion, they do a great job! The food tastes great to me, and the cheesecake....mmmm....
the point is, that there is a time for CF and a time for fabulous "city" restaurants. i live part of the year near NYC, so have access to some of the best restaurants around. yes, we do go to those restaurants, but we also like CF - do we LOVE CF like we LOVe Babbo - no. But when I am at the mall or want a quick bite for lunch, CF suits us just fine. We like the salads which we split for lunch b/c the portions are so huge. We have had some of the Sunday brunch items which were not so good as the salads and you cannot beat the Shepard's Pie! It is all a question of what you want at that particular point in time.
I don't think the food is bad but I would never call it good but my biggest issue, (at least at the location I went to) was the freaking adds in the menu!! Even my son was put off by it! Just feels like I'm being husled while I'm just trying to get something to eat...stop trying to sell me crap...I just want to relax and enjoy a meal. Gave me a creepy vibe and I have never been back. Is this a regular thing there or was it just my location?
a quick bite? At Cheesecake Factory? I've only eaten at a CF perhaps once in my life, but the few times I've considered eating there again, at the one I am most often near (in the Macy's at Union Square, SF), the wait is always AT LEAST an hour! How in the heck can that ever be a quick bite?
My personal gripe about the place is that the prices are excessive. I think this is primarily due to the portion size, which is ridiculous. I don't want to pay double for a double-than-normal size of whatever. And I don't want a doggie bag, first, because i don't want to eat the same food again that soon, and second because I'm often headed somewhere other than directly home. I just want normal portions at normal prices, and CF can't do that. That said, it's a good place to go if you are with a group, because everyone can find something they like and the price can be held down by ordering fewer dishes and sharing.
Sunny, I believe its from a general fear of "chain in-breeding" as a social experiment.
i.e. If you mixed a Claimjumper with an Olive Garden would you get a Cheesecake Factory? Such genetic engineering is terrifying to true Chowhounds...
why do the majority of chowhounders spew venom at cheescakefactory? because they love independent, non-chain food. patronizing the small guy that puts his blood, sweat, and tears into his food is worthy of merit.
why do the masses like cheesecake factory? because the masses are sheep. let's go for the predictable food that is the same wherever you go. not a bad thing, but not in the chowhound vein. the same reason that people will travel around the world and eat at the hard rock cafe and buy the t-shirt. it is familiar and consistent and the portions are guaranteed to be huge. nothing wrong with it if that is what you like.
right or wrong, i think that chowhounders want to seek out and try the things that are unfamiliar and local. there is a cf on michigan ave in chicago. but if you were visting from somewhere else and really into food, why not go to any nuber of the places nearby that are somewhere unique?
if adventurous food is not your game, go to a place where ypu can get something that meets your expectations.
personally, i prefer the local place. but i am not above going to a chain (red robin, hooters, capital grill) every now and then. but if i can help it, i will never go back to a cf, outback, red lobster, etc.
An interesting take on what a chowhound is, xman. I had more of an idea about a chowhound seeking out the most delicious item, rather than the most delicious item from an independant, non-chain, small guy. Certainly I think there is merit is arguing for patronizing local establishments....but I'm not sure it's got anything to do with being a chowhound. If the most delicious milkshake is at a chain...then should I eschew that in favor of a not-as-good milkshake from a local joint?
Seeking out new and unusual (to the individual) foods is also a great thing....but again, a chowhound wants the delicious first and foremost and so at times will eat the same thing again. You find the perfect taco somewhere, you don't stop eating tacos, you eat those perfect tacos on something of a regular basis.
Occasionally, a chain is going to have something that's truly good. In N Out burger, for instance, has burgers many people love for their quality and taste. Krispy Kreme has tremendous donuts. McDonald's french fries are delicious. Chowhounds don't much care one way or the other whether sheep are eating something if that something is good and worth eating.
I don't much care for Cheesecake Factory, myself. I think it's too expensive, the food is mediocre, and I won't wait in line that long for anything, much less chow that at heart is basically so-so pub grub. It's not the only chain I don't care for (nor is it the only non-chain I don't care for), and it's certainly not the worst chain option out there -- if there were no wait I'd sooner go here than, let's say, Applebee's -- but I'm not among their fans.
Does a long wait at a place always indicate quality? Every time I've been to a food court, the longest line is usually in front of the McDonald's, Burger King, or Subway. I'd say "not necessarily."
Of course I'm not expecting everyone to agree. To each their own.
just my $.02. Service is just OK, food is slightly better most chains, but I find it overpriced for what is being served. I'll go there without complaint is someone at work mentiones it for lunch, but I never found them something to go out of my way for. If you are stuck at a shopping mall it is probably the best choice in the area. Which is not saying much. Sorta like saying Red Lobster is a good place for seafood shows that you have not had decent seafood in your life. Or Olive Garden is a destination place (Oh great - now I'm going to have nightmares from thinking about chain places).
One opened up near me, so I finally went to see what all the fuss whas about. Plus, when eating with the kids, big eclectic menus are a plus. On the positive side, the menu has an interesting take on many dishes. The problem, and it's a big one, is everything we ordered was ridiculously bland.
Buffalo Blasts -- essentially a piece of chicken done buffalo style, stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in egg roll and deep fried. Sounds excessive but good. But it had no flavor. The hot sauce was way too mild, the blue cheese stuffing was imperceptible, and, in a first for chains, it needed salt.
My wife and I each had fish tacos. With grilled -- not fried -- fish, so again, a nice take on what can be a greasy dish. But it was flavorless. The salsa, the fish, the slaw -- no taste. And again, needing salt, though that did not rescue it.
My daughter had some sort of garlic and chicken pasta dish. Again, bland, faint garlic flavor.
My son had ribs; they were OK.
So, even though to look at the menu it sounds like a good family place, we won't be going back.
Ok, I need to weigh in because although I am definitely a hound, I DO NOT consider myself a food snob. I will eat in a down home greasy spoon truck stop and extol its culinary virtues the same way I extolled my meal at Babbo as long as the food is well prepared and tasty. However, CF is none of the above. I agree that the menu is way too big, and their dishes, although great on paper, tend to be very underwhelming once on the plate.
And before I get flamed by the Pro CF Lobby, let me say that in the last 4 years I have eaten at CF over 2 dozen times....why if I dislike it so much? Because I do not force my "foodie" views on friends who are not as open minded and because I enjoy some of their appetizers.... when you worked in one of the largest malls in the US for over two years, you venture to CF every once in a while.
So back to the food.... the few times that I have ventured off the appetizer menu and tried their entrees, I have found that their food is over salted and lacking any of the interesting flavors that the description on the menu promises.
Furthermore, Mr Hungry and I spent about $80 on two apps, two entrees, one cheesecake and three beers there once. For about the same amount of money, we ate (tonight as a matter of fact) at a local restaurant that sources its food locally, and the food was way better.
I think that my problem overall with CF is that although THEY may not consider themselves high-end or refined, many people DO consider it "a nice place to eat" and that is just plain SAD :(
As several have said before...
Large portions of mediocre food at prices too great for the quality. Although this may sound blasphemous to CF fans, I find the cheesecake to be overly sweet with a cloying texture. (I feel the same way about Coldstone Creamery's ice cream.) That's why when faced with the choice at a local mega-mall, I'll opt for California Pizza Kitchen: soup and/or an appetizer, a generous portion of decent wine, counter seat, small check, in and out quickly, refreshed for more shopping.
Well Said Wanda Sue -
I think CF does a great job of doing what it has decided to do. If all restaurants accomplished their goals as well, being a chowhound would be infinitely rewarding. At the same time CF is not what I want most of the time, although here in Honolulu going to CF includes $5 for parking (the validation fee) and at least an hour wait.. at peak periods up to 2 hours. But its in a shopping center in Waikiki, so if you know you have two hours... go play tourist for the first 90 minutes. Most of the time I am just as happy at CPK or Chili's at one of the other nearby malls. As far as prices, compared to say Macaroni Grill or some of the other "upscale" chains, they are perfectly reasonable.
They offer something for almost everyone, they have perfectly acceptable food - some of it even quite good. None of it is great, none of it is ever gonna get a Michelin 5 star rating. That is not what they are aiming for. But they have obviously hit their target market, and it is a big step above Denny's and Bob's Big Boy (which also serve their niche).
When CF opened in my area, the local restaurant reviewers actually spoke highly of it. Good luck trying to get a table. There is often a 90 minute wait at this place. I've never been able to get in, so I haven' been. The fact that you can't get a table there is a big turnoff. The area is filled with great independent restaurants, so I scratch my head wondering exactly why this place was so filled.
A little thing that turned me off that had nothing to do with the resto itself is that it's in a mall and I had to pay for parking. At most malls if you are there for less than 30 minutes, they don't charge you. I parked, walked into the restaurant, was told there was a 90 minute wait, and turned around and went back to my car. I was still charged for parking.
I have seen the menu and it's huge. I'm sure there are some gems on it, but when you have a huge menu, it's impossible to do everything well. Also, the tendency in restaurants is big portions=low quality. It's not really a value if they're serving you a pile of cheap food. Your huge meal is costing them very little compared to their overhead.
I just can't imagine that hte food is that wonderful. If I somehow miraculously ever get inside one, I'd be interested in finding out.
"Also, the tendency in restaurants is big portions=low quality. It's not really a value if they're serving you a pile of cheap food."
You hit the nail on the head Avalon! There are no CF's in Canada (at least not the Western half) But we do have a chain called Cheesecake Cafe. Same type of deal... 5 page menu, nothing done particularly well, and served in portions twice the size as other chains. I actually here people say "I like it there better cause you get 2 FULL CHICKEN BREASTS when you order the Parmigiana! Who needs 4 Chicken Breast fillets in a single meal???
I asked him if he would rather have a 3 pound Blade Steak or a 10-12 oz Ribeye.
He said "The Ribeye. Who wants that much bad steak"
I said that's why I don't eat at Cheesecake Cafe.
2 x CRAP = CRAP!!!
CF has an extensive selection process when choosing locations for new stores, nickpicking a variety of demographic details including per capita income of residents in the area. That said, even if you're not a fan of the food, you have to hand it to them as they are quite successful from a profit standpoint.
The hate of CF has become so common to me on CH that I don't even notice it anymore. It's played out. Yes, it's a chain but I like the food. My favorites are the peach bellini cocktail (always refreshing and delicious) and the bleu cheese salad dressing on about anything. Very garlicky.
I just read somewhere in one of the three Sunday newspapers I brought to amuse myself as my kid was at Chuck E Cheese (There is a place reserved in H*LL for Bushnell for this place....) that people were complaining about the 90 minute wait at CF. I'm sorry - I don;t wait 90 minutes at a chain for anything.
Finally ate at CF over the Winter Holidays. We were shopping the after Xmas sales at Sawgrass Mills in FL and found ourselves there at dinner. Wanted to try Legal Seafoods but the wait was too long. Wasn't expecting much. Thankfully, the 4 of us (all women) saw the portion sizes before ordering. We ended up ordering 1 large salad and 1 burger dinner which turned out to be plenty for the 4 of us. Service was slow (very, very busy resto). No cheesecake. The bill was around $35 with tip. Not a bad price for 4 people, but would have been upset to pay twice that. Food was passable, OK, but not great. Portions are huge, wish more restos would cut the food (and price) in half, no one needs that much.
Lots of stuff has a lunch size if you eat before 5pm. I was there recently, only my second time ever, went with a group from work. I ordered a lunch portion Santa Fe salad, couldn't believe it. We had a great server, turned out to be the trainer for the rest of them at this location. I asked her when I was through to confirm that my salad was the lunch portion! She said yes, I know, isn't it crazy? And yet she actually admitted to eating the full sized one, almost twice as big, on a crazy double shift day. Insane. It was close to if not the biggest salad portion I had ever had, and it was only half as big as the regular one.
Judging by the quality of that plus some of the appetizers we had, plus the cheesecake, there are worse places you could eat. But, it's not worth a 90-minute wait IMO. It would be nice if they cut the prices and portions, but like many other industries there is a certain amount of overhead so cutting the portions in half couldn't really result in a 50% price cut with everything else being equal. Try going mid-afternoon like 3pm on a weekday if your schedule permits. You can still get the lunch sizes, and you won't have to wait in most locations. (On a weekend, forget it.)
I'll eat there if a group of non-foodies needs to be pleased, but heck ... bennigan's can do the same w/o a wait.
I am curious where you are all finding these incredible wait times. Sure, if the CF is new to the area, I understand. If you hit (as noted above), Fri/Sat evening or Dec weekends, I understand. But, I've been there at lunch and had no wait. I've been there weekday evenings, and had no wait. And if you are really concerned about the wait times, because you have other things to do, why not get on the list, do what your other things are, and head back? The times I have to wait more than 20 min, I take care of whatever local errands I have, and then when I'm done, I'm headed for the car to go home anyway. No muss, no fuss.
I have noticed that the items that I tend to prefer on the menu are the ones that disappear, with a lot of the other things that don't interest me staying. They used to have a fried chicken salad that was among the best I'd ever had, and with the portion size and taste was excellent for lunch the next two days.
So, if the food is what stops you from enjoying the place, wait a while and see if they have modified the menu with anything that might interest you.
My only complaint about the CF is that wait times at the Riverside Square mall in NJ are usually 1-1/2 - 2 hours on a Friday/Saturday night. The food is good, not out of this world, but what do you expect from a chain restaurant that does the volume of a CF? The Miso Salmon is probably one of my favorite dishes.
For those who think CF is expensive for food, try living in NYC. CF is cheaper than most restaurants. I'm sure that it's probably more expensive than the good ol' side of the road diner in Podonk, Idaho, but I think it's a bargain.