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NYT Connecticut Section Outrage

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Did anyone read the CT section this Sunday that featured a HUGE section on chain restaurants? It was so insulting on so many levels. The gist of the piece was: "Gee, you can get edible food at Outback and Olive Garden!" Like, duh. Only if you'd never before set foot outside of Manhattan would this be news to you. And it's a direct slap in the face to all the excellent non-chain restaurants in the suburbs. It's also just plain wrong--the article asserts that the "casual dining" chains like Applebees are thriving, when anyone who's glanced at the Wall St. Journal in the last few years knows that casual dining as a sector is in a severe slump as people cut back their restaurant budgets in favor of high-end, less frequent splurges. I'm sure this was some bone-headed editor's idea--a half-dozen new restaurants have opened in the last month in New Haven alone, and yet the NYT's food writers were dispatched to Applebees.
My irate letter is on its way to the editors--come on CT readers, let them know that we demand better from the NYT!

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  1. One of my favorite parts of the Sunday NY Times is getting to the restaurant review in the CT section. I have to say that I shuddered when I saw the front page of that section. I may have even yelled out loud in disgust. It was pretty disturbing to me on so many levels. You are right, there are so many great new places out there, I can't believe that they sent 8 different reviewers to the Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Very very strange.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sibeats

      Please write a letter to the editor--the higher-ups there may pay attention. I'm sure it was some idiot editor's idea that made it through because it was a cheap way to fill space. All those meals at Applebee's and OG probably cost less than one outing to a Greenwich two-star. I'm no snob--My partner's mom loves Olive Garden and we go there often--but I don't pay money for the NYT to get reviews of chains! ARGHHHHHH!

    2. Well, I don't really understand places like Applebee's, TGI Friday's, Olive Garden, etc. It makes no sense to me, here in the tri-state area. I suppose if I lived in greater (pun intended) Des Moines or something, a seafood urge would be somewhat satisfied by an excursion to Red Lobster; a pizza craving by a hop, skip and jump over to a Papa John's or something, but I just don't understand how these places stay in business in NY, NJ and CT. People actually go to Pizza Hut? What???? Why on earth would anyone? Vinny's is probably next door and probably at its worst makes a pizza that kills anything Pizza Hut could possibly conceive. I just don't get it. Now, that said, I do sort of have an inkling as to why people would go once every other month or so to, say, a White Castle. That's a shot of nostalgia. You don't go to White Castle for a good burger. You go for, well...White Castle. It's not a burger. It's, ummm, White Castle. There are certain iconic crap foods that just work, mostly because of something that happened to our damaged brains during our pre-adolescence, but so what? If it's a taste crave that just won't go away, you gotta feed it every now and again. White Castle doesn't happen to be mine, but it worked, I think, for illustration purposes. As my screen name implies, I'm an Ipswich clam (whole belly) fan. It's just something I adore. I don't eat it very often, and even if I could get it (which I can't, without a trip to New England, because all the other places in the tri-state area I've tried suck for fried clams) I still wouldn't eat it that often, simply because it just can't be any good for you. But when that urge hits, you go. Who on god's green earth actually gets Olive Garden cravings? If you do, make an appointment with a shrink, and do it soon.

      10 Replies
      1. re: RickTheClamBellyFan

        A lot of people like these types of restaurants, even though you may have great local restaurants nearby. Growing up in NYC where there were a lot of great local slice joints, my schoolmates always though it was a treat to go to Pizza Hut. Wendy's was really big too as well as Red Lobster for special occasions. Guess where I went for a high school boyfriend's graduation dinner? At one place I worked, everybody insisted on ordering from Dominos when you had Nick's Pizza (one of the better places) nearby. I think that's just the way it is. When I pass by Olive Garden in Chelsea, NYC at whatever hour, it's always full of people. My friend would go to Applebees on date night with her husband in Manhattan. When I was in LA, I ate at Sizzler a lot because I was working with somebody who was infatuated with the place, and it was always packed.

        I don't really understand that behavior, but the fact of the matter is that these restaurants are really popular with a lot of people. I've seen many great local restaurants close down time and time again while these chains manage to stay in business -- and not just stay in business but thrive. Perhaps all the money they spend on advertising really works.

        But I didn't get that same reaction that the OP did reading this article. I don't think it was a direct slap in the face to non-chain restaurants in the suburbs. However, the Times could have mentioned that you had some of these chains in NYC as well -- the suburbs aren't the only place where chain restaurants are common. But the Times also does cover local establishments both in NYC, the suburbs and other places in the world.

        I just took the article for what it was. Chain restaurants are indeed popular and you can always find a few edible things on the menu. They are "safe" choices for many people and they're here to stay. It may not be my first choice when I go out to eat, but apparently it is for a great segment of the population.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          "However, the Times could have mentioned that you had some of these chains in NYC as well -- the suburbs aren't the only place where chain restaurants are common. But the Times also does cover local establishments both in NYC, the suburbs and other places in the world."
          ~~~~~~~~~~
          I haven't read the article, but my first question would be - has the NYT *ever* covered chain restaurants like Applebees and Red Lobster for the NYC branches of those chains? If not, and by only covering chain restaurants in this particular article, isn't the subtle implication that you can ONLY get chain restaurant-type food in CT? Yes, the cover local restaurants elsewhere. But focusing on chain restaurants located solely in CT smacks to me of elitism on the NYT's part, implying that for good high end food - stick with Manhattan or Brooklyn. All you're going to get is chain restaurant food in CT, even if it is "edible food" as the OP noted (not sure if that was a quote from the article).

          1. re: LindaWhit

            The reviews of chain restaurants was not limited to Connecticut in spite of the OP's heading. They covered restaurants in Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              OK, thank you, Miss Needle.

              However - my original statement stands - focusing on chain restaurants outside of NYC proper, the implication is that that's all you're going to get there. Yes, we know that's not all you're going to get there. But why weren't Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, etc. included in the chain restaurants review?

              1. re: LindaWhit

                Yes, I agree that they should have thrown a NYC chain in there (there's tons to choose from -- Outback, Olive Garden, Applebee's, etc.).

                The NY Times does have articles about chain restaurants in NYC -- but they're generally written with the slant of the new Outback is going to drive away local businesses.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Now that I think of it, there's a monstrous Red Lobster right around the corner from NYT HQ, along with TGIF, etc. Yet they decide to treat us country bumpkins to a whole page of reviews as if that's all we get a hankering for here out in the sticks.
                  "C'mon Hank, let's load up the wagon and the no-neck monsters and git ourselves to Outback--the NYT says its gots some tasty eats!"

                  1. re: newhavener07

                    I'm missing the outrage. The NYT promotes gazillion dollar a person restaurants every week of the year, year in and year out, what's the big deal with giving some press to less than stellar, cheaper eats? The Legal Seafood across from the new Ritz Carlton in White Plains is still in business, I have to assume people are eating there.

                    Maybe the uber rich in CT are battening down the hatches?

          2. re: Miss Needle

            After some thought, I think I am beginning to understand this weird behavior. I think it is something akin to a guy's natural self-consciousness, say, when approaching a particularly beautiful woman for a date. I think there is a basic trepidation of people to take themselves to places that might have a reputation. Perhaps there is a level of responsibility one must take when going to an individual place that is known for this or that. Paint a French name on the front window and you REALLY put some people off. I don't know whether they're thinking that it's going to be ridiculously expensive or if it's just that in some way they are not "good enough" to go to a place "like that." I can't imagine what else it could be. Living in the metro area, I'd NEVER (repeat necessary? I think not), oh, what the hell...NEVER go to a Pizza Hut, Domino's, Sizzler, Applebee's, et al. The reason? No, I'm not a snob. I'll grab a hot dog any day of the week. It's because with all the established local places available to me that specialize in the various things that these chain operations purport to specialize in, I can get far better quality and usually for less money. I mean, has anyone noticed the prices at places such as McDonald's these days? I might not get the drink or the fries, but for the same 5-7 dollars, I can go into, say, J.G. Melon and have a burger that will BLOW anything McDonald's can even dream about away. So, why do New Yorkers go to McDonald's a block away? Let's just chalk it up to the human frailty in all of us. Besides, it's all very entertaining fodder for message board conversation.

          3. re: RickTheClamBellyFan

            Rick, I agree with you that most of those restaurants don't make much sense anywhere. But, as a New Yorker who for various reasons is stuck living in Greenwich CT now and has spent quite a bit of time in Des Moines, (1) it's hard to get a decent casual, relaxed (as opposed to upscale dining) meal in either place, but (2) there's enough good local food if you look hard enough. I wouldn't knock Des Moines (and, if you have any favorite places for fried clams around Greenwich, let me know).

            1. re: adam

              Adam, I wasn't really knocking Des Moines...I was just using it as (what I hoped would be) a safe illustration instead of having to say Bumblef**k. No offense meant, there, you Iowegians!

          4. Jfood, like many on the Tri-State, look forward to the Sunday review and agreeing, disagreeing, with the reviewer. And jfood's head snapped back yesterday morning when he saw the front page.

            But it was very well done. It was a hoot to read the reviews and jfood would have paid a lot of money to see Patricia Brooks at a chain restaurant. Then again she may pay a lot to see M&M jfood there as well.

            But give the NYT credit for going to a bunch of these and reviewing all at one time. Look at the wait times that people endured, 2-hours in some cases. Talk about someone serious about eating at a restaurant, 2-hours? Look at all the posts on these boards and see the "I leaving after 20 minutes" statement. yet these restaurants are demanding AND receiving 2-hour waits.

            Jfood did not read all of the reviews, but the ones he read were pretty well done.

            1. I was horrified too when I saw the cover! Red Lobster? SERIOUSLY??? That they devoted that much space in the paper to seriously reviewing these chains, in depth, annoyed me so much.

              1. I'm sorry for the hyperbole in this post, considering we are at war, facing financial ruin, parboiled planet, etc. But it just makes me mad considering I know so many people putting their family's financial future on the line to create interesting restaurants. Yet the paper of record decides to devote dozens of inches and all that writing talent to chains with million-dollar advertising budgets. Come on, do a big takeout on "Undiscovered Gems" or small local chains. It just seems wrong, wrong, wrong, and especially wrong for NYT readers in the suburbs, who treasure the occasional review that can highlight out-of-the-way places. A good review in the NYT can really put a place on the map, yet the paper decides to french-kiss mediocrity. Okay, time to take a walk before I break my keyboard!

                1. They sent reviewers to 8 different locations "In the Region." One article giving reviews of the food and experience that many many many readers spend many hours eating and having.

                  One of the things that I find difficult about the "foodie" "movement" is the insistence that all things that have anything to do with food must be about "mom and pop" or about "authentic" or "high end" or other nebulous sorts of things and if they're not then they're insulting or a waste of time. The one piece in the New York times focused on chain restaurants does not, in my mind, constitute an outrage. Taking something as large and diverse as the New York Times personally with each article or piece seems too much to me.

                  1. This hardly qualifies as an outrage.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ecustard

                      I'm not saying it was an outrage, I guess personally I just don't see the point. Is it really necessary to review chain restaurants like Red Lobster and Olive Garden? I'm not implying they weren't well written and researched reviews, and I did read them all out of curiosity, but chains are what they are. What's next? Reviews of McDonalds and Subway?
                      For me, it's not "snob factor", it's looking for information on places that are new or changed or off the beaten path that I might not have heard about. I would think that everyone is pretty familiar with chain restaurants and the type and quality of food served. Just my opinion though, maybe they were useful to others!

                      1. re: sibeats

                        The last line in your post is, I think the key point as concerns the piece in the Times. For people who don't "live to eat" it may have been helpful. For people who do eat at the restaurants covered in the piece they probably enjoyed reading the experiences of the writers just as those on Chowhound might enjoy a review of a restaurant at which they've already dined.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          Sibeats and ccbweb,

                          Jfood agrees. The Sunday Times arrives and people grab the Travel, the Arts, the Business section and read what interests them. Does jfood read every editorial or theatre review or travel recommendation, nope.

                          But yes, one of the top 5 things he goes to is the restaurant review. And he really wants to read those in his neighborhood. Was this week's a bulls-eye on what jfood would want to read about, nope. But of the four weeklies, usually one strikes his fancy and he reads in depth, the other three are too far away or not of interest. This weekend's filled the 3 non-interested bucket.

                          But many people want to know about these restuarants and they deserve a top notch reviewer giving them an opinion. Heck CH has a "Chains" board and it gets a lot of press. And what if someone has never eaten in PF's wants to give it a try from something they read here and then sees the review in the NYT. Jfood's not waiting 2-hours for any of the new chains at the stamford mall, but people do and they deserve the same press coverage as Schoolhouse, Duo and Osetra.

                          So for the one week in recent memory that the NYT crammed 8+ reviews of chains, people will survive and just wait til next week for a review of a restaurant that is on our radar screen.

                          Jfood does not understand the outrage at all or CT are all hicks or turnip truck or anything else. It was just a review of a different type of restaurant where the lines are long and people still seem to go to even if their numbers are softer in this economy.

                          Much like the advice received by the Moderators here about posters who drive you crazy. Just avoid them and wait for the ones you like. Next Sunday is another week.

                          Ciao

                    2. I honestly don't get what the big deal is here. I look forward to the Sunday review in the Long Island section, although it is never as interesting as Bruni's reviews (you don't get to be the big dog for nothing). I was surprised to see all of the chains reviewed, and disappointed that it took the place of the local review, but these are, after all, restaurants, and they are very popular. The fact that most of us don't seem to go to these places doesn't mean they shouldn't be reviewed. It seems plausible to me that those reviews will make many people take notice of the restaurant reviews who would not previously have read them, and that this would ultimately be good for the restaurants reviewed later.

                      What nobody has commented on is that, if you read between the lines, most of the reviewers seemed to think the chains pretty much sucked. Many of the reviewers focused on one or a couple of menu items that were "fine," but none said much about the overall menus. To me, this seems like the editors instructed the reviewers to be positive, which is a much bigger problem than instructing them to review chain restaurants.

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: LloydG

                        Isn't in interesting how we can take different things from the same article? I thought the tone indicated that as a group they went in thinking the meals were going to be just awful all the way around and found, to their surprise, that one could piece together a "decent" meal at the larger chain restaurants.

                        They also didn't devote the resources to this that they normally would for a full restaurant review: each writer went to one chain restaurant one time for the piece as opposed to the (as I understand it) three times they'd normally go for a regular review. They didn't try to cover the whole menu, just a meal. They also combined them all into one...imagine if it had been an 8 week series!

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with your take as well. It was more of the take of -- wow, the food isn't half-bad at a chain.

                          And it isn't half-bad. A lot of it isn't good, but most of it is edible. Personally I'd rather go elsewhere than spend a lot of money at Red Lobster but to each his own.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            Strange as it might sound, I think both are true. The reviewers did indeed find some good food in some of the restaurants (I don't remember exactly which ones offhand), but at least some of the reviewers seemed to be stretching to say nothing terrible. Most of these wouldn't merit a single star, even in the suburban sections (although who knows if they had done a full review where they sampled a dozen dishes).

                            Ironically, this weekend's reviews have drawn more attention on Chowhound, I think, than all of the reviews in 2008 combined.

                            1. re: LloydG

                              The reviews in the NYT regionals are interesting, but the ones in my area I already know about and I'd have to sell a kidney to afford the Fairfield places they recommend. Since many of the places the NYT reviews are Greenwich hedge fund hangouts, to me that makes this article's "slumming" even more annoying.

                            2. re: Miss Needle

                              That was what first got my dander up--the total cluelessness of whoever came up with this idea. Anyone who doesn't know you can't get decent food at a chain has spent their life in a cave somewhere, or the Upper West Side. The tone of the article suggested that us suburbanites haven't discovered the wonders in our very own backyard malls.
                              And frankly, if you think that the "foodie" movement is all about rejecting chains, you'd be right. Mediocre, mass-produced food at megachains is bad for everyone involved: diner, worker, environment. If rejecting chains makes me a latte-swilling liberal elitist, pass the powdered cocoa. And since I think it's safe to say most NYT subscribers share those values, you['d better supersize that latte.

                              1. re: newhavener07

                                You see, I think more "foodies" are probably into chains than many realize or are willing to admit. I've got a friend who can really appreciate high-end cuisine but also extols the biscuits at Red Lobster and Olive Garden. She says she knows they're not high-end cuisine, but that she sometimes gets the craving for something like that. Wasn't it Thomas Keller or some famous chef who said that he loved In n Out? And in one of Lee Anne Wong's Top Chef blogs, she mentioned how she gets paranoid buying frozen dinners at the supermarket because somebody would recognize her.

                                And I think it's refreshing that the NYT would cover something that's not their usual cup of tea -- just like I to hear different viewpoints on Chowhound. It provides more of a balanced view.

                                1. re: newhavener07

                                  According to Wikipedia, the Times reported circulation of 1,627,062 copies on Sundays in March of 2007. In Sept. of 2007 they reported 13 million unique web page visitors. Seems like it'd be hard to say its "safe to say most NYT subscribers" share the same anything.

                                  I didn't see anything in the article that suggested wonders at any of the restaurants.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    So if the reviews were lukewarm, what was the point of the whole exercise? Giving free publicity to mediocre restaurants?

                                    1. re: newhavener07

                                      N

                                      When the NYT reviews some stand-alones they are mediocre restaurants as well. The goal is to review and give an opinion, just like a play, of different restaurants in the area.

                                      1. re: newhavener07

                                        I recall the media reporting that the big chain restaurants were failing due to the economic downturn about two weeks before these articles hit. The NYT probably decided to do a feature because of it.

                                        1. re: saraf

                                          Are you referring to the latest economic downturn -- because I also read about the chain restaurants not doing as well a couple of weeks ago. However, the original article in question was from May.

                                2. re: ccbweb

                                  I only read the article because I grew up in the area and was dragged to many of those restaurants as a kid, even the TGIF on 1st and 63rd (if I ever knew it was the first one I'd forgotten). I'll read just about anything if it has to do with food but this article was really tough to get thru. Boring restaurants + forgettable menus = dull reviews. Life is too short. What's with people using the excuse that their 9 year old only likes Applebee's? My kids were told from the time they could understand that they'd eat at interesting non-chain restaurants or they'd stay home and eat my cooking. Deja Vu Dining was a great title for it.

                                  1. re: southernitalian

                                    I guess I did overreact to this article, but the Sunday Times is the highlight of my weekend and local food is my passion, so it felt like a slap in the face from my best friend. I can only hope that Top Chef is entertaining enough tomorrow night to take away the sting.

                              2. I thought the article was just fine--I haven't been to a lot of these places, and it was interesting to see their take on them. It was also a lot more useful to me as a Stamford resident that one of the frequent reviews of restaurants in Litchfield or New Haven counties that I will never visit. This was one Sunday out of 52 per year--how outraged can you get?