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May 14, 2008 11:59 AM


Every so often someone posts on the chains board for presumably the sole purpose of bashing chains and telling everyone how they only eat at local non-chain establishments.

DH and I just got back from five days in Maine. We had some wonderful food at local non-chain establishments. However, we also had really bad hot chocolate at two different local places, and stale cinnamon rolls at a local bakery that came recommended. THAT HAS NEVER HAPPENED TO ME AT STARBUCKS. In fact, when we killed some time at a mall in Bangor before our flight back, the first thing I did was hit the Starbucks kiosk to get their hot chocolate, which is the best hot chocolate I've ever had anywhere.

Even when you're enjoying local regional cuisine on a trip, it's nice when there are chains nearby in case you're having a bout of bad luck with the local stuff. You usually know what you're getting with a chain, even if the quality varies a little bit by location.

That's why chains are great.

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  1. Sometimes, when I do get a bad locally-recommended meal (you can't always trust the desk clerk!), it's necessary to "reset" my taste-buds by seeking out some guaranteed homogenized chain food. I know it's wrong...but I've had some bad meals that require a prompt response.

    1. Ah, next time you are in SF, ask for good hot chocolate recs. You will weep in despair when forced to drink Starbucks hot chocolate again.

      You are relatively new to Chowhound. In five years, if you follow tips ... see if you have the same opinion about choosing reliability over greatness.

      Yep, there will be a few bad items here and there. But I read your post about Maine and the bad was minor compared to the great.

      When I started on Chowhound a few years ago, you would probably find a few posts like this from me. My bete noir is McDonald[s. Yes, I ate mainly at good places, but at least weekly I ate at McDonald's. Now I eat maybe 3-4 times a year at McDonalds ... mainly trying new stuff like the "Southern Style" chicken sandwich ... the reason I'm currently trolling this board.

      I also ate a lot more fast food than I do now.

      However, after finding so many great meals through the boards ... when I eat at chains ... well, the thrill is gone. The food is kind of blah.

      At best, places like Starbucks and McDonald's are good because they are open early morning or late night hours when nothing else is open. Actually had an apple fritther at a new Starbucks near me. Didn't taste like much and I once like their baked goods very much. I had a disappointing donut there a few months back. Maybe donuts are not their thing.

      3 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        I am a new reader here and I am really surprised that there even IS a board dedicated to Chains. I'm sorry to respectfully, but completely, disagree with you, "starbucksbrew" -- My feeling could not be more different. The last thing I ever want, when traveling, is to experience that which I avoid even when I am at home -- chains provide a completely impersonal experience from start to finish. I've had the depressing experience of driving around and round some little town-- even, here in MT, from town to town-- searching for something that's NOT a chain, at any hour of day or night. I just can't do it. I can't support it, I can't settle for it. But then, I tend to pack a cooler.

        1. re: rworange

          rworange, I'm actually not new to Chowhound, but even so, I'm certainly not new to food!

          I should clarify that my reference to chains rarely includes fast food. I despise fast food, although I will get it if I'm in the middle of podunk nowhere and it's all that is available. I meant that's why I like chains like the oft-despised Cheesecake Factory, Brio, and PF Changs.

          1. re: starbucksbrew

            Repeat the chowhound mantra "Chains are bad, chains are evil, chains are bad."

            After a few weeks you will be a doubleplusgoodduckspeaker.

        2. I disagree as well, I would rather eat local food(especially in Maine, it would be lobster, or other seafood every meal, every day I was there or I would be pretty disappointed in myself) when on vacation, than lower my standards and go to a chain anyday. I rarely eat chain food at home, and am not going to break that habit when out of town.

          2 Replies
          1. re: swsidejim

            Hey, buddy, didn't you know you can get a lobster roll at McD's in Maine? ;}

            1. re: KevinB

              I have heard that, but I dont eat McDonalds, I am going on 8 months since I last lowered myself to eating McD's.

          2. I agree, it is nice knowing that when all else fails there are chains to fall back on. I don't think the OP is singing praises for chains because they like them and seek them out, it is nice to have fall backs for those days you are tired starving and in an unfamiliar location (especially those that don't see much Chowhound love on the boards). For the most part the menus are familiar, hours better for travelers, and in some cases service is better. I do prefer researching Chowhound or Yelp for local restaurants, but that is not always possible. I would rather have a quick familiar meal at a chain than driving around hoping to find an open local restaurant.

            1. I don't think chains are "great" but will agree they are consistent, with some exceptions. I've had incredibly vile food at some locations of chains but that's another discussion. You may have a comfort zone for certain things (like your hot chocolate) and that's fine. I think your blanket statement (or scream) of "This is why chains are great" is a bit too much. They are not all, in that vast sweeping statement, great.

              I have different views on chains that has little to do with food. I've worked at restaurants over my many years, both chains and independent places. The peeve I have with chains is smaller communities, chains are slowly destroying the mom and pop shops; the "WalMart effect", if you will. The large chains like Red Lobster, Outback, Chili's etc have come in and closed down the small businesses. Smaller towns are now getting these new restaurants and the locals shun the old for something new. While the chain may give back the community in some way, the profits don't necessarily stick around. Yeah, there are jobs created and the like but it all washes out in the end. We have a local coffee roaster here that had a decent (read sustainable) business. When Starbucks came in, people flocked to the new (not necessarily better) and local guys' business sufferred. Fortunately, he's stuck it out and people are starting to see that they had something really good before Starbucks came along. Business is picking up again but it will take some time for him to recover fully. He's very fortunate and the exception. Most places would have closed down.