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In my view, there is nothing wrong with chains. [Split from Best BBQ Thread on Midwest Board]

[This post was split by the Chowhound Team from a thread on the Midwest Board I"MSP- MSP Mag Best BBQ " http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5856...]

I prompted to say that in my view, there is nothing wrong with chains. It means two things to me:
1) It is a successful restaurant (good food) that warranted more locations
2) It is a successful business model (not necessarily good food) that thrived on business sense, and not the food

People like to get on their high horses about not eating at chain restaurants. Mrs. Gutgrease usually thumbs her nose at places that aren't "unique." While this site is dedicated to helping fellow food lovers find new places to eat, I think it's worth noting that chains can be just as good or better.

If you are into keeping your money local then you have a different argument that isn't food motivated, but financially motivated.

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  1. That's a solid statement on chains. I am not ashamed to admit that I'm a Champp's and Chili's fan -- although most of my chain food is of the fast food variety: say what you will about Taco Bell, for cheap late night eats, nothing beats nachos supreme and a chilito.

    My only hang up is when someone tells me they went to visit NYC and ate at the Friday's in Times Square. Now that's just a waste.

    1. Theres a serious logical fallacy in your first point about chains success. Successful restaurants do not neccesarily mean good food. For example, McDonalds is wildly successful, but i doubt that any but the most corporate cool-aid drinkers would argue that that success is based in a quality product. Conversely unsuccessful restaurants do not fail because they serve bad food (see Auriga, Jp's and a ton of other Minneapolis/St Paul restaurants that have gone under in the last few years).

      That said, not all chain food is bad, but on Chowhound it has its own place, the Chain's board. Further, the business factors involved in chain-izing successful concepts generally lead to a loss of quality control and dilution of the concept. I think that far more compelling argument to snub chains has little to do with whether they are "unique" (though by definition they cant be) and everything to do with their effect on independent, local operators.

      Chains success breeds more franchizing/chaining, which in turn makes it continually harder to open/maintain independent operations. The reasons that big operations (and even mini-chains) do so well have everything to do with lowering costs which make independent operations less competitive. Even if they serve good food.

      That said, i will most certainly distinguish between smaller restaurant groups (blue plate, for instance) and actual franchized chains (famous daves, for example). Both may put a squeeze on individual chef-driven places, but the level of control and care put into the food/restaurants is clearly very different.

      3 Replies
      1. re: tex.s.toast

        gutgrease covered his argument on chanis with point number: 2) It is a successful business model (not necessarily good food) that thrived on business sense, and not the food

        The McDonalds argument.

        In relation to bbq and chains, I'm always happy when I see catered food is Famous Dave's, nothing negative to say about the garbage pail lid platter.

        1. re: tex.s.toast

          I don't know, a McDonald's cheeseburger and fries tastes pretty awesome to me. You can define quality any way you want, but that's a great combo right there.

          1. re: mncharm

            A Big Mac and large fries and fake strawberry shake and that same combo with a Whopper can be simply wonderful. At times.

            Given the chance to eat at a Chili's or a good to very good restaurant or an outstanding restaurant, I'd have to pass on the Chili's, though, sorry.

            But 'wrong'? Heck no, there's no more 'wrong' with a chain than there is with one of the high and mighty places that serve tiny bits of food at exorbitant prices. If they build it and the diners come, it's the diners' money and the choice of the diners, in the end.

        2. I pretty much agree with the OP on his observations, especially about the two kinds of chain. It can be sad to see one slip from type 1 to type 2, but thats the price of business.

          What really gets me is people who post on the chains board, stating that all chains are bad. If they feel that way, then why on earth are they even bothering to post there, much less read the threads. It is one thing to say "I have never had a decent meal at Chain X" and quite another to blast all chains.

          1. "[A chain] is a successful business model (not necessarily good food) that thrived on business sense, and not the food"

            I think you said it correctly there but then you go on and say "chains can be just as good or better [than non-chain restaurants]."

            You have to keep quality of restaurants equal with one another. For example Ruth's Chris steakhouse is probably going to have better food than a small, LOCALLY OWNED, fast food breakfast and lunch spot. That wouldn't surprise me because they are in completely different restaurant categories.

            Let's face it, all restaurants not matter what they are, are put in place to make money. The key difference is how those restaurants approach food quality. Chains, while they can sometimes produce fine food, are often a choice over local restaurants that are often better assuming they are compared appropriately, like I mentioned above.

            1. You know you'll get hammered on this, so bravo for your gumption.

              This is my issue with most chains, not all, but most : The dumbing down of food that has taken place over the last few years.

              I admit from time to time my DH and I would meet up at a Friday's that was convenient on my way home from work. We'd have a couple of drinks and share a couple of appetizers. We enjoyed it. I didn't have to stop at the store, or cook, I could eat and just home and relax after an 11 hr day. The problem was that over a period of time we noticed how the food became more and more processed. It got to the point that one night we both became ill after leaving the restaurant. We chalked it up to a bad night and a few months later we tried it again...and the food was even worse. We've never been back since.

              It's the simple things that change at first that and many don't notice it - like salad dressings, ranch dressing, it is replaced with some sweet HFCS crap and it no longer tastes like buttermilk ranch, vinaigarette's are just disgustingly thick, soups are overly salty. Then it's the kind of meat they use. And these things are subtle, often disquised as "new menu items." The items that are more expensive to produce in mass quantities are eliminated for the cheaper product at a cheaper price. Chicken is rubber, pasta sauces full of preservatives and lots of vegetable oils...to which I have developed a nice alergy.

              That being said, I do enjoy a good double cheeseburger and fries from Mickey Dees on occassion. I'll gladly cough and wheeze for that greasy mess. PF Changs is something we still enjoy on occasions. I love their soups, pot stickers and a nice martini. But I know that eventually my time there will end as well. It will dumb down the food like everyone else.

              The reasons chains succeed is because the majority of America doesn't know what good food is, and that's not an insult it's just fact. How many of us grew up on casseroles made with condensed soup, rice-a-roni, tv dinners, and Kraft mac-n-cheese? I can't tell you how many of my friends, most professional, are leary of eating at anything that isn't a chain. Most people are programed to eat what is easy and not to explore food. They go with brands they trust, hence the success of chains. I think those that have really explored food and found that open culinary window are the ones most likely to banish chains, as chains limit their offerings and sacrific their quality for profit.

              I make it a point to force my friends to try local establishments, and rarely does anyone not enjoy it. I'm glad to say I've actually turned a few people around on their ideas of food.
              But that's just my thing..

              3 Replies
              1. re: FoodChic

                I did mean to have an "OR" between my points 1 & 2.

                Either way, FoodChic validated my point when she said, "as chains limit their offerings and sacrifice their quality for profit."

                You can certainly say that for some but not all chains. You could sure say it about a lot of stand-alone restaurants too.

                I think that I've worked up my hungry for an Angry Whopper!

                1. re: GutGrease

                  You are absolutely correct. I've been to some really disgustingly bad locally owned places, and I don't go to those places either.

                  Of all my favorite, and most frequented restaurants, not one is a chain. Mostly for the reasons stated above.

                  1. re: FoodChic

                    You have stated the case for and against chains very well. So and I are the same way....sometimes after a long day, we want to have a drink and apps, and if it's Bertolinis or PF Changs, both close and convenient, then fine. If its one of our local places on the way from meetings, then that's where we will stop. And if one of our faves starts to go downhill, then we vote with our feet and wallets for another spot.

              2. I can hardly think of a chain at which the food hasn't gone way downhill even when they start off with low standards to begin with. That is part of the business model. Get people in, used to going there, and then start cutting corners and offer them slop. They'll still eat it. That's part of their success. It would be strange if they didn't follow that model.

                1. I love Wendy's nuggets and soft serve from McDonald's, and the Jack in the Box hash browns are incredible.

                  I know it's not good food, but I like it. The hash browns aren't as good as the flat-top hash browns from most diners/breakfast stops, the soft serve can't hold it's own to Halo Pub, and the nuggets won't replace Gullah Cuisine's fried chicken.

                  I choose to eat as locally as possible, and it's become a hobby--not financially, but motivated by geography and curiousity (Can I successfully eat exclusively within 50 miles of where I live? How good can NJ wines actually be? Surprisingly good, actually). BBQ I'd rather try from as many different places as possible, and the best I've had has not been from chains, but single proprietors--choice motivated by taste.

                  Lettuce Entertain You is a successful group with consistent food and an effective management style; I would never put them on par with a lot of restaurant chains because the food is prepared on site, not shipped from a central warehouse as premade ready to serve/bake packages (you can read the ingredient list of their menu items, and will recognize and be able to pronounce the familiar ingredients; I can't say this about most chain menu ingredient lists).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Caralien

                    Just wanted to pop in and agree (off topic) with you on the fried chicken at Gullah Cuisine! Yummy yummy!

                  2. Chains definitely have their place in the gastronomical universe.

                    "Mom-and-pop" does not always equal good food.

                    And chains do not always equal bad food.

                    Few things in life are as satisfying than a Filet-O-Fish and Vanilla milkshake from McDonald's.

                    There's a local BBQ joint that I swear parboils there ribs, but all the regulars swear by the damn place.

                    I couldn't imagine anything more enjoyable than a corndog and a lemonade from Hot Dog on a Stick while strolling through a mall food court.

                    And just the same, there's this little place that sells Gyros and egg rolls, except sometimes the owner gets confused and deep fries the gyros and stuffs the gyros with shredded cabbage and ground pork.

                    [shrug]

                    1. This thread deserves an honest response - not a rant or a mocking retort, but an honest expression of why it is bothersome to some people here.

                      First, let me say that I did post a rant before, it was responded to in a personal and uncivil way, and the mods took it all off. I asked the mods to move this thread to Chains, as it would be less noticeable by those that might find it unpleasant, but they have not done so. It seems to me, then that they are leaving it on General Topics to allow and perhaps even encourage further discussion. So be it. This doesn't have to get rowdy or uncivil as it did before. Nevertheless this thread deserves a response.

                      Chains are good and bad as expressed above - there are plenty of chains where you'll find better food, plate for plate, than a given mom & pop. So why not encourage people here to comment on good chains, with good food? To put it succinctly, it's because chains are antithetical to much of the Chowhound ethos. Chains discourage creative individuals from making their own contributions. Chains encourage corporate-think, focus group based selection of what's good for America - the lowest common denominator rules because it's the widest audience. Chains put mom & pops out of business, or make it harder for them to start and to get established. Chains stay in business, even while serving food that would put a bad mom & pop out of business - they change the natural business cycle that allows for opportunities and improvements. Every time you eat at a chain, you're nailing the coffin on a mom & pop. Some mom & pops deserve that, to be sure, but it would be a good thing if they were replaced by some other person, willing to put their food on the public table, rather than another market studied, exactly the same as the one 5 miles down the road, chain.

                      Chowhound is about challenging ourselves to eat better and more wonderful food. It's about discovery - finding out about new foods, new places to eat, new recipes, new chefs with new interpretations. There is little to discover in a chain. Every single outlet will create the exactly same meal in the exactly same way, complete with ingredients from a centralized larder and supply system. That leaves very little to discover and tell each other about on a site like this. We're all about periodic repetition, otherwise we would have run out of topics to discuss years ago. But a Big Mac never changes. And repeated postings of how wonderful a Big Mac is, even once in a while, does nothing but fan our own egos - gee, it's not such a bad thing to eat Big Macs after all.

                      But actually, it is a bad thing to eat and talk about Big Macs a lot. This site isn't a social circle where we get each other feeling good by telling ourselves that it's ok to eat lousy food. It is a social circle, indeed, but it's one where we make ourselves feel good by telling each other about a brand new place, a brand new food, or maybe not even new, but exotic, ethnic, or just wonderful dishes that raise our understanding of ingredients and techniques and cultures and all kinds of other food related lore and history - even science! How do Big Macs fit into that?

                      Why is it so disparaging for those of us that have been here a long time to see these kinds of threads? Because we think that the site is going to the Big Mac lovers of the world. Not just those that eat Big Macs - but those the revel in it and insist in sharing the joys of eating Big Macs with everybody. This "threat" has faced us before. And it's not that much of a threat, as long as enough of us stay focussed. But many people leave everytime the perception becomes one of a lot of pat-ourselves-on-the-back-for-eating Big Mac discussions. And as new people come on, the site can allow them to think that we sit around discussing chains a lot, or we can show them that we're about discovery and learning. The ones that stay will set the tone for the future.

                      Inclusivity is a good thing, and obviously the owners want the site to keep growing - but those of us that have been around a while want it to keep growing on its own terms and of its own character. Anyone that's seen sites like PhantomGourmet.com (and their TV show) knows what a site can become when it compares chain store hamburgers and rates peanut butters (oops... we do that now, don't we...). They get viewership, that's for sure. But you can't come away from that show with any real confidence in wanting to try a new place. You can't get any in depth information on any food that isn't within the 20% of center of America's comfort zone. You'll see 1,000 french fries, but you won't see any offal. That's not us. It should never be us.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: applehome

                        Personally, I don't find CH people to be dismissive of chains or easy to make food (making short cuts when needed). Chains aren't the embodiment of evil. They're easy food, or sustenance.

                        Knowing what good food is, and making/eating it shouldn't be considered snobbery. We all know what tastes good, and sometimes ease takes over.

                        That said, I like sweetbreads, in doses. Not too many, and not often.

                        1. re: applehome

                          For Applehome: Thanks for writing this. It needed to be said.

                          1. I find that I go to chain restaurants (not fast food like McD's but in the line of Moxie's/Swiss Chalet) more than I probably want to for the simple reason that I usually go out with friends for a meal on Saturday afternoons and the "local" places are not opened at that time more often than not. I know I'll be hammered for saying this too but I've found that the service in some of them is exceptionally good.

                            1. my main problem with chain sit-down restaurants (Cheesecake Factory, CPK, etc) is the value you get for your money. that and the food itself.

                              it's a fact that very little "cooking" actually gets done at those types of restaurants. most of what they serve is made in a factory, sealed into a bag, and then popped open on-premises. that includes their sauces, their soups, etc. compare this with your average ethnic restaurant, which tend to use raw (albeit industrial) ingredients and actually "cook". the fact that chain restaurants tend to be about $12-15/entree just makes them a bad decision dollar-wise.

                              value for dollar wouldn't be such a problem if it weren't for the fact that the food at most chain sit-down places just isn't that good. it's usually decent/mediocre, but how often is it really ever GOOD? if i'm going to spend money/calories eating something, it better be good!!!

                              1. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but I have a weak spot for Olive Garden and McDonald's breakfast. Originality be damned, nothing beats a greasy little breakfast burrito after a night out.

                                1. I also think that there are two kinds of "chains" and that the distinction between them hasn't been acknowledged here. There are the national chains, like Olive Garden and Applebees, and then there are the local chains that may have 5, 10 or even 20 location in an area. It's these local chains that trigger the idea that the food is good and the business model warranted more locations. Some restaurants make that transition better than others - some, like Pasta Pomodoro in California, give up on the quality that made them successful and start serving food that's prepared in a commissary kitchen and shipped in plastic bags. Others expand to a level where they can maintain a comparable level of food and stop there. Personally, I think it's fair to judge these on their merits.

                                  And, in the interest of full disclosure, I don't mind eating at CPK on occasion, Chipotle makes the best burrito in Southern California, and my favorite old-school pizza comes from North Beach Pizza.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: cyberroo

                                    I mentioned it, but off-handedly. It will take me awhile to figure out how to use the CH boards better. (sigh)

                                    1. re: cyberroo

                                      >>then there are the local chains that may have 5, 10 or even 20 location in an area. It's these local chains that trigger the idea that the food is good and the business model warranted more locations.

                                      Interesting thought. There is a pizza place in New Haven CT, Pepe's, that has the best pizza in the Tristate area. They have expanded into Fairfield CT and are now opening up a branch in NY. So, will they be a 'chain' with three locations? How many locations does a chain make?

                                      I may now have to think of Pepe's as a chain!!!

                                      1. re: dolores

                                        I would like to believe that the original poster had places like Pepe's (or Melvin's in SC, Triumph Brewery in NJ/PA) in mind when he first mentioned chains as expanding because they serve good food which more people want in more locations, as opposed to creating a market where there wasn't one and serving prefabricated insta-meals shipped from a central location.

                                        1. re: Caralien

                                          this is an important point ^

                                          in the context of bbq in msp, the op was bringing in a locally based chain restaurant as an acceptable place to get the food. i'm usually on the anti-chain bandwagon, but let's not crucify the op here, whose post was taken out of context.

                                          the chain in question, famous dave's, seems to be a lot like the original pizza uno/pizza uno chain-- the first shop, or two, have good food, and as the concept is exported to other areas of the country, the quality of food drops. i certainly wouldn't visit a famous dave's in chicago or north carolina or texas, it's by all reports terrible! :-)

                                          however the original, flagship or whatever local restaurants, staffed by the original cooks or those trained by them, put out a *decent* product, in a town that's historically been weak in the area of bbq. a lot of transplants from s. chicago, memphis, etc. get their q fix, locally, at FD's. there is better q to be had locally, and worse q to be had locally, served by mom & pops. me, i go to big daddy's, but i do understand *why* other people choose FD's, and i think there's a big difference, talking about economy etc, between supporting a locally-based chain and the OG/applebees/BK/outback.

                                          please, let's cut my fellow msp hound a little slack on the chain comments that were taken out of context. GG did not ask for this thread to be moved here. cheers.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            (please don't let me get started on the Uno's extendo-chain...)

                                    2. I don't boycott chains, but here is why I personally don't like them: Because of their buying power (and the fact that they tend to use lesser quality ingredients), they are able to offer food at prices that is very difficult to compete with if you are an independent. So, they drive a lot of the competition away. Secondly they tend to serve 'safe' food; nothing to adventursome or different. So eventually it seems all we'll be left with are Chiles, Fridays and the Olive Garden. Successful business model? You bet. But not good for folks seeking really top quality food or independents trying to survive

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: bnemes3343

                                        I have to disagree. For instance, you can go to your local Chinese restaurant and pay $4 for 6-8 dumplings, but at a PFC/CF, it's probably closer to $8 for 4 dumplings. At least where I've lived, the local restaurants or small chains with only 2-5 stores seem to have more reasonable prices than the large megachains. I think a lot of people choose the chains out of convenience more than anything else. Many times when I go out to eat with friends, the eating is secondary to the chatting and catching up we have to do. If I get to see a certain group of friends once or twice a year at best, I'm not going to put up a fuss about going to certain chains I hate.

                                        I think chains are also useful on long-distance drives when you just want something reliably edible that will tide you over until the next stop. You don't necessarily have the time to seek out a nice local establishment when you just want to get off the interstate, grab a bite to eat, and get back on your way again.

                                      2. I hear you applehome.

                                        My little city where I live is over run with chain restaurants. It doesn’t excite me to hear that “we’re getting an xyz!” just like everywhere else.

                                        What DOES excite me is that “Franklin’s” is finally open, or “Downtown 56” has a new chef, or that any number of new restaurants is opening up soon. My little city finally broke out of the bi-ethnic Chinese or “Mexican” commonality when Peruvian and Vietnamese and Ethiopian restaurants opened up, not to mention finally a place where you can get real sushi.

                                        I don’t want my town to be exactly like every other town with the same chains on the same corners. I want diversity that exposes the community to various cuisines, and offers me options for real authentic foods. These are the restaurants I will seek out.

                                        I also agree with first responder mncharm...I wouldn’t go to Chicago or New York to eat at the Olive Garden.

                                        1. As the OP stated, there are good and bad chains, just as there are good and bad local joints...and lots in between. I don't automatically turn my nose up at either.

                                          But if you are going to compare chains to a local establishment,just be sure you compare apples to apples. It's hard to compare McD's, BK, or Wendy's to a local burger joint, because there are so few. (In fact, none, that I know of, in my area.) Even as a kid in a small town in Vermont in the 60's, the local "burger joint" was an A&W that was only open from April to October. Comparing them to Denny's, IHOP, or the local diner really isn't "fair" because the format is different. But comparing a local diner to Denny's, IHOP, or Perkins is legit because they serve similar fare in similar style.

                                          Here in central NY state, we have some fine locally owned steak houses, but Texas Roadhouse and Outback give a decent (and often comparably priced) meal. OTOH, Taco Bell, Moes Southwest Grille, or Salsaritas are no match for a couple of locally owned Mexican joints, and nobody, IMHO can touch Dinosaur BBQ's ribs, etc.

                                          We also have other some fine ethnic restaurants here: Korean, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and of course Italian. Olive Garden may be acceptable, but I've never been to one because there are excellent local Italian places closer to my house. (And if I am near the OG there are also local joints near by.) Do I go to the (small) chain mid-priced restaurant or the locally-owned place next door to it? It's a toss up. We've had good food and service at both. Which one has the shorter wait?

                                          Are all chains bad (or good)? No, any more than all local joints are bad or good. But locally owned or a chain, if I get a lousy meal and/or lousy service I'm outta there, never to return. For example, it may be "A Whole New Neighborhood" at Applebee's, but I will never know, because my previous experiences at several of their stores was unexceptable. The same holds true for Ruby Tuesdays. Despite what "blind taste tests" or Eskimos who have never had a burger before say, I will not ever go to BK except when I am traveling and need to use the rest room. Likewise, there are local joints that I don't frequent for the same reasons. There are too many good places to eat around here to waste money on the bad ones.

                                          I admit to eating at chains occasionally. For example, Chili's is near DW's office and occasionally we hit it for lunch or an early (for us) supper. However, if I am looking for a memorable dining experience, a place to take a guest, for a special occasion, or just a nice night out with my DW, I will choose one of the many local establishments. The experience is just better.

                                          1. So it seems that the people who frequent chains do so based almost entirely on price and convenience with no perception (or understanding of the reality) of chains causing any social ills - which, say, could be putting locals out of business or making it harder for them to open, or of generally being responsible for dumbing down food - always shooting to satisfy the largest number of people, rather than encouraging the special qualities of the best-in-class and most unique products.

                                            Do those who frequent chains simply not see the general harm done to our cuisine, or do they see it but not care? If the food and service are worth the price, nothing else matters? How selfish is that?

                                            Nothing less than the American palate is at stake. Not the high-end of it, there's plenty of people that will pay top dollar for a meal at Per Se. But what's available to the average guy and his family, and who will be developing their food tastes.

                                            Around here (New England) our burger joints and local steak places are bar & grills. It's true that the comparison is to the TGIF's and Ground Round's, rather than to McD's. But there are plenty of local b&g's that serve delicious burgers and steaks. In fact, I have no idea why the chains stay in business, especially when they have a well-done burger policy, handed down from corporate, no exceptions (corporate ought to know... they source the meat). So I guess right off the bat, only people who like their burgers well done, like the chains. And yet, they stay in business. The American palate is already beat to shit.

                                            There's no getting around McD's. It's part of our palate, our culture, our business... Isn't it really, really sad? How did this happen? Talk about well done, tasteless burgers. Do any of these things even taste like beef? Could the average American even tell if they put something other than beef in there? Just so long as it has the pickles and mustard and ketchup. This didn't happen because we have a well developed culture of great food, that's for sure.

                                            But you'd think that people who post on a foodie site might have have a more developed palate, or at least a desire to develop one. Maybe? Maybe not.

                                            From the original Chowhound manifesto:

                                            "Chowhounds know where the good stuff is, and they never settle for less than optimal deliciousness, whether dining in splanky splendor or grabbing a quick slice of pizza. They are the one in ten who live to eat. ...Chowhounds... blaze trails, combing gleefully through neighborhoods for hidden culinary treasure."

                                            So does that sound like eating at convenient chains? Am I completely out of whack for fearing that this gross approval of chains is a sure sign that the halcyon days of a site meant for real food lovers to share deliciousness, is coming to an end? Why are we, the people who come to this food site, willing to eat at chains, knowing that it means that our food will become more and more dumbed down, and that our choices will become more and more limited to corporate chains?

                                            I don't know if I'm looking for a more universal rejection of Chains on this site, as much as just seeing less approval. Even tacit approval - oh I eat at them even though they're not the best - it's convenient. I understand that, I just don't understand the desire to post here about it. Post here about your steak at Peter Luger's, not the one you (and 50 million others) just had at Outback. Post here about the great ribs at Dinosaur, not the parboiled, baked babybacks at Chili's. Especially post here about a wonderful new find of a place that a chef just opened up in your neighborhood. Thank goodness he was able to find a market for his wonderful cooking before a chain opens up next to him and puts him out of business.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: applehome

                                              We hit the local Tijuana Flats for inauthentic Mexican once a week even though we go past a number of Mexican mom & pops to do so.

                                              1. We unashamedly like how the food tastes, even if it is somewhat to really bastardized. (Cookie dough dessert flauta, anyone?)
                                              2. We like the ingredients used- coroprate policy is that beans are cooked from scratch every day in vegetable oil (I try to avoid pork products) spouse likes that whole wheat tortillas are readily available. And I'm addicted to a couple of hot sauces.
                                              3. We reliably get exactly what we want. Spouse has a bad GI reaction to raw or cooked hot peppers. In the mom & pops, it seems like there's a 60-80% chance he ends up with jalapenos in his food anyways after asking that they not be there. TF gets 'no jalapenos' right a good 90% of the time, and quickly corrects it if they screw up.
                                              4. They're actually pretty good about local community involvement. They've got a long-running weekly fundraiser for the local humane society, are good about sponsoring other causes, and, when they were originally scheduled to open the restaurant it was about the time Hurricane Ivan hit the area, and they spent their first week of business feeding emergency and relief workers free of charge.

                                            2. I've said all along that chains have their place. They even have food I'd go out of my way for.

                                              For me, when we travel back and forth from the in-laws, the thought of getting off the interstate to find some mom and pop operation that turns out to suck just isn't worth it. I can get in and out with what I know in a matter of minutes at a McD's or TB or something like that.
                                              When I am "Down yonder" I love to try the newest creation at Sonic or have to get my Krystal's fix.

                                              I guess, if it's not for you, don't go. The idea that Indie food is just better because that's what it is, is nonsense.

                                              DT

                                              1. I don't think anyone has claimed that all mom and pop stores are better than all chains. I think of CH as a place where people help you sort the wheat from the chaff. I know what I can get at McDonald's and don't need someone to help me order better there. But, I have found so many great little places from CHers and that's why I think most of us are here--to find those unique jewels.

                                                My friend and I were talking about chains where we remember the original (for her Starbucks, for me Fridays, Legal Seafood, Boston Market, Del's lemonade) and how much better the originals were. Once you become a big chain (I don't consider stores that have expanded and are not run by a corporation to be a chain), they lose quality. All of them.

                                                1. I have no doubt that if I lived in San Diego or Galveston I could find a better fish taco than the one I order from Chili's. But here in Honolulu, its one of the best. And believe me, I've looked. I'm guessing that the same is true for other foods and other chains in other parts of the country.

                                                  Just like in real life there is a separate place for chain restaurants in Chowhound. To deny that they exist, or that some of them provide good food, good service, and good value is about as futile as trying to get americans to stop shopping at chain groceries. It does not mean that you are going to get the best steak, best caesar salad or whatever there. But since we all have to deal with them, then shouldn't we talk about which ones are better, what dishes to order if you go there.

                                                  There is nothing wrong with talking about the bad things that chains do either, but like anything else, they are not "all bad" or "all good" either.

                                                  26 Replies
                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    The way I look at it is this. There was a Mexican restaurant where my in-laws live. We often went for dinner and I could order anything on the menu and love it.
                                                    Down the street is a Taco Bell. There's only about 3 things I'll order because the rest of them I don't like. Currently they have the Cheesy, Double Beef Burrito. I love, love, love it. It's not better than that Mexican place but sometimes it's what hits the spot.
                                                    And on the drive home (15 hours) when we need sustenance, I know I can stop at a TB and get a great CDBB. I can do that and be back on the road in 15 minutes.

                                                    When we head down to the in-laws I usually look for a neat little place to eat or something I've read about here. Sometimes it's just for fun. Like the time we at lunch one day at White Castle and the next at Krystal's. Our last trip we stopped at a great place that Guy went to on 3D.

                                                    DT

                                                    1. re: Davwud

                                                      On a trip to Columbus from Boston, I was on the last leg, coming down from Cleveland (I took the Northern route), 2pm, still about an hour out. I get off at a cross-roads and go in one direction, where there was a small mall. Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, all the burger places... I turned around and went the other way from the Interstate - obviously no mall, a couple of businesses. Then voila - there in a small lot was a place that had a large sign - NY Corned Beef and Pastrami. There was no one there. I went in and the guy warned me that he didn't have much left, he usually made just enough for lunch - no big slices. There were pictures of him and Martha Stewart at the counter. I sat down with a delicious home made pastrami - piled super high (with small pieces) on a surprisingly decent rye bread.

                                                      Of course, I posted about this wonderful find here. If I had stopped at White Castle, I would have satisfied my hunger, but I wouldn't post about it here. I would presume that the I really hadn't discovered White Castle - people probably already pretty much knew what it was about. Perhaps, if I had some sort of deep analysis or witty commentary (as RWOrange has done with McD's), I would present it here. But to tell the world that I ate at a chain? Ludicrous.

                                                      There are a thousand reasons for us to eat adequate food. That's called eating to live. On the road, there's bound to be a higher percentage of that. Although a little effort here and there will often bring you great rewards. But here, we discuss how we live to eat. I understand that there are people who don't get that, who celebrate the ordinary - the question remains - why do they have to celebrate it here?

                                                      If you cannot or simply refuse to put in the effort to develop your palate beyond chains, just exactly what do you expect to get from this site? Hey, I had a wonderful Big Mac today. Yes! My McDonald's fries were just great!

                                                      We've gone to the dogs. Let's all celebrate the deliciousness of Taco Bell.

                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                        If we have a section specifically devoted to chains, it is easy enough for you to ingnore it. While there is certainly a difference between living to eat and eating to live, we don't always have a chance to do the one we want. We may not have time to drive the other direction and find that pastrami sandwich. Hopefully when we do, we post it, so the rest of us have an opportunity to share in the opportunity.

                                                        When we do visit chains, as many of us do, we also have an oportunity to share. Perhaps you are not able to tell the difference between McD's and JITB french fries. I can, and I definitely prefer McD's. On the rare occasions I allow myself to eat fries, I might be interested to know what other hounders feel about fries from different places... including CHAINS.

                                                        In spite of the fact that a number of people have tried to patiently explain to you that chains do have a place in our lives, and some of them do have specific dishes that may even be worth driving some distance to get, you refuse to acknowledge their point of view, or their right to express that view. Fine, just stay away from the Chains Board then, but please stop attacking us and labeling us as un-chow-worthy for having a different opinion than yours. After all, it's a two way street.

                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                          And yet, here we are on General Chowhounding. It is actually a matter worth discussing - airing it out here is a good thing to do once a year or however often it comes up this way. Where is this site headed? What is the future for us? Do we at all hold the original values of the site any more, or have we now moved on to commercial bliss, fully acknowledging the wasteland of the American palate?

                                                          It is you (and others) who refuse to understand that Chains are not a good thing to be discussing for people who want to learn about wonderful food that is the problem, not the other way around. YOU are changing the ethos, the discussion here. I am as steadfast as the... whatever... indeed, I will not bend, and like others before me, I may end up breaking.

                                                          Advertising is inevitable on TV, even on public TV, these days. Pop-ups and ads are inevitable on otherwise free sites on the web. It's the financial model we've come to accept. And yet, ads are generally irritating and bothersome. A few are interesting, at least the first time you hear them, but the great majority are inane and meaningless drivel. The repetition is completely abhorent. We tolerate them because we've bought into the financial model of TV.

                                                          Chain discussions are like that, except that there is no buy-in to any particular model that requires their existence. When was the last time McD changed fries? I know, I know - when they quit using tallow (right there and then was the reason to quit going there any more), and then again when they quit using trans-fats - twice in 30+ years. But they've since evened out with their crap on a plate. So how many discussions of McD vs. JITB would you like to participate in? Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? How about some well made pomme frites, cooked in tallow, at a new Bistro that was able to open up because people who had become disgusted with McD's crap wanted something better and there was a market demand for the really good stuff?

                                                          Your liking McDonald's fries is hurting MY chances of getting the good stuff. And your insistence on talking about it here is making it easier for more people to keep going to McDonald's rather than creating a real desire to try, and eventually a demand and a market for the good stuff. The question really is - WHY SHOULDN'T I BE MAD?

                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                            Just want to preface this by saying that I'm probably going to regret posting this since I don't want to get caught up in this whole chain discussion (a pet peeve of mine, along with the whole Chowhound/foodie discussions).

                                                            I've read your opinions about chains, and you're certainly entitled to your views. Living in NYC, I rarely eat at chains because there are so many wonderful non-chain restaurants around me. But there have been a few times I've traveled where I've encountered such hideous meals that something like a Sizzler would have been welcome (yes, they were that vile). And I like McDonalds fries as well (of course, I liked it more when they were fried in tallow). But I still think they're damn tasty. It's artificial as hell, but there's something quite delicious about them. You can't replicate that at a Belgian double-fried pomme frites shop. And I like White Castles once in a while. Does that make me a bad person?

                                                            I'm curious about your thought process on chains -- because you were the one who started this thread:

                                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/522314

                                                            Is Pollo Campero OK because it's not an American chain (and I do understand you did not originally start your thread under the chains board)? And from your statements, it seems that you go to Popeye's and kind of enjoy it.

                                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                                              Popeye's is indeed a rare exception - I don't go there mainly because there aren't any around here. People around here like KFC too much. Still, I don't post about them every time I do go - they're not that good - like some real southern fried chicken places that I would post about.

                                                              I asked about Pollo Campero just in case it is also a rare exception. There were mixed reviews, but I'd like to try it. Unfortunately, I doubt, once again, that neither Walmart nor anybody else will bring it up here. Too much money to be made with their SubWay franchises. I'll wait until my next trip south to try them.

                                                              The fact that it's a Mexican (or Guatemalan) chain does make a difference. What's the reason why Margarita's, Chi-Chi's and the South of the Border chains do so well up here while they serve such bland Americanized food? How do we go about changing that? More actual Mexican places would help - even if they're chains. Eventually, how about more open minds leading to less chains? More discussions on Chowhound about real Mexican food, less discussions about McD fries.

                                                              I'm really sorry that you feel that McD fries are now (still) delicious and that you enjoy seeing posts about them. Obviously, I do not. I think they're crap on a plate and that they'll never get better as long as people like them and keep posting about how good they are. You are entitled to your opinion, of course, but it's too bad that in the context of chains, it affects the marketplace. I lose. That you rarely actually eat at chains is a good thing (many people have said that), but that you insist that it's a good thing to talk about chains here probably negates any individual contribution to the state of chains and the overall quality of the American palate.

                                                              I think you dug out the one post I made about chains in 7+ years (or some thing like that... there may be one or two more about one subject or another - keep digging you guys). I think that if everyone else kept to my numbers, I'd be extremely delighted. I'm happy that the chain board is separate and I stay off it - obviously you don't see me ranting like this over there every day. But I do feel that this post is here for a reason - the generic discussion of whether chains are good or not is one we ought to have once in a while. You can't expect a person who feels as I do to to stay quiet when the topic comes up on the General board, and especially when it starts out as a chain-love-fest, as this one did.

                                                              There are many forces that are destroying the American palate and negatively affecting our health - the food chemistry industry being in bed with the USDA and FDA, and the factory farming mass production issues are surely bigger than anything else. But next on the list - Chains. And TVFN is on the list somewhere as well. Mediocrity is the enemy of excellence.

                                                              My worldview is that the public palate in America is a major problem. The availability of good food depends entirely on the demand. Without a desire to have better food, the food will not get better. I don't stay up at night thinking about it, but when the occasion raises itself, I'll rant. What bothers me the most is not the ignorance itself, but the insistence that being ignorant is a good thing - that it is our right to be and to stay ignorant, and to discuss the ignorance at will. I know that this happens generically - Rush Limbaugh is a multi-millionaire from it. But as far as food goes, I just never thought that Chowhound would be the place to do that. I'm wrong. C'est la vie.

                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                To what "Ignorance" are you referring?? Am I ignorant that there are better tacos, better burgers, better this, better that out there?? No. Am I ignorant that by patronizing these places I'm somehow contributing to the erosion of the US palate?? It's a bit of a fuzzy area (I feel I neither help nor hurt) and one I'm not sure is unique to the US.

                                                                I don't eat at chains all that often. Far more than you'd have me though. The reasons are two fold. One is of course convenience. The second is that I feel there are some things at chains that are darned tasty.

                                                                The fact that you can't acknowledge this doesn't compute with me. No one is saying the best Mexican food is at TB. The best burgers are at McD's. Just that they can in fact do some things right. I've been to some high end places and had some extraordinary food. I've also had some very disappointing crap at high end places.

                                                                Stuff tastes good or bad to me because it tastes good or bad to me. Not because of where it comes from. Isn't that what being a chowhound poster is all about?? Finding the good stuff and sorting it out from the crap. Where it comes from is irrelevant. If I mention a food item I had and someone else doesn't like. Fine. They didn't like it.

                                                                I've started a blog about some of the places I've been to on our travels. It's pretty young (only 2 entries so far) but I hope to continue it. The places I've been to are family owned. The next one I'm planning on doing is a small regional BBQ chain. I'm doing them because I want to get the word out to people. I highly doubt I'll ever do something on a large chain. The have an advertising budget. However, if something needs to be addressed I will.

                                                                DT

                                                                1. re: applehome

                                                                  Applehome, we are probably more alike than you'd like to think (especially since I like McDonalds fries). I rarely eat at chains, nor do I spend a lot of time on the Chains boards extolling its virtues. Most of my posts on that board were taken from local boards and moved there. I do think that people should try to eat less processed foods that chains tend to offer (for health reasons as opposed to taste reasons).

                                                                  However, I feel that if people want to talk about chains, they have a right to. I remember of posters lamenting that chains were the best food that they had in that area -- not because they weren't afraid of trying new things, but just because the chains did a better job than the mom and pops. If I hadn't had a few disgusting meals last year, I wouldn't really have understood. If they want to debate the merits of McDonalds fries versus Popeye's fries -- fine. Chains have a place. There is a separate Chains board, and it's easy to avoid those discussions if it's not your cup of tea. I didn't even realize that people were going on and on talking about how Taco Bell is the best Mexican food out there as I rarely visit that board. I don't agree with a lot of posts I see on Chowhound (and I'm sure there are plenty of posters who don't agree with me either -- oh, that crazy gal who likes to talk about the damn "energetics" of food. I demand to see scientific evidence of that because I don't believe in anything unless it comes from a peer-reviewed scientific journal.) But I appreciate their viewpoints (as I do yours) because it challenges people to think and question the status quo. This board probably needs passionate anti-Chain posters here to balance the pro-Chain people.

                                                                  btw, I wouldn't be surprised if there were some locals scoffing at non-American chains such as Pollo Campero, saying it's the TGIF version of the mom and pop chicken place down the street at inflated prices.

                                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                    Just for the record, I said "No one is saying the best Mexican food is at TB." I have no idea of course if anyone is or isn't but I was using it as an example because my biggest guilty pleasure is TB.

                                                                    DT

                                                                    1. re: Davwud

                                                                      I think that you've nailed it there, DT. For many of us chains are a guilty pleasure. I spend hours, and I mean hours searching out the best restaurants when I travel and locally. I'm always hunting for unusual and creative dishes that I find myself craving without having even tried them.

                                                                      But there are those certain guilty pleasures that we like to take advantage of on occasion. Here's an example:

                                                                      I was in St. Louis a couple of months ago, and the restaurants there are just wonderful. One of my all time favorite Italian restaurants is a family owned place that has mindblowing food. Anyway, I had an early flight for a morning meeting and I purposely didn't eat breakfast that morning so I could indulge in my guilty pleasure....White Castle. We don't have White Castle in Texas and it's something I love, but only on occasion. The thought of a regular diet of it is unbearable, and it is a guilty pleasure at the same time.

                                                                      Chain food isn't something I want or could eat everyday or week. I often go months without going to a chain. That doesn't mean it isn't something I can appreciate from time to time.

                                                                      1. re: FoodChic

                                                                        One of the things that has brought the biggest smile to my face was when a certain CHer tried their first Frito Chili Pie. This person is 75 and loved it.
                                                                        I certainly hope that when I'm 75 I'm still able to enjoy a simple little treat like that. As well as a nice hunk o cow at a great steakhouse.

                                                                        DT

                                                                        1. re: Davwud

                                                                          I always take my out-of-state guests to bbq so they can experience REAL Texas bbq. Most bbq joints offer Firto Pie, and I can't tell you how many people opt for Frito Pie as opposed to a wonderful slice of brisket.

                                                                          I'd rather have the brisket and smoked sausage any day.

                                                                          1. re: FoodChic

                                                                            I'd opt for BBQ too. Doesn't mean I don't see a spot I can slide it in. On our last trip "Down yonder" we at BBQ 3 times in 8 days and that was exactly enough. There's always room for both in my mind.

                                                                            DT

                                                                            1. re: FoodChic

                                                                              My wife introduced me to Frito Pie many years ago - I, of course, poo-pooed it as some sort of shortcut fast food invented by people who had no idea what food culture was about.

                                                                              But then, I had chilaquiles. Many different types of chilaquiles. Breakfast, lunch... whenever. And I understood where the humble Frito Pie came from. Yes it's border stuff - tex-mex or whatever - but it's a legitimate food evolution, as related to chilaquiles as crispy hamburger tacos are to the real thing.

                                                                      2. re: Miss Needle

                                                                        shit-- mcdonalds gives you plates now instead of the paper wrapper?!? and popeye's now has fries?!? when did this happen? i need to start eating at chains!!! :-P

                                                                        kidding. . . . kidding!

                                                                        seriously-- is there a mcdonalds somewhere (or somewhen) that gives you a plate? i'm sure that novelty exists somewhere, maybe in the nyc mcdonalds with the pianist. . .

                                                                    2. re: applehome

                                                                      What about Popeye's?? You stated "Popeye's is coming back - there are now 2 of them in Massachusetts, unfortunately, too far away for me to go to regularly." You also said "Much easier to drive to a Popeye's" when talking about making it at home.

                                                                      On this thread you said "Your liking McDonald's fries is hurting MY chances of getting the good stuff. And your insistence on talking about it here is making it easier for more people to keep going to McDonald's rather than creating a real desire to try, and eventually a demand and a market for the good stuff. The question really is - WHY SHOULDN'T I BE MAD?" Isn't going to Popeye's hurting your chances of getting a fried chicken place that has, as you call it "The good stuff??"

                                                                      So is this "All chains are bad" or is it "All chains that I dislike are bad. The one's I do like aren't bad"??

                                                                      DT

                                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                                        I appreciate your reply applehome. I follow some of your argument, and some I don't. I do not understand how having a place here to discuss chains interferes with your ability to find good food (so sorry that I do consider McDonald's fries to be good food - as did Julia Child when they were fried in tallow). I do believe the chains belong in a separate section, as they are inherently different than other types of restaurants. And I admit there is likely to be some overlap. People who come to the Elsewhere In America board for discussion about food in Hawaii often want to know what chains we have, but that rarely dominates the thread.

                                                                        But how is my talking about chains hurting you and making it easier for others to go to a chain?

                                                                        I do understand that you don't like chains and won't go to them (except possibly under duress). That is how I feel about shopping at the ginormous "super store" that dominates our economy. I simply refuse to shop there if i have any reasonable alternative. My friends know how I feel, but it doesn't stop them from shopping there.

                                                                        When Whole Foods opened here, another type of chain that shows up in that board, the other grocers had to change their ways. Safeway upped the ante by opening the largest safeway in the US a few months before Whole Foods opened. I can now find organic products at other grocery stores, rather than paying obscene prices at health food stores ($12 - $15 per pound for organic red bell peppers). Is that hurting the local health food stores. Yep, you bet it is. But where is the balance point? When Macaroni Grill opened here, other local restaurants had to find a way to compete. Maybe they couldn't match the price point, but they could fight back with better food, and several of them have. Those that want to keep serving the same food that was below "chain" standards are having problems. As well they should. People descry their demise, but they aren't eating there any more either.

                                                                        Most swords cut both ways, chains included.

                                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                          "But how is my talking about chains hurting you and making it easier for others to go to a chain? "

                                                                          Noise to signal ratio. It seems that every place eventually gets a rec on Chowhound. When Chowhounds are praising the chains, it really makes you wonder how valuable this site really is. it also paves the way for others to add to that noise.

                                                                          "When Macaroni Grill opened here, other local restaurants had to find a way to compete. Maybe they couldn't match the price point, but they could fight back with better food, and several of them have. Those that want to keep serving the same food that was below "chain" standards are having problems. As well they should."

                                                                          Your analysis is equating success with good food. That has never been the case. Plenty of lousy places fold as well as good places, and plenty of great and lousy places survive. It's a tough business under any condition, especially for the non-chain, and you'll have a tough time selling the 'quality wins out' theory to me.

                                                                          Here's my idea, and its not a theory but a fact. There is one and only one reason why chains will always do well. If not a specific chain, then chains in general. Because they offer one thing that an individual restaurant can never offer: When you walk into a chain you know exactly what to expect.

                                                                          When the public values that more than any other single factor, then the scales are tipped toward that one factor. Quality is hardly a consideration because that is a factor which can be managed by advertising. If they can get the public to salivate over a Wendy's Hamburger, then they can condition just about anything.

                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                            I think you have to remember something here. I all of us CHer's stopped going to chains it would probably barely register on the radar scale. They're looking for people who aren't looking for the "Something better". There's millions and millions and millions of them out there. They just want convenience and standards.
                                                                            We as hounds are more worried about the taste of it. If a chain has nothing you find tasty, so be it. There are many out there that I have tried to see what it's all about and found that it's crap. There are others who have some offerings that I enjoy. Especially in a pinch.

                                                                            When we head down to the in-laws I'm pretty strict about one thing when we go out. I don't want anything I can get at home. I can get a great steak, Italian, Greek, Indian, etc. here. I don't need to drive 15 hours. There are some exceptions like trying Red Robin or Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger or some such. Mostly because those chains aren't here. We also love a tiny little place on the square that make food and when it's gone, the place closes. I love that.

                                                                            To me, good food is where you find it. "Good food" is somewhat subjective though. For millions of course, it doesn't matter. It's just that McD's is at the corner so they don't have far to go.

                                                                            DT

                                                                            1. re: Davwud

                                                                              I am under no illusion that Chowhounds can save a great place or condemn a lousy one.

                                                                              Like Applehome, I disagree heartily with the premise of the OP. Chains are not an example of quality wins out., and a good Chowhound is part explorer, part detective. Chains do not enter into that equation.

                                                                      2. re: applehome

                                                                        So basically you cherry picked my argument to suit your argument. I said I try to find interesting places to try when we head to the in-laws. When returning it's too long a drive. We take at least two days to get there. One to get back.
                                                                        You also said that you were an hour out at 2pm. That's all very well and good. I'm an hour out at 2am. And I've driven all day. If I did what you did and didn't find anything I'm back at TB and I've wasted 15 minutes. Do that twice a day and there's an extra half hour it took me to get home. And what if that place had sucked?? You could've had a "Wonderful Big Mac" instead.

                                                                        Also, if you're slagging people for eating at chains/find foods they feel are good, why did you eat at McD's??

                                                                        What I get from this site is an idea of all the things I can find out there. I've found some great places on here and some places I've wanted to try but tipped off to avoid. I've found better things at places I eat at out of convenience.

                                                                        If you don't like chains, terrific, don't eat there. But don't eat there and then condemn someone else for doing it.

                                                                        I like what I like. I'm sorry if that isn't good enough for you.

                                                                        DT

                                                                        1. re: Davwud

                                                                          Well - my argument stands above with the answer to KM - but where do you get that I eat at McD's?

                                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                                            From you.

                                                                            "If you cannot or simply refuse to put in the effort to develop your palate beyond chains, just exactly what do you expect to get from this site? Hey, I had a wonderful Big Mac today. Yes! My McDonald's fries were just great!"

                                                                            However upon reading this post and re-reading your other, it seems I've misunderstood what you were saying.

                                                                            My apologies.

                                                                            DT

                                                                            1. re: Davwud

                                                                              Yes. My sardonic "wit" - or lack thereof - and my non-use of emoticons... it's a problem, I understand.

                                                                              I think I said about all I could with the response to Miss N. I eat at chains. Once in a great while. There are indeed foods one can't get without going to chains - Southern Fried Chicken in Boston, Fish tacos in Hawaii. But these are exceptions to the rule. What I don't do is celebrate it and talk about how wonderful they are. They don't need my help.

                                                                              I'd like to see less chains and more mom & pops in the world. I understand that means less consistency - but for every bad m&p there will be a great one - better than any chain. And it's that great one that I want people here to be talking about.

                                                                  2. Maybe I wouldn't hate chains so much if they weren't all clumped together along the commercial highway with their overdose of asphalt, obnoxious signage, and waste of electricity due to being lit up 24-7. Actually, I like Panera Bread very much. I only wish it were located in our downtown instead of next to Arby's and Ruby Tuesday's and others on the opposite side of downtown. And actually, it's not only chains where I dislike the food. Even most independent restaurants have mediocre quality where it tastes like everybody else's filet mignon or scampi. I guess it's the fact that chains have a corporate advantage- like having well off parents- to support them. They have the winning edge when it comes to business so they really ought to be superior in quality as well.

                                                                    1. The downside to consistency is the following traveler's nightmare (and I'd be willing to bet it's happened to many of you): You're looking for someplace to eat, and so if you're on an interstate you get off onto one of the secondary roads, either taking you out of your way or sometimes paralleling your route on the interstate, but where you don't have to exit; you do have to stop for traffic lights, though. So you get onto one of these, and you see the usual suspects: McD's, KFC, BK, Subway, whatever. Nothing there you want, so you keep going, not seeing anything in the way of a local place; or if you do, maybe it's something you're not in the mood for. Keep driving. And here's where it gets bad: after a few more miles you see... another McD's, another KFC, another BK. Same crap further down the road, with no viable alternatives in between! Not just a nightmare, a recurring nightmare.
                                                                      The point is, sure, chains are predictable: as someone said, you know what you're getting. That's also the problem - too much predictability entirely. People like them because the corporate offices spend lots of money on research to put together combinations that appeal to lots of people. A Big Mac is designed to appeal; it really doesn't taste bad, and it's cheap and predictable and there's one just a little ways down the road; is it any wonder chains proliferate? But I don't eat them. It's my choice to seek out local places with more diversity. Sure, I've had some bad meals at some places; but those have been more than balanced out by some great food, and even the bad meals were a learning experience, had a sense of adventure rather than the boring chains. Which I know about because I used to eat at them quite frequently when I was younger and broker and usually drunker, so I know whereof I speak. My taste and/or relationship to food has changed - matured, if you will - so I don't go there anymore. And if the local places get crowded out by the chains, then, yes, it's a bad thing, from my point of view. It's reduced the number of choices available to me.

                                                                      Chains serve a purpose, but there is a significant downside. Not much of a grand, sweeping conclusion, but there it is.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Bat Guano

                                                                        We thought our car's GPS would be good from a restaurant perspective, but it's completely out of date and seems to prefer the chains. Hence we use the "locate me" feature on the iPhone which gets us to some of the smaller places which don't have billboards or 150' signs on the highway.

                                                                        1. re: Caralien

                                                                          We know our route and plan ahead. I'll see if a certain place is the POI's but mostly I'll get an address and have Maggie lead us there.

                                                                          DT

                                                                          1. re: Davwud

                                                                            I used to plan ahead, with backup plans and alternates...drove my (now) husband nuts. Too many things en route which may be interesting at the last minute or we may not actually leave by 5am, by the time we pass town x the place is closed (or not yet open)...and the dog and cat are no help at all. Seriously, his old bumper sticker even stated "Dog is my copilot"! Bah