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Jan 8, 2009 07:50 AM

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 "]

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 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.