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Macaroni Grill - What is the appeal????

My family adores this place. I hate it. So, I'm posting here partly to complain, partly in hopes someone can explain the attraction of this chain, and partly in the hope that someone out there knows of some heinous sin the chain has committed that might wean my family off this place. Please tell me they use slave labor....

The food is heavy. Each hapless cut of meat or sludge of overcooked pasta is deluged in thick, turgid, near-tasteless sauce, topped with just a sprinkling of pepper. There is no alternative. The only food on the menu that doesn't look and taste like it's been coated in Vaseline are the salads. For some reason, this appeals to people? I'm not a chain snob, really. I am fine with eating at a chain sometimes, and I realize the food at chains tends to be very heavy and rich. But this food is awful.

Also, if someone knows of any mid-level chain where there's better food, please let me know. Maybe I can get them to switch.

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  1. Thanks for sharing. My MIL lives in Reno where there's a MG. She doesn't like any kind of innovative food and I've wondered about going there. Glad to hear your opinion --- sounds like we'll just keep driving past.

    5 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      It appeals to those who love to think they are being adventurous, hence olive garden and some fancy Italian names that is basically just sauces and poor meat. However it makes the passive non cook or semi cook to really feel good and thinks he or she is eating good. It is marketing, something out, they make it sound fancy and great even though I know how it is cooked.

      But in their defense, it isn't all that bad I don't think so at least. Compared to fresh homemade, yes, it is bad. I have ate there many times with friends and clients cuz they love it. So I just eat and don't complain. And honestly my meal wasn't bad. I have taken some of their recipes and made them my own, a complete overhaul but the basic idea. But is a chain and we have to realize that.

      Overall, I would go if someone asked me. It is heavy and rich, but that is how Italian Chain Restaurants are for the most part. Then tend to cover up the lack of flavor with sauce.

      So if they like it, go eat and just enjoy the night. Friends, family and having a good night is way more important than having a great meal. Just enjoy the time with them.

      Me I wouldn't suggest, just go with it. Next time mention to them you would pick the place and try something you like. It makes them feel good and you get your pick too.

      I can eat anything and am not picky, so I don't mind. If with friends and having fun, that is way more important to me.

      Olive garden to me, love the soup and salad, the rest. There was one dish with pasta and sausage and an alfredo sauce. I can home and remade it, my version. I so much liked it better. Fresh and not drowning in sauce, but overall the same flavor.

      So, each his own and I realize this but it isn't too bad. Whatever you do, just enjoy the evening

      1. re: kchurchill5

        I can't enjoy a place like Olive Garden because I feel I am wasting money, if I'm going to pay somebody to make my food, it better be good.

        1. re: James Cristinian

          You have just discounted 99% of the food businesses available to you. :-)

          1. re: fourunder

            Not all, just the bad ones, and it does happen to be a high percentage. The last chain I ate at was Maggiano's, even with a gift card I felt as though I'd been fleeced. I haven't had fast food in over a year.

          2. re: James Cristinian

            I wouldn't go by myself, but if my friends liked it ... of course I would go with them. I'm enjoying them more than food. Like I said let them choose once and me a second time. Most and the majority don't eat like me and simple chain food is what they like. They are not adventurous and food means nothing to them so to me, the company well is more important than the food.

      2. Haha, I agree with you. I think that the appeal to Macaroni Grill is that it is a really safe place to go if you're not an adventurous eater but want something a step above other chains. They have really basic Italian things on their menu. I do agree that it is heavy, lots of cheese or sauce. Mid-level chains to try might be P.F. Changs, (a fabulous Chinese place), Chipotle, Pei-Wei, (owned by P.F. Changs), California Pizza Kitchen, Cantina Laredo to name a few. I hope this helps!

        8 Replies
        1. re: nyc_girl13

          P. F. Changs is "A fabulous Chinese Place"? nyc girl13, I have an issue with Fabulous, and Chinese when used in concert with P.F.Changs.

          1. re: currymouth

            I couldn't agree more with your not agreeing to PF Changs being called a fabulous Chinese Place, I first went to one in '96 or '97 in Phoenix. It was more of a happy hour place and we stuck around after some drinks to eat, nothing memorable. I have tried a couple of other locations over the years and it has managed to get worse each time. At one point the lettuce wraps were good, but no longer. I find that I can make Chinese (at least Americanized Chinese) better at home.

            1. re: roro1831

              Went to a PF Changs for the first time a month or so ago, as from time to time I would read good things about it. BLEH! Food was really not good at all. I get much better food from any number of delivery places where I am

              1. re: bnemes3343

                I agree Chains have their place in the American Landscape, I love Popeyes, Dennys, and KFC and would not hesitate to stop at a White Castle if there was not a fine CH worthy joint near by. But, I am truly afraid that when this economic melt down is history and all the independent, mom and pop, and love of cooking joints have gone under and only the Conglomerate Restaurants remain, we are left with a generation of kids who consider TGIF, Olive Garden,Bone Fish Grill, Cheese Cake Factory,Olive Garden, P.F.Changs,Macaroni Grill,et al to be " Dining Out ". Unfortunately their parents do. And God help us all.

                1. re: currymouth

                  I'd LOVE if there were a White Castle/Krystal in my area. Sadly, it's either the usual chain burger joints OR gourmet seared ahi tuna sliders on brioche (3 for $15).

                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                    Where the hell do you live? and can I stay over?

            2. re: currymouth

              Okay, I should not have used "fabulous" for P.F. Chang's, buy compared to other chains it is in my opinion. I probably haven't been there in about 3 years. And I very rarely eat at chains. It's been a very long time since I've had a meal at a chain restaurant. But comparing P.F. Chang's to other chains, I think it's way better. And the quality probably has gone down in the last three years for sure, so I don't know what it's like now.

              1. re: nyc_girl13

                And the quality probably has gone down in the last three years for sure,

                This is a consistent misconception of chain restaurants in my opinion.....and in this case of PF Chang's. Although I agree with (currymouth) on his opinion with regards to the Chinese reference......it is a very well thought out concept and a very well run chain nationally, as well as, each location specific......so fabulous is arguable.

                For the record, I will not eat in a PFC in my area, but I will when I am traveling if I am not familiar with any local restaurants. However, I do go to a local PFC for drinks at the bar.

            1. Olive Garden is better than RMG. And I hate Olive Garden.

              1. I sort of like their Spaghetti and Meatballs ... it's appealing in a Chef-Boyardee sort of way.

                An alternative chain to try might be Houston's.

                1. And you were expecting Italian? I'd rather eat Spaghetti O's out of the can.

                  1. When they first opened (in the SF Bay Area anyway), Macaroni Grill featured singing waiters - and I mean decent singing. I don't think they do that anymore, do they? I kind of liked the concept but maybe it just didn't work.

                    Also, when I first went to a MG, the open floor plan restaurant thing was pretty novel. Also, the bread and dipping oil were good. I haven't been in a while but the last time, the menu was kind of ordinary and my favorite dish ( a manicotti) had disappeared. As far as mid-level Italian chains, I'd say Maggianos or Buca di Beppo are better.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: swissgirl

                      The bread and dipping oil were very good -- in fact, that's what I remember most about the food, other than how salty everything else always was.

                      We haven't gone back in years; we have some locally owned mid-range Italian joints that are better and cheaper.

                      1. re: swissgirl

                        They did have singing servers, I worked at the first one in my town and there were several servers as well as a couple of hostesses who sang, and they were all training to be professional opera singers and were really, really good.

                        Shortly after I left they downgraded to a cheaper olive oil and quit using Reggiano to grate over the food. Then they went to those cheapie hand-grater machines like at OG instead of holding a block of cheese and grating it. It just got cheaper and cheaper and I recently heard they no longer make all their sauces from scratch every day, which they did when I started, and they don't even get fresh chicken breast in any longer, it's pre-cooked. These kind of shortcuts really brought the place down to the same level as all other chains IMO and are very disappointing. They had a lot more/different choices when they opened than what they have now, which is like a carbon copy of every other Italian place. When I started, the entire MENU was in Italian and you have to learn how to pronounce everything and what it meant, it was a really different place and they had a lot of high quality standards for the servers, which seem to be gone. We had to have a 100% cotton, broadcloth oxford shirt with a collar that buttons-down(no cheapie poly shirt or a blend) with a crease in the sleeve for example, and you had to have various things that were part of your uniform and you were inspected at the beginning of the night and if you didn't measure up, you were sent home. I was proud to work there because they were so different, now they're just like everyone else.

                        It's too bad.

                        1. re: rockandroller1

                          Yes. I remember the menu used to be in Italian. When MG came on the scene, the idea seemed to be "dining in an Italian courtyard" with singing waiters, those giant wine bottles on display and really good, fresh food. But it sounds like the concept devolved into an ordinary Italian chain restuarant over the years. No doubt, some cost-cutters nibbled away at everything, even the high-standard dress code. That's an interesting tidbit.

                        2. re: swissgirl

                          Swissgirl - i'd forgotten about the singing waiters! and OH that warm, lightly salt-crusted foccacia with the olive oil for dipping was out of this world. I think I had my first glass of Chianti at a MG. But it isn't like that anymore, and the one near us went out of business without me even realizing it (it's been that long!)

                        3. I feel your pain dicey. I live just north of Dallas, home of all the Brinker concepts you've heard of and some you haven't (Cozymel's, Spageddies, Eatzi's anyone?).

                          If you want your family to go someplace else, you might mention the nutritional information of their favorite RMG items. For example:

                          Macaroni Grill Spaghetti and Meatballs with Meat Sauce 2,430 calories
                          128 g fat 207 g carbs 5,290 mg sodium

                          Brick-Oven Meatball Sandwich, ,1890 calories 115g fat 149 g carbs 4660 mg sodium

                          Carmela's Chicken Rigatoni, 1310 calories 85g fat 149 g carbs 1540 mg sodium

                          Those are three items I picked randomly. Do a search for Macaroni Grill nutritional information and you'll be able to find any entree you want.

                          As for suggestions, you don't mention where you live but Johnny Carino's isn't a bad alternative.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Hippiepoet

                            Those Brinker names -Spageddies, Eatzi's and Cozymel's- sound like a marketing department run amok. Let's take Cozumel and add a "Y"! I work in Marketing and have had to come up with product names; it can be a difficult task but those are just bad. I hope the actual restaurants are better than the names.

                          2. dicey12,

                            My family adores this place. I hate it. So, I'm posting here partly to complain, partly in hopes someone can explain the attraction of this chain, and partly in the hope that someone out there knows of some heinous sin the chain has committed that might wean my family off this place. Please tell me they use slave labor...

                            So you do not like The Macaroni Grille....that's fine.... you asked for a reason to dislike the chain.....but instead, I am going to provide you the opposite and a reason to like the chain........ and here is a good reason......they are owned by Brinker International Restaurants and they provided the seed money to start the Susan B Komen Foundation. Nancy Brinker was the sister of the late Susan B Komen and Nancy was married to Norman Brinker. Brinker International Restaurants quietly raises millions of dollars annually without any sought after attention through their charity efforts.....to date, the Susan B Komen Foundation has raised over a billion dollars for Women's Breast Cancer Research.........without the original funding form the Brinker's and their continued efforts.....this would not have been possible.



                            2 Replies
                            1. re: fourunder

                              You are confusing Brinker International with Macaroni Grill. We can applaud Brinker's charitable contributions (which is often outstanding) while disliking the Macaroni Grill.

                              1. re: Hippiepoet


                                I didn't say you had to eat there.....I only offered an reason to like it...or applaud it in your vernacular

                                Without Brinker , there is no Macaroni Grill.....or the Susan B Komen Foundation....I am not confused about anythying.

                            2. Years ago, I somehow ended up with a gift certificate to this place. I got some macaroni dish in a white sauce. The macaroni was rubbery, and the sauce was like hot salty library paste. Clearly, the pasta is just a delivery vector for salty, creamy, buttery sauce. They should offer some sort of discount where they just hold the pasta and give you a tall hot glass of sauce. And a straw.

                              1. When the macaroni grill first opened here in NJ, they were pretty innovative for a chain. Good fresh ingredients, home made pasta, in fact everything was made in house. Over the years things changed, until nothing was made in the store. It's all shipped in, sauces (except the alfredo), soups, desserts, everything. The chicken doesn't even taste like chicken. It tastes more like whatever a mcnugget is made from. Not to mention the saltiness, which has been a longtime complaint. The macaroni grill was also sold by Brinker last year, although, it still has a controlling interest. The one by me closed last year, and I predict the rest will follow suit if things don't change.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: timbug

                                  It's sad, what's happened to it. I opened the Holmdel, NJ store.

                                  1. re: rockandroller1

                                    I haven't been to the Macaroni Grill in Ramsey for years, but it really was not that bad as people say now. I remember the singing waiter and the fresh focaccia bread with dispensed olive oil vividly. Sorry I can't speak for the quality issues now. About three years ago if memory serves me, I ate at a MG in the Tampa airport, and ordered the Breaded Chicken Cutlet with Salad Greens.....perfectly fine and no complaints.

                                    1. re: fourunder

                                      I've ate their too and had a great salad for lunch

                                        1. re: fourunder

                                          Whoo Hoo, should I break out the cheap champagne, lol. The good stuff :)

                                      1. re: fourunder

                                        Chicken Milanese? Off the menu many years ago. All the decent dishes went

                                      2. re: rockandroller1

                                        I worked in Holmdel for many years. It closed in November

                                      3. re: timbug

                                        Oh, that explains it: I ate at a Macaroni Grill eight or nine years ago, and while it wasn't fabulous, I thought it was okay, and they did have fresh ingredients.

                                      4. Macaroni Grill - Edison NJ makes an Amazing dessert!

                                        Fried Ravioli with crushed peanuts caramel chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Oh My!

                                        1. Here in St. Louis, there's a tradition of fine family-owned Italian restaurants, both fine dining and casual, and it's shocking to me how well Macaroni and the OG do. Frankly, I think part of their appeal is the ease in parking. Unlike the locals, they can afford the rent on outlying real estate around shopping centers, both large and small, so they put them there, with their big lots. And St. Louisans seem to hate to walk more than half a block or so to get to a restaurants. Unless they're CHers, of course. It certainly can't be the food.

                                          1. I'm not normally a fan of chains, but went to MG for the first time recently (with in-laws) and found it actually pretty decent and a good value. Maybe we ordered well - i got a three-courses for $12 special that came with an ok caesar salad, a very rich and saucy chicken/ricotta manicotti-type dish (I ate about a third and then we split the leftovers for lunch), and a great dessert - "lemon passion", which was like a citrus tres leches cake. my husband's spinach, prosciutto, and scallop dish was also good (included lots of fresh lemon and roasted garlic and the scallops were big and perfectly cooked), and the bread/olive oil and apps were fine - bruschetta with fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and sliced parm and slightly undercooked mushrooms stuffed with what tasted like real crab. Even the house chardonnay was drinkable at $5 a (very full) glass. I still prefer to go to non-chain restaurants when I'm choosing (we live in NYC and Boston, after all!), but as far as suburban Colorado goes it was one of the better places we've been to on our visits out here.

                                            1. Well, out of town and was stuck due to a rescheduled meeting. Hungry, no starved, MG was around the corner. I had a great dinner, decent wine, I was happy and stuffed and the price was very reasonable. I normally would choose MG, but I didn't feel like driving and it was a 2 minute walk. I like a open fun restaurant, no quiet white linen clothes for me when it is a simple middle of the week meal. I just don't enjoy them much. I like being relaxed. I would definitely go back again based on what I had. Granted it ... not the best food, but definitely very good.

                                              1. how about some of those new meditteranean dishes i keep seeing on tv- has anyone had those? they look good and i have a $50 gift card to spend

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: toncasmo

                                                  The scallop-spinach dish I mentioned in my previous post was from that menu, as was a shrimp dish that my FIL ordered and liked (which the servers made a point of mentioning had been changed to include jumbo shrimp, which were indeed pretty big.)

                                                2. My family and friends have always argued about which Italian restaurants pass the grade, and we have some superb establishments in Fresno. Macaroni Grill has been a safe, middle of the road alternative for the bickering crowd, not great but enjoyable. Like Olive Garden, I personally find their sauces and use of oil a little heavy handed, but a lot of people seem to like that. And they don't break the budget. Want something better, you gotta spend a little more.