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Feb 4, 2010 02:49 PM

Are Chain Restaurants a good or bad thing?

What are your thoughts about Chain Restaurants? Do you think it's a valuable asset to our community? It does provide consistency, and value. However, is there a problem with the mainstream food that is on the menus? It does seem like the menu is targeted towards a specific age group. But couldn't one say that it is a good 'transition' for younger people to approach eating out at restaurant instead of at the food courts at shopping malls?

I've been reading the posts on this board for a while, and I've never seen the selection of restaurants such as Earls, Joey's and Cactus Club been mentioned for any of the suggestions to eat in Vancouver.

Just wondering what your thoughts are.

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  1. I think there is a Chains board on Chowhound that probably talks about this topic exclusively. If you mean why don't local Hounds recommend chains to visitors etc, one answer is that sometimes they do. Someone just suggested The Keg in Yaletown for a birthday dinner, and White Spot is often mentioned as an "only in BC" option.

    The whole "casual fine dining" category, under which most people would likely put the establishments you mention, frankly drives me a bit crazy in Vancouver. There are SO many of them, and they seem so similar. The food isn't necessarily bad but there is nothing distinctive about it. You can't tell if you're in one resto vs another, with the same designers, the same wait staff, the same menus. Not very interesting IMO though probably safe and consistent as you note. But good value? I rather think not. When I do end up eating at these places (work-related reasons only), I always find that my wallet is much lighter than it would have been in an independent restaurant of my choice. But perhaps it is the portion sizes that create value for you? Well, I'd rather pay less for a smaller portion, thanks.

    If these places are in fact a way for younger people to segue from food courts, I suppose that is a good thing. I can't help thinking that they aren't all that different from shopping mall offerings, with dumbed-down versions of international foods and bland flavouring. Those are my somewhat curmudeonly thoughts, since you asked :-).

    1 Reply
    1. re: grayelf

      To expand on the Value proposition of Indies vs Chains...

      There is a perception that Chains are inexpensive relative to their Indie counterparts.

      Bacon-Cheese Hamburger prices:

      Cactus Club (Chain) - $14.50
      Earl's (Chain) - $13.55
      Hamilton St Grill (Indie) - $12.00
      Refuel (Indie) - $14.50

      I guarantee you that the burgers at HSG and Refuel are head and shoulders better than the Chains.

      As far as Chains being some sort of gateway to Fine Dining...I think there is some truth to this (drawing from my own experiences growing up). Also, I can imagine a bunch of high school teenagers meeting up at Earl's or Cactus Club...but I can't really say the same for Refuel or HSG. (I boils down to the marketing and positioning.)

    2. I too will only eat at these restaurants when a rep is taking me out and PAYING! I think they're horribly over-priced for average food. I would never pay with my own money to eat at any of them. Now, I'm not saying there's not a couple of bright spots on the menu in a couple of these places, but in general there's not much to rave about. For the prices there is much better dining one can do!

      I do love Whitespot still though. That happens to be because it was my fave as a kid and it's comforting for that reason...and I still love the burgers though I visit once every three months or so now when I get the old craving!

      1. Sometimes we do recommend a chain, when the circumstances call for it - e.g. a large group of extended family, varied in age, with some picky eaters.

        1 Reply
        1. re: victoriafoodie

          Same here. I would recommend CFD places with those circumstances. Office lunches, for example.

        2. I have to say, I like Whitespot too but only the classic menu items. Good burgers and I like the club sandwich. The fries are good too. It's a good lunch place.

          2 Replies
          1. re: tdeane

            +1 on the Whitespot Triple-O. I always have a hankering whenever I drive past one.

            1. re: fmed

              There is something about a Burger at triple O's. It always ways makes me crave one. I feel guilty for wanting one every tuesday when its cheaper too.

          2. I think people don't recommend chains in Vancouver because there is much better and unique food for better value at non-chain restaurants.

            For example, the last time I went to Earls with my sister we spent $80. For cheaper or the same price my sister and I have much more interesting meals at Guu with Garlic, Tapastree and Aki's.

            Although I think chain restaurants serve a purpose. I ate my fair share of catus club, milestone, & joeys when I was younger. I think those expereince refined what taste preferences I have and it gave me a sense for the level of service you should expect at restaurants. Also you don't know what great food is until you've eaten bad food.

            But I still like White Spot and The Keg.

            12 Replies
            1. re: moyenchow

              nothing wrong with chains,they definetely have their place, unfortunately there is that element of food snobs who believe that to be a true foodie you gotta hate chains

              1. re: vandan

                There is nothing "wrong" with chains per se. As stated above, they're consistent and provide atmosphere that some people like.

                But, I'm pretty sure there are many reasons (also stated above) that (most) people on this board don't like CFD's, and I don't think, at least for the most part, they are because they're trying to fit in with other foodies.

                Sushi Tacos, Over-priced Burgers, and Santa Fe Chicken Salads don't do it for me. Does this make me a snob?

                1. re: Cancuk

                  no it doesn"t, and i ididn't say it applied to all, nor was it in any way specifically about this board

                  1. re: vandan

                    I didn't get that from your comment, vandan -- I thought you meant that some people who call themselves foodies set up rigid guidelines about what "good" food is and refuse to deviate from them even when faced with the awful reality that some snacks at some CFDs are in fact tasty :-). I don't call myself a foodie or a snob, but I guess some people might, and I'd be okay with that as long as they understand that I will eat good food with good value anywhere anytime.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      yup greyelf, you got exactly what i was saying, and i guess seem to convey it better than i , thanks

                      1. re: vandan

                        Not too long ago before the Rob Thomas concert we had a dining dilemma where I wanted to go to Cibo, they wanted Moxies but we ended up settling at Milestones in Yaletown.

                        My personal bill was $50 including 2 glasses of wine & tip. When we were walking to the concert I said to my friends, "We could have had a burger at Hamilton St. Grill here for cheaper". I got told I was a food snob & that they had enjoyed the food just fine & I should lighten up. They went on to tell me they couldn't even understand the menu at Cibo meaning who would eat that?!

                        I told them I was only trying to say that it would have been fine if the food was GOOD for the price I paid! I know this (me) "trailer trash in new shoes" is not a snob! ;-) Oh, and I don't think vandan was saying I was either...but I did ponder it...

                        1. re: ck1234

                          haha, so what convinced you otherwise?

                          1. re: vandan

                            Well, you said, " unfortunately there is that element of food snobs who believe that to be a true foodie you gotta hate chains".

                            I don't hate chains, I just don't like paying for them! =D

                2. re: vandan

                  - i am not anti-chain, but i find these places boring and the ambiance contrived. chains are vital: they make it possible for something truly novel and inspired to actually surface- they act as aesthetic counterweights. my preference for, say, oolichans at the ovaltine- over a chain- is not based in elitism. rather, it is based in experience. patrons at places like cactus club, joey's, milestones, etc. tend to exhibit particular social behaviours and mannerisms that- to be frank- irk me. it is like the difference between a double- bill of tarkovsky at the ridge theater ( try 10 years ago ) and ' sex and the city ' at a metroplex somewhere.

                  1. re: slugsunderfoot

                    Just a side comment, but what restaurants aren't contrived? Restaurants that even care about their ambiance are contrived and meticulously planned to evoke a sense of place - a specific atmosphere. For the most part, they weren't accidents! ;) It's not just a chain thing.

                    1. re: Florentine

                      - fair enough. yet, somehow- a plate of oolichans at the ovaltine cafe fails to feel contrived to me; whereas the croonings of sinatra or doris day on a canned sound- system while i am bagging some tomatoes at urban fare, does. one experience ' feels ' authentic. the other experience feels ( to me, anyway ) ' manufactured ' .