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So Your Friends Want to Go to A Chain Restaurant.... so What? :} [moved from Not About Food]

There have been so many threads on CH over the years along the lines of "My friends/family/coworkers/kidnappers & torturers are forcing me to eat mediocre food in some horrible chain restaurant. What will I do????" Forgetting the fact that none of us on CH want to eat mediocre (or really bad) food, there is the money factor as well- why would we want to pay for food unless it's really really good? But the reality is that going out to eat is not always just about the food.
Case in point and the reason I'm writing this thread: My friends helped my husband and I to move my parents into my apt. (Sidenote: it's a temporary situation thankfully but someone please help me!!!! :} ) Anyhow, when they suggested that we go to Fridays afterwards, there was absolutely no way in hell that I was going to suggest something else, no matter how much I loathe Fridays. I have nothing against chains if they're good (I actually just went to Legal Seafoods for the first time yesterday and loved it) but I really really dislike Fridays. However, I went. And guess what? I had a fantastic time! And this was despite the fact that the food was bad to meh. Life is too short and friends are too important. I say the next time your friends suggest a chain or a place you don't personally like- ask yourself if you've really been on equal footing with restaurant suggestions. It's one thing if you always go to subpar places that you haven't suggested. However, if they've gone to your ethnic and hole-in-the-wall places on a regular basis, do you really have cause to complain? Suck it up and enjoy the time with your friends....and plan the next outing yourself. At the very least, most chains have pretty good drinks.

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  1. At the very least, most chains have pretty good drinks.

    I have this theory. The people that complain here on this site about being invited to a chain or Diner.....or post something along the lines of.....What can I eat @ IHOP or The Olive Garden.....really just need to see their names in lights because they have nothing else going for them in their sad lives

    24 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      That's very likely; not every meal has to be about pleasing just you. Though I can understand looking for others opinions on dishes that aren't "that bad". IHOP is easy- have pancakes:} I doubt I'll ever have their eggs again once I realized that they add their pancake batter to their eggs to make them "fluffy". ???? Also, I find that there are quite a number of dishes at the Cheesecake Factory that most people I know seem to love, not just like. The Olive Garden as well is manageable- just don't expect a gourmet experience. But if you can consume bottled pasta sauce at home, then you can eat at the OG. I will remain forever in perplexity however when I've asked for grilled chicken on my pasta and they serve me chicken with crumbs on it. When I've inquired, I was told "it's grilled just like you asked." Oy vey. But it was edible:}

      1. re: NicoleFriedman

        Olive Garden= the McDonalds of sit down Italian food.

        1. re: NicoleFriedman

          IHOP has fairly decent Chicken Florentine Crepes, as long as you don't think too much about where the Holandaise comes from.

        2. re: fourunder

          While I agree with your sentiments, I don't agree with the extreme you went with your last statement. We usually avoid the chain places too but sometimes the group dynamics do not allow avoiding them on occasion. That being said, I have eaten at IHOP three times, I was disappointed by the burger/sandwich/fries the first two times so I went with pancakes the last time and found them to be mediocre. I can only recall eating at Olive Garden twice, once 20 years ago and the last time 7 or 8 years ago. The only good thing I can say about those meals is that someone else paid and the food was plentiful, but not memorable.

          1. re: John E.

            If it's been between 7 and 20 years since you dained to eat at one of these lowly dining for the unwashed masses establishments, how can you say ANYTHING about them?

            1. re: Mobiusring

              while I sorta agree, gotta ask - have they changed much? and isn't that part of the marketing strategy?

              1. re: Mobiusring

                You're right, I have no recollection of tje food from the first visit. I do recall the fettecini alfredo on the second as ok. What I do remember is the endless salad and breadsticks and how my SIL filled up on that on purpose and took her entire entree home. I am mostly opposed to Olive Garden on principle, not because it's a chain, but because the Italian food seems to be dumbed down to the lowest common consumer. If we're going out for Italian, I can think of 5 better places than Olive Garden. (All of my recent Olive Garden information is second hand and from TV commercials). That and there are so many new places to try, chain or not. I'm opposed to all chains per se, one of the best burgers you can get is at Village Inn, mostly I'm opposed to specific restaurant chains, IHOP and Outback Steakhouse because I think their food is mediocre. I think Olive Garden is to Italian food what Mimi's Cafe is to French food. I have been to Mimi's 3 times in the last 2+ years. I would have less of a problem with their food if they actually served some French food other than quiche. How about a cassoulet?

                1. re: John E.

                  You're not wrong, but you have to understand that another way of saying "lowest common denominator" is "largest possible audience." There's a reason that OG and Outback are consistently rated the #1 favorite dinner houses ion the country and they serve tens of millions of diners yearly and most are pretty happy with their food. They don't serve *bad* food, they serve *unadventurous* food, and for most people that is fine. It's the same for any nationwide business. Predictability is key and they do this quite well -- you can be sure the food is the same no matter what location you enter.

                  I vastly prefer local establishments too, but on balance I've had a lot more shitty food at Mom and Pop places than I have at chains.

                  1. re: acgold7

                    I understand exactly why they serve the food they do. I just would rather have an occasional bad meal at a first visut to a new, local place rather than another boring meal at OG or Oitback Steakhouse. My problem with Outback Steakhouse is nit so much the quality of the food, but the value. Since it is a cgain, shouldn't I get a dinner salad with my steak, seafood, or pasta meal? I understand it is not typical to get a salad wuth a burger, but I do like a salad with my meal. They aren't good enough to charge ala carte for everything like at Manny's or Morton's. That and two out of my three meals at Outback my steak was closer to MW rather than MR like I ordered it. I also rememer a server there sitting down in the booth next to me as he introducd himself. I already have enough friends, I did not wish him to become another. (I was eating there with an old high school buddy and when the waiter left, we looked at each other like "what was that about"?

                    1. re: John E.

                      oh John that's fodder for a whole other thread (and I think there are a few) but yeah ewww ya shoulda asked for a neck rub just to see where it'd get you. I'd chalk it up to corporate mgmt BS like the "flair" thing at Ruby's or wherever (I was dragged there once and swear I could NOT look directly at our server, lest I be cast into hell, OK I was a little hungover)

                      1. re: John E.

                        You do get a salad with your steak at Outback. You get your choice of two sides, of which a salad can be one. It's not a la carte at all.


                        Of course, if you want soup *and* salad *and* two sides with entree and then dessert... you gotta pay, or maybe you might be better off at a different place.

                        1. re: acgold7

                          I said that two out of my three meals were overcooked steaks. Check out the menu on the top right Outback favorites, salad is an extra $3.49.Maybe when I mentioned Manny's and Mortons, I made an unintended implication. I was not going to risk another bad steak so I ordered pasta, without a salad. It just is not a great restaurant for my tastes. If I'm going to a chain for a steak, I'll go to Texas Roadhouse.

                          1. re: John E.

                            >>>"shouldn't I get a dinner salad with my steak, seafood, or pasta meal?"<<<

                            You were the one who said you didn't get a salad with steak or seafood. I only posted the menu to show that, in fact, you do, most of the time. You can always cherry pick an abberational dish to make your point, but virtually all the steaks, most of the Seafood and most of the Favorites either specifically include the salad or let you get one free as an included side (exactly the same policy, by the way, as TR).

                            You absolutely have every right to your opinions about this place and I have no stake in whether anyone likes it or not. But you just shouldn't misrepresent the facts. This is a silly debate to have but erroneous assertions need correcting.

                            1. re: acgold7

                              I believe you have not read the Outback menu correctly. Every single one of the 'Outback Favorites' on the right menu column does come with a dinner salad, for an additional $3.49. So in fact, not only do not 'most' of the Outback Favorites "...specifically include the salad or let you get one free as an included side...", none of them (19 dishes) do. 

                              I  did not 'cherry pick' anything. I ordered a pasta with shrimp dish and it did not come with a salad. That's not the only reason I now choose not to eat at Outback, the bad steaks should have been enough, but somebody gave us a gift card to the place so I gave it another shot. You can pick my post apart all you want. Had I realized it was supposed to be a written deposition, I would have taken more care with my writing. I have now put in more effort in the posts on this topic than Outback is worth.

                              1. re: John E.

                                The local Outback in my area gives you a salad with any steak/beef dinner, but for the favorites, it's an additional $2.99. As such, I would imagine it's up to the specific location or ownership group to decide what is included or additional, based on the price they affix to any particular dish. Most of the Favorites menu is under $15, whereas on the Steak selections it is over $15

                                For the record, no salad is ever free.....it is always factored in the menu price if included.. In my opinion, restaurants should be praised for giving you the option to order it and saving you the money....rather then automatically including it in the price for those who do not want it.....

                                1. re: fourunder

                                  I realize that no salad is 'free'. But for the price of the pasta that I had (pasta is cheap) I thought a salad should have been included without an additional charge. These posts are really making tol much out of my initial salad comment. My point really is that there are chains out there with a better value and food that in my opinion is better than Outback.

                          2. re: acgold7

                            You used to get a decent sized, properly cooked, good steak there, too, with a large salad and terrific service. As one who used to regularly dine at Outback with family, it's fallen way too far to ever have my arse in a seat there again. Standards have tanked at every branch I'd been to in recent years, so I voted with my feet.

                            1. re: mcf

                              I'm not a regular @ Outback in general, but when I do go it's not to order the steak.....instead, I'll have the Crab Cakes for an appetizer and either The Rack of Lamb or the Prime Rib for entree. I have not noticed any decline in any of the three items on any occasion in any outlet I have ever been too.

                              1. re: fourunder

                                I have only ever gone there for steak, and years ago, the Outback special was a really good deal. I can tell you that they're thinner and lower quality steaks, they're not likely to be properly cooked to order as they once were and no one is coming around to make sure you're satisified on any consistent basis nor as attentive in any way. The steak and salads have shrunk considerably over the years, and I used to be a regular especially when I had a young child.

                                1. re: mcf

                                  Thanks and good to know. I have seen similar comments on this site as well.:0)

                                  1. re: fourunder

                                    We've definitely belabored the salad issue far more than it's worth, and I did mistype about the Favorites... thanks for the correction. I just wanted to clear up the misstatement that salads were not an available included option with steaks and seafood dinners, when clearly they are.

                                    1. re: acgold7

                                      Sometimes I am too stubborn for my own good. This is one of the times. The only menu items that come with a salad on the Outback menu to which YOU posted a link are the Signature Steaks. The King Crab for $35.99 does not even come with a salad, it is $3.49 extra. The same goes for every single item on the right side of the menu. Accept this fact and let it go.

                                      1. re: John E.

                                        The same goes for every single item on the right side of the menu. Accept this fact and let it go.

                                        Sorry John, but you are mistaken. First, the *Fresh Catch Salmon* entree clearly comes with a salad included in it description. Second, as policy, you can substitute any side/s offered with the entree and receive a side salad in its place on any menu item in the Favorites and Seafood Sections......and conversely, substitute the side salad with the salmon and receive another vegetable.

                                        I have verified the substitution policy with the Kitchen Manager @ Rochelle Park, NJ before posting this. .....and it reaffirms the information acgold7 provides upthread yesterday on the 19th @ 1:25am.


                                        1. re: fourunder

                                          Thanks for saving me the trouble of pointing that out. Even *I* am getting bored with seeing my posts about the stupid side salad. Although I will note that both the Crab and the Lobster come with two sides, of which the salad can be one. You could even get *two* salads if you want ;-).... and unless I am severely dyslexic, they are on the *right* side of the menu, which means John is on the *wrong* side of this silly debate, which all started when he said you can't get a salad included with your steak or seafood dinner.....

                                          Now can we please go back to talking about how everyone apparently thinks chains suck?

              2. Ended up at a TGIFriday's last week through circumstances beyond my control. Menu is truly horrifying but execution was ... not bad. Will never set foot in one again if I have a choice in it, but it was far from the worst meal I've ever had (and it's not even like it's a 7 out of 10, just maybe a 5.25*, but my expectations were so low that I was truly pleasantly surprised). And the menu is still horrifying.

                Life's too short to get your panties in a bunch over being invited out to Olive Garden.

                *biggest surprise was the side of steamed broccoli. Did not appear to have been frozen at any time in its life and color, texture and flavor were excellent.

                  1. re: MandalayVA

                    I say just the opposite - get something with lots of cream and butter - even if the stuff it's being served with is bad - the cream and butter will taste good!

                    1. re: MandalayVA

                      Last time (and I mean LAST) I went to one, I got a salad and it was horrifyingly bad. I would defer to the friends as the OP did, but I'd have a hard time walking into an Olive Garden. OTOH, I used to like Outback, met a friend at Bonefish Grill and had a really good meal and company, and I really like Legal Seafoods. I don't regularly go to any chains, having many good independent restos nearby, but if someone wants to meet at one, I'm happy to go and be with them.

                    2. What a great perspective and how good of you to remind us of this! I am in complete agreement--my friends and family members are more important to me than any meal I eat.

                      If an occasion is my birthday or a very special event for me (anniversary or something similar), then I don't mind speaking up about my preferences, especially if asked. Otherwise, I try to go with the flow, though I do draw the line at fast food restaurants other than rare occasions, because the whole "fast" part of it makes it not fun no matter how resigned to meh food I am.

                      We recently went out with friends to Buca de Beppo, which is definitely not my first pick for a dinner out, especially considering we drove for almost an hour to get there. We were two of ten people, we didn't drink alcohol, my husband is vegetarian, and I wasn't feeling well so didn't eat anything besides the app, yet our bill ended up being $60.00 including tip. Had we gone out alone, we could have eaten much better for that $60.00 but we wouldn't have had the enjoyable company of those friends on that evening.

                      12 Replies
                          1. re: hill food

                            I've come under that spell a number of times over the years.
                            Now I know what it's called...

                          2. re: jlhinwa

                            By dining with big eaters who ordered a lot of food, wine and desserts. We split the bill 4 ways just to make it easy but I will admit to choking a bit when I saw how high our share was considering how little we ate.

                            The company was great and we had a fun evening so it was worth it.

                            Edit: Just saw the posts above. Bingo! Love the "bill split voodo." Yep!

                            1. re: jlhinwa

                              What kind of "friends" would allow the bill to be split evenly when it was obvious the ordering was not even close to equal. I am usually good with splitting the bill, but if a friend only had an app and everyone else had dinner and drinks, I would cut out the friends part and divide evenly after that.

                              1. re: wadejay26

                                RE "I would cut out the friends' part": In that situation I did even better---I cut out the friends. I don't drink and they can't order mixed drinks and wine fast enough, then they liked to split the bill equally. After a few rounds of this I have had pressing business elsewhere every time they want to get together.

                                1. re: Querencia

                                  ehh when this was happening to me I was a student hanging out with friends in the working world and it honestly just didn't occur to them my 'share' (and part of theirs) might blow my budget for the week. I learned to swallow my pride, speak up and challenge their lazy accounting skills. we're still friends.

                                2. re: wadejay26

                                  I don't think they were really paying attention to how much we were (or weren't) eating. Buca de Beppo is family style service, so we had could have been loading up our plates, but we weren't.

                                  I wouldn't have cared about the bill being so out of balance but it just seemed crazy that we spent $60 at Buca de Beppo for little food and no alcohol.

                                  No big deal though...if it happens again we will be more careful but the evening was still a lot of fun and worthwhile.

                                  1. re: jlhinwa

                                    It can be a pain when it is family style, or when people say "Let's all order a bunch of plates and share!"

                                    You often get stuck paying for food you don't like, didn't order, and didn't eat. Or else you sound like a whiner when you say "All I ate was a small serving of the one vegetarian dish we ordered." Meanwhile everyone else is taking home all the leftovers of things you couldn't eat.

                                    1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                      yes and YOU get to be the "difficult" just another life-slap, sadly. one does want to get all P-A on their cars during a 'bathroom break' but ripping the windshield wiper blades off and inserting a tiny little pebble into the capstem of the tire and re-screwing the cap back on causing a slow leak is just really childish, however tempting, WE DON"T DO IT. resist the impulse. there are far better reasons than this.

                                      1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                        In such a situation, I say "OK," and then pay my share. If I enjoyed the meal, so much the better. If I did not, I only hope that the company covers it.


                              2. I'd happily go to Fridays, Chevys, or Chili's if friends wanted to go there. I absolutely would NOT go to the Olive Garden no matter how much they wanted to go. I'd say "have a good time" and let them go and then go home to make a better dinner myself.

                                I am not too snobby to enjoy a meal at some of the local chain restaurants, but I draw the line at Olive Garden.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Njchicaa

                                  I understand your sentiment - I've never been to an Olive Garden but I feel the same way about Applebee's. I agree with the OP in general - while I don't seek them out, I'm happy to go along with the crowd once in a while when they've chosen to meet at a Chili's, a TGI Friday's, or even a Cheesecake Factory. I'll find something I can eat. But Applebee's - never. I would literally rather eat at a McDonald's.

                                  1. re: BobB

                                    That's how I feel about Subway. I can find something to eat anywhere but there. Something about the texture of "fresh baked" bread and the general smell of every location I have had the misfortune to walk into. Luckily, since Subway is essentially fast food, they are often located in close proximity to other fast food establishments that I find less revolting.

                                2. "Life is too short and friends are too important."...
                                  ..."Anyhow, when they suggested that we go to Fridays afterwards, there was absolutely no way in hell that I was going to suggest something else, no matter how much I loathe Fridays."

                                  I like what you have to say and couldn't agree more. When a friend or friends offer to help or we ask for help, I usually have something in mind as a thank you but I always go by what they suggest or ask for, if they do so, because it is a clear communication, "I'd like this". So, they get what they want and like, not what I think they'd like. I'm glad you had fun! I went to a Fridays on an invite once and the saving factors for me were the fun my friends had and some kind of mud pie type dessert (I almost never eat ice cream) that was so fun and overly sweet and I ate the whole thing!

                                  1. It's been my experience that people often like chains because they are familiar and somewhat consistent and because it's more comfortable for them than experimenting with the hole-in-the-wall place in that one neighborhood that gets them out of the suburbs. Whenever my friends or family are making the plans or suggestions and we are headed to a chain, I smile and have a good time. It's simple enough to respond to someone's "OMG have you had the triple-decker burger thing here it's sooo good!" with "I'm sure it is! Have you had a chance to try hole-in-the-wall's burger? We should go sometime!!" and be the person who gets to turn them on to something special.

                                    1. I like your viewpoint. Most of my friends seem oblivious to food quality, and are content to eat at any old chain. Some family members are the same. And Mr. Sueatmo would always eat at chains if I wasn't such a pill. Not everyone wants to experiment on a Saturday afternoon after hours of work! I think you made the right choice. Friendship is more important than how the meal tastes.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                        "Not everyone wants to experiment on a Saturday after hours of work!" You hit the nail on the head. My husband LOVES really good food, be it Per Se or a dinky hole-in-the-wall. He was with my friends on wanting to go to Fridays, and he told me after how appreciate he was. They were all exhausted and wanted to go somewhere they could relax. I understood completely.

                                      2. If by "pretty good drinks" you mean a cold domestic draft beer, I agree. If you are talking cocktails.. Most chain drink menuus I've seen lean heavily on flavored vodka, Bicardi and overly sweet mixes-not my idea of a good drink.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: LeoLioness

                                          I didn't say fantastic drinks did I:) my point was not about the drinks but about making the most of the situation.

                                          1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                            I would say the cocktail programs at Friday's and all other chains are better than most restaurants and bars privately owned. The bartenders and waitstaff go through a training program for a minimum of two weeks to test their knowledge of drinks, i.e., ingredients and specifications. Unless they pass the test, both written and actual drink making f, the bar hires cannot work behind the bar or service bar.

                                            As an added note, the cocktails at chains are generally double pours and larger than mom and pops.

                                            1. re: fourunder

                                              I would say you must have some fairly dismal cocktail programs in your area if Friday's trumps the majority of them.

                                              Just because someone can make a Frozen Bahama Mama Mia (or similar) without looking it up doesn't make it a good drink to begin with...

                                              1. re: LeoLioness

                                                For reason's of plot, we found ourselves in a Friday's, and my husband ordered "gin martini, straight up, with a twist". The gin part was a bit of a stumper, but the two young women behind the bar conferred and got that sorted out. Ah, but the twist. What he eventually got was an adequate martini with three olives on a pick, and a slice of lemon floating in it.

                                                We mentioned it to a real bartender at a real bar we go to, and he was surprised ... he said Friday's has a rep for training their bartenders well.

                                              2. re: fourunder

                                                "As an added note, the cocktails at chains are generally double pours and larger than mom and pops."

                                                I've found just the opposite. At the chains where I have bartended, they either have an automated dispenser system or Accupour pourers. At the Applebees in my area (Kansas City) they use free pourers, but every bartender has to pass a pour test every single shift. The test involves pouring 2 oz, 1.5 oz, 1 oz, 3/4 oz, 1/2 oz, and 1/4 oz pours with no more than a 1/8 oz error. If they are off on more than two of their six pours, they get sent home.

                                                1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                                  whoa that's tight-assed, when I was a bartender we just had to free pour a simple shot (but then our customers weren't exactly known for their taste in the complex)

                                                  1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                                    A large part of what you cite has to do directly with whether the Chain is a Company owned store or by a licensed Franchisee. who decides what drink specifications should be......or dictated by individual State Statute. for example, in some states Happy Hours are permitted and in some they are not. In Florida, often the Happy Hour promotion will be 2 for 1 drinks, but in my state(NJ), they are not permitted, so to get around the statute they pour double sized drinks. There is a chain here in my area that easily pours 3+ ounce drinks and cocktails.... and 6+ ounces on wine.

                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                      I find the baroque US laws kinda fascinating.

                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        It definitely varies by town/state/franchise, because in MA there's no happy hour and the chain drinks are pitifully weak. They're also loaded with sour mix, which is the grossest thing on the planet, but that's a whole different topic.

                                                  2. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                    If they have a liquor license, can a martini be far away?

                                                2. I agree that occasionally going to a chain restaurant is not a bad thing. Usually there's something on the menu that you can enjoy, if you order the kind of foods that chain restaurants do decently.

                                                  If the other people are willing to go along to your hole in the wall or ethnic places even if they'd prefer chain restaurants then I'd go further and say that you are obliged to let them choose sometimes. If you insist that they go to your choice of restaurant, but you refuse to go to theirs, then you're being obnoxiously snobbish, and I'd support your friends and family in over-ruling your demands.

                                                  The people I do feel sorry for are the ones who are stuck always going to restaurants they dislike, because their friends or family refuse to consider any other alternatives. And that applies both to people always being forced to go to Chilis and Cheesecake Factory and those who are always being forced to go to funky hole-in-the wall places or fine dining restaurants.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                      "The people I do feel sorry for are the ones who are stuck always going to restaurants they dislike, because their friends or family refuse to consider any other alternatives. And that applies both to people always being forced to go to Chilis and Cheesecake Factory and those who are always being forced to go to funky hole-in-the wall places or fine dining restaurants."

                                                      I agree with this completely. Compromising is important.

                                                      There is one family that I eat out with about 4 times a year and they always choose a chain or AYCE restaurant. Would I normally choose these restaurants myself? No, but I always find *something* on the menu, or plan to eat something else elsewhere when the meal is done. I do this because I genuinely enjoy the company of this family, and would not give up spending time with them just because I would not necessarily choose the restaurants they choose.

                                                    2. The "EWWW, I'm being forced to eat a chain!" threads make me want to go postal.
                                                      IMO no one can be "forced" to go anywhere, and there's never a situation where "there's no other alternative." If anyone actually feels like any restaurant is unacceptable, they should not go. If they do go, they should make the best of it and not come whining to Chowhound. Eating somewhere that you wouldn't choose yourself is hardly the worst problem a person can have in life.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Samalicious

                                                        I work with some folks who love Chili's. I go there with them a few times a year? Do i love it? No. Would I choose it myself? No. Is it "horrible", "awful", or any of a number of other adjectives hurled at chains on this site? No. Last time, it was actually pretty OK. And I think of the "Apostrophe's" chains (Applebee's, Chili's, Max & Erma's, TGIFriday's, O'Charley's, etc.) Chili's is probably the worst.

                                                        I think some people just want something to gripe about.

                                                      2. I suck it up... or suggest something better in the same food and price range.

                                                        the irony of it all, is that most time the people who suggested the chain restaurant end up not liking the place anyway, and will never finish their plates.


                                                        1. I always find it puzzling when people group restaurants as high end, holes-in-the-wall or chains, as if there is no middle ground of reasonably priced local establishments serving well-made food.

                                                          1. I had to do chains quite often during an 18-month stint where I was mostly on the road. Some were just horrible (e.g. Bennigan's), some where a bit off the wall (ever been to a chain outlet location which has essentially become the neighborhood's lesbian bar? I have, and they even treated my straight coworker well), and some were freaking expensive for what they were.

                                                            But they weren't the Clown or the Chihuahua and they were generally inexpensive enough that we could pool our per diems and get a reasonable amount of sweet sweet booze. You learned not to deviate too much from what they were good at. And when you did, you learned to play with your food.

                                                            1. I eat at so very few true "chain restaurants," and not that many more "semi-chain" ones, that I just go along, keep my anticipation/anxiety at bay, and enjoy the company.

                                                              I was surprised by a Ruby Tuesday's recently, and actually enjoyed everything, more than I could have imagined.

                                                              I just go with the flow, and hope that the comradeship makes up for any culinary deficiencies.


                                                              1. "However, if they've gone to your ethnic and hole-in-the-wall places on a regular basis, do you really have cause to complain?"
                                                                If my dining companions who have insisted on Olive Garden and Friday's EVER consented to go with me to a hole in the wall ethnic place, I would be very happy. Also, shocked.

                                                                I deeply envy those who are more successful than I am at arguing chain lovers into going out for the occasional adventurous dinner. For me, the chain lovers would just as soon cancel our dinner plans and order take out.

                                                                1. My father thinks that Applebee's is haute cuisine. I seriously dislike these types of places that I call "freeze and fry" (most things are frozen and to make them edible, they deep fry them).

                                                                  However, I'm in a precarious situation involving my step-mother and when my father can get away to have dinner with me so we can see each other, and he picks Applebee's.... I'm there and I'll pay the bill, too. Company always trumps cuisine.

                                                                  Ultimately, if we can enjoy the company of our loved ones, then we have to find pleasure in that rather than the food (if the food is lacking). Of course the best situation is good food and good friends. That doesn't always come together, though. I would probably gently encourage away from chain restaurants, but I think if I do so, I have to be willing to pay. With chains, most of the entrees are under $15. If I want to go to a local, nicer place (and we have few where I live so the choices are limited), the entrees will be in the $20's or $30's. Sometimes it is a matter of economy.

                                                                  Here, though, I would hope that people could understand an aversion to poorly prepared food and that this is the one place someone could come to "vent" about it.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: velochic

                                                                    Company alway trumps cuisine ... beautifully said, and straight to the heart of the matter. Thank you for that.

                                                                    1. re: velochic

                                                                      "Company always trumps cuisine."

                                                                      True dat, unless the 'cuisine' is PF Chang's. Other than that, I'll eat anywhere my friends want to go, because they're my friends. Then again, because they're my friends, they never want to go to PF Chang's, so I'm safe!

                                                                    2. I agree, when you are going out with a group, a chain sometimes can't be avoided.

                                                                      I am a weird eater, in that my first love is REally GOOD, fresh, food, but I am usually able to find complete enjoyment in **bad food**...ie - I can always find something on ANY menu that I really do enjoy. (the item will be carefully selected). I can dig a plain burger or chain nacho's....things ,like that.. I remember YEARS ago Macaroni Grill had one of the most delicious dishes ever - some kind of pasta with spinach and pignoli nuts (it was a SHOCK!!)
                                                                      ..and I like allot of PF Changs menu...

                                                                      However, if it's my choice, or if it's just DH and I - I wouldnt go near a chain -even if the meal is free.
                                                                      But the reason is not the food, it's the atmosphere!

                                                                      There are always screaming kids running around, (or screaming adults, for that matter!), ....in general, they are LOUD, harshly lit,have sticky tables, nasty restrooms, etc..

                                                                      Anyone else, not care about the food - but dislike the general atmosphere of a chain?

                                                                      If we are in a large group, I can sort of distance myself from it all a bit, but in a small group - **UGH***

                                                                      8 Replies
                                                                      1. re: NellyNel

                                                                        I also can find something to eat and enjoy at most restaurants including chains, though not so much at fast food places. If I have the time, I check out the menu online and figure out what I will order. If I have a plan, I am happy.

                                                                        Chain restaurants do seem to have a certain type of atmosphere. I don't mind it so much because I am expecting it, and if I am there, it is probably because I am in one of "those" groups, i.e., a party with loud adults, noisy kids and difficult old people.

                                                                        1. re: jlhinwa

                                                                          "I don't mind it so much because I am expecting it, and if I am there, it is probably because I am in one of "those" groups, i.e., a party with loud adults, noisy kids and difficult old people."
                                                                          I love this quote. It is so true. Chains work for intergenerational groups. Especially groups of five or more, who decided to eat at 7pm on saturday night. Cuz you aren't getting a table at the place that serves the Best Burgers in America, but there's a 10 minute wait for a 6-top at the Applebee's.
                                                                          Also, I wonder how insufferable the people who get "dragged kicking and screaming into Chili's and what can I possible eat so I don't starve to death?!?" are once they get there. I mean, can't you just this once order a Flamin' Lasangatoni and enjoy the ride?

                                                                        2. re: NellyNel

                                                                          You raise an interesting point. I too recall that the atmospheres in such "sit down" chain places was bothersome - phoney, devoid of character. Since I also felt that way about the food, I haven't been to such an establishment since before W rented 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

                                                                          Perhaps I'm lucky that there are so many other types of restaurants near me and so few chains. Or maybe it's the fact that I don't think I know anyone who'd propose going there (at least not to me). Nevertheless, I'm quite glad I don't face the same connundrum as some other 'hounds - sounds awful.

                                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                                            I don't actually have many friends who'd propose such a place either, and am in a city with lots of better options in all price ranges. But I travel a lot on business, and sometimes must join the crowd at a place not of my choosing. It's OK - I don't starve. On the plus side, a lot of my travel is international so I get to try really interesting stuff. Next week: Sao Paulo.

                                                                            1. re: BobB

                                                                              Just promise us that you won't go to Applebee's while you're there.

                                                                          2. re: NellyNel

                                                                            There's also a group dynamic that sort of leans toward the medium. An individual may be open to something exotic, but a group requires something more common. You could say the group mindset is Highest Common Denominator of the individuals in the group.

                                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                              If the subject is chain restaurants, I'd say the 'lowest common deniminator' is more apropos.

                                                                          3. Agreed. People need to realize their view isn't the only one and it doesn't make it anymore right or wrong. I was especially amused by the "top 10 signs your friend is a bad cook" or whatever the article was about having processed and canned foods in their cupboard. The article should have been top sign you are a judgmental a..... #1, you start a thread on chowhound criticizing your "friends" culinary prowess.

                                                                            I've actually left a high end restaurant much more angry than any chain restaurant I've had bad food at because of the degree of getting ripped off. At a chain at least the damage is only around 30 a person at most while at the higher end restaurant, it can be upwards of 75+/ person.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: chezwhitey

                                                                              Word to the wise - the article you mention was based directly on a CH thread. That thread wasn't actually about infiltrating your friend's pantry and passing judgment, or about being an ungracious host. It was really just an excuse to list poor cooking habits. The poster who started the thread is actually quite upbeat, friendly and helpful to new posters and less experienced cooks. With the exception of a very few comments on that thread, I saw a lot more judgement and vitriol from the people criticizing it.

                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                hey cowboy - yeah if you can't make fun of the ones you love, well... (and I mean that with the deepest of sentiments - if an old friend DOESN'T ridicule me, then I think somewhere we've de-railed)

                                                                            2. I think some people are intimidated by non-chain restaurants because they don't know what to expect and they may be unfamiliar with certain ingredients. I remember going out to a restaurant with my parents years ago, and my mom was a little nervous about the menu. When she ordered a salad she said "I think I'll have the R-GULA I can still see the look on the waitresses face--she couldn't understand what my mother was ordering. I said quietly, she said the ARUGULA. My mom was sitting there red faced and I felt sorry for her. Nobody was trying to embarrass her but it worked out that way. Made her a little gun shy at unfamiliar restaurants.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                                                My mom had a similar experience once - this must have been close to 40 years ago, we were at an outdoor reception (my sister's graduation, I think). She saw a nice runny Brie for the first time in her life and loudly exclaimed, "Oh, the cheese is spoiled!" She was mortified when I (nascent foodie and not as thoughtful at 19 as I could have been) explained to her what it was.

                                                                              2. We live in a place with great local restaurants, some of which have decent price points. But there are times we want to make sure we don't run into any friends, clients or coworkers. And we have found that our local Bonefish Grill has good food, a nice atmosphere and terrific staff. We went for the first time expecting little and were very pleasantly surprised. The infamous Bang Bang Shrimp and Tuna Sashimi are both delicious. Even though it is a chain, we have chosen to return.

                                                                                1. Yes I am reminded of a thread where the OP was upset they got outvoted by a picky child. It was a large gathering of 3 generations of far-flung family on farily short notice. The way the OP carried on, I really had to wonder who exactly was the spoiled person in that situation, the adult or the child? Perhaps the OP was exaggerating (hard to read tone on the internet) and I do make allowances for the fact that chowhound is where we all get to come and be, well, spoiled brats about what we prefer to put in our mouths. But sometimes it is Not About the Food.

                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: julesrules

                                                                                    I did not see the post you described, but if I were in a large family group and one, picky child got got to decide where to eat, I would be upset too. In a family situation, it's easier to voice opposition to such a decision. I would feel the same if a one picky adult got to make the decision.

                                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                                      Well it wasn't my situation, but I think it was a case of the kid (or parents) "voicing opposition" to one of the OP's suggestions. It wasn't a matter of everyone being excited about this option and the kid chose something else. Anyway, it was really the OP's reaction that I thought was over the top, and really, no less "picky" or "spoiled" than the kid's. My preferences don't trump my in-laws (for example) just because I have foodier taste.

                                                                                      1. re: julesrules

                                                                                        I know what you mean. We have ended up at OCB more times than I care to admit and I have kept my mouth shut about wishing we'd go somewhere else every single time. It's not that the food is so terrible, it's that there are so many other places that we have not been to.

                                                                                    2. re: julesrules

                                                                                      <But sometimes it is Not About the Food>

                                                                                      23 years later I still hold it against my much older cousin for refusing to try dimsum when they visited us in London. We ended up eating at a McDonalds instead.

                                                                                    3. Most of my problems with chains isn't the food, it's the whole experience, or lack thereof. When I go out to eat dinner, it is always a special occasion when I want to make an evening of it. Relax, have a drink, slow down and have a nice meal with no rush. But chains seem to be about turning over tables, so the lights are bright, the waitstaff always ready to take your order, and the food arrives quickly, with each course right on the heels of the other--last time I went to one for a family get together, plates were removed the moment they were empty. It's just not my idea of a good time but to each his/her own.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                                                        I agree with you completely...but I think this thread has gotten sidetracked from my OP:} I had a great time at Fridays because I was with my husband and friends who had been there for me when I needed them. For me, as Julesrules said, it was "not about the food".

                                                                                      2. Thinking about this thread, I realized I go to Chilis and Outback when I want ethnic food.

                                                                                        I live in Asia, and these are both places where you get American food the exact way you get it in the US, rather than versions adapted to local tastes (ask me about Taiwanese Italian :-)). So we sometimes go specifically for things like popcorn shrimp, or spinach dip, or a burger with blue cheese and fries, or even fajitas (sadly, they're about as good as Mexican food gets locally).

                                                                                        The only chain I've vehemently avoided is Dennys, due to some really terrible meals there. I broke a 20 year streak when I was horribly jet lagged and had a 24 hour lay-over, and badly needed greasy, badly made breakfast food.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                                                                          This reminds me of a friend who, whenever he visits the US, wants to go to Joe's Crab Shack. Well, of course he does.
                                                                                          Maybe right now he is on some board posting about how he can't get any "authentic" popcorn shrimp in Koln.

                                                                                        2. Well this is Chowhound, not Face Book. So yes posters here are concerned about, well, food, sometimes to the detriment of friendship. I agree with you in general. But again think about the context on this website.

                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: PeterL

                                                                                            Obviously the context of this website is food. Did you read my OP? I started this thread because of the countless number of other threads and posts full of whining and more whining:} Please keep in mind that I do exaggerate, especially as I'm guilty myself of venting on CH. So maybe I'm being selfish in venting on this thread:} Look- I feel that CH is a fantastic site to discuss food and discuss/complain/analyze things that while important to us, most of us (I hope!) realize are small in the scheme of life. (Job? Love? Shelter? Basic food and water? ) However, there comes a point where you read thread after thread of someone equating a dinner at Denny's with Chernobyl and you have to pause. (At least I do.) I'm not suggesting that people don't vent about these places on CH because again, I would 100% be a hypocrite for saying that. All I'm saying is that your or my horrible meal at Friday's is not the same as being strangled by a pissed off cobra.

                                                                                            1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                                              Yeah, but have you ever been? strangled by a pissed off cobra that is?

                                                                                              That is just too funny!

                                                                                              Thanks for starting my day off with a good laugh, now I can spend six hours in a classroom without going batty.

                                                                                              1. re: NicoleFriedman

                                                                                                I'm really glad you started this thread, it was actually quite courageous of you. There's definitely a trend around here of bashing chains to score cool points on the board and I think it's cheesy.

                                                                                            2. I was moved by this thread to explore the Olive Garden menu online, and came across this abomination. What were they thinking???
                                                                                              Lasagna Fritta

                                                                                              Parmesan-breaded lasagna pieces, fried and served over alfredo sauce, topped with parmesan cheese and marinara sauce.

                                                                                              12 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                I think it is probably an abomination to Italians and a big seller for OG. Several years ago we used to occasionally go to Fazoli's (my mother liked it). They had a special on "Twice-cooked lasagna". I said to the clerk, "You mean it's reheated?" He did not think I was funny. (I still don't know what they meant with that description. I thought Fazoli's was ok for what they did. They closed all of their Twin Cities and Arizona restaurants a few years ago. The problem I have with restaurants serving that kind of food is that I can make most of it as good or better at home.

                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                  Del Posto serves refried lasagna on their lunch menu, though I don't believe they bread it.

                                                                                                  I've also refried lasagna when I was attempting to replicate Del Posto's 100 layer lasagna, though again, I didn't bread it. I did, however, serve it with bechamel and marinara sauce. It's pretty damned tasty.

                                                                                                  I suspect that Olive Garden's version isn't as good as Del Posto's (mine was a little out of proportion, so I make no claims about the goodness of it), but I don't think it's a completely nutso idea.

                                                                                                  1. re: Jacquilynne

                                                                                                    somebody on some cooking competition show did this a while back I wanna say Master Chef or something I think it was Ramsay who spat it out (big surprise, huh.)

                                                                                                    1. re: hill food

                                                                                                      On Next Food Network Star one of the chefs recently came up with - a tortilla fried lasagna.

                                                                                                      A piece of lasagna was rolled in a tortilla if I am correct, deep fried, then covered in cheese and sauce and baked.

                                                                                                      It was widely considered a failure in conception and execution, but I have to say - I thought it sounded delicious. Although, I didnt like how much gunk was on it, I really do dig the idea of deep fried macaroni of any kind!

                                                                                                        1. re: acgold7

                                                                                                          oh, I can't open that link, acgold, (site blocked) is it the recipe?

                                                                                                          1. re: NellyNel

                                                                                                            No, it's an snl sketch about things wrapped in other things and fried... try copying and pasting the link. Works for me but if no one else can get it to work I'll find another version....

                                                                                                          2. re: acgold7

                                                                                                            aw darn - sounds funny - I will just forward it home..


                                                                                                            1. re: NellyNel

                                                                                                              Maybe this one will wortk better:


                                                                                                              Anyway, just OT silliness...

                                                                                                          3. re: NellyNel

                                                                                                            Nelly - that was it! I thought maybe I was hallucinating and I appreciate the corroboration.

                                                                                                            doesn't sound terrible, although maybe college stoner food.

                                                                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                        They were thinking "WWPDD?" (what would Paula Deen do?) ;-)

                                                                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                                                                          Paula Deen would cook canned peas with a stick of butter and call it a recipe:


                                                                                                      2. great, just tell me what i'm supposed to order at Friday's. i have great tolerance for "pub type" chain restaurants or anything that has anyting at all edible. however we went to friday's out of laziness while on vacation and i ended up with a knotty hamburger that had no flavor. what should one order there?

                                                                                                        1. Have to say I agree quite strongly with the OP. I can love food, love cooking, be a bit of a "food snob" when I want to be and always on the lookout for new, original restaurants to try - and still make the most out of a mediocre chain meal if that's what other folks really want to enjoy. Heck, I don't mind some of them myself from time to time even if they're rarely a first choice.

                                                                                                          Some co-workers and I always do Benihana a few times a year and have a lot of fun, even if it's just simple stir-fry with a by-the-script "show"; nothing wrong with that yummy fresh chicken fried rice, and last time I got them to try a few sushi rolls for the first time in their lives while we were there. I actually like a couple things at Applebee's like their salads (dressing on the side, PLEASE) and spinach/artichoke dip. Bonefish can be good if you stick with simple stuff and not the overly done/sugary sauces. I used to like Outback every now and then when on the road but have definitely noticed a decline in quality in the last year or two there. But the basic steak has never been inedible and always cooked to my requested doneness.

                                                                                                          I travel a lot for work and when you're on 95/85 for 10 hours at a stretch, driving through the middle of nowhere, hungry and a sign comes up that there's a 24-hour Denny's at the next exit? Darn right I'm gonna eat there instead of trying to research on my iphone who locally might be open, what's their food, what are the reviews on line (if I can find any)...I want to get off and back on the road as fast as possible with a full belly.

                                                                                                          And on the friends/family thing...some of my extended family love some pretty crappy local, non-chain restaurants as well for big parties and gatherings. The perils of suburban New Jersey where sometimes the chains are at least somewhat dependable in what you get. Yet they're my family, and when they're hosting a dinner or gathering near their home for their kids/parents/etc? It's not my place to bitch and whine about the food if it doesn't meet my culinary standards. I'm there to see them and celebrate how THEY choose to do so.

                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: sockii

                                                                                                            I have to constantly remind myself NOT to be too adventurous at these places. If the menu says they are world famous for their wings, order the wings.

                                                                                                            Once at a New Jersey diner I noticed they served a Wilted Lettuce Salad. I think the cook steamed the romaine because it smelled like cabbage. I should have just stuck with a patty melt.

                                                                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                              I love my local independent Jersey diners, but it's definitely an issue finding what each does best. One near me makes an awesomely amazing grilled rib-eye, delicious chicken parm or yummy crab cake sandwiches...yet their salads suck as does almost everything else on their menu. Another does awesome salads and sandwiches, but their entrees are all hurl-worthy. I love diner food when done right, but I wouldn't dare state that they are all amazing just for being independently run. Diners tend to have huge menus and you need to know what to order to not end up with crap.

                                                                                                          2. The food is mediocre at Lucky Cheng's, but I will actively suggest eating there since it is always so much fun going there. On rare occasion, I will also suggest tolerating the food at Mars 2112, or Benihana/ Rainforest Cafe (when stuck in suburbia) because I am able to have a kitchy good time. Of course, the company has to be delightful. In these cases, it isn't about the food at all, it is about the atmosphere and conversation. Of course, I usually opt to combine these things with good food (i.e. Vatan, Tuscany, or Hangawi) but sometimes the experience you're looking far is less transporting and more just plain silly.

                                                                                                            That being said, I had my first Outback experience earlier this year at a birthday party, and it is quite a bit harder to compensate for truly awful food than mediocre. Copious alcohol was required, but I was told about a dozen times that night what a good friend I was for attending. Ditto with Fridays, which i actually suggested due to a complete lack of knowledge of kid-friendly places on Long Island (I'll be sure to search the threads should the need repeat itself).

                                                                                                            My point is, you need to look at the evening holistically, and find a combination of factors that make it a good time. Company, atmosphere, drinks and food all work together to dictate your enjoyment. It's frequently about the food, but it isn't always about the food.

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: lawgeekNYC

                                                                                                              lgNYC NEVER go to Friday's for brunch/lunch with a crushing hangover. "the flair, the horror, the flair"