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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.
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    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.

                        http://www.outback.com/menu/pdf/C174.pdf

                        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.

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8018...

                                        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

                            LOL!
                            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.

                                        Hunt

                              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.