I don't like many of these. I especially don't like Cheesecake Factory. It is impossible to find anything remotely healthy on the menu. The food isn't cheap either. I think Red Robin is OK, for a chain. You can get a variety of burgers, which is what I would order. I believe they will put a burger in lettuce for you, which I have learned to like. But I have actually found that Ruby Tuesday has improved their food, based on pretty recent examples. Service is usually good, and the food bar is decent, if too heavy on carb heavy prepared salads. But I can actually find appealing menu choices, and I haven't had any probs with preparation.
I detest Cracker Barrel, but Mr. Sueatmo and his family love it. The food there is really homestyle, and I don't mean that in a good way. It just isn't very good, but oddly, I find the food for what it is, decently prepared. I still detest it though. It is like the Branson of chains. I'm really surprised to find it on a Forbes list.
LOL @ Dead Robin. We called it Red Rotten years ago, after a very contentious visit in which a server insisted to us that a white creamy dressing was french because "That's what the label says."
So we stayed away for years, until a new one opened very close to our house, and gave it another try.
I'm going to put in a qualified plug for Baja Fresh. I ate there recently, and had the fish tacos. I got them grilled, and they were excellent. The fish is wahoo, and the guy actually grills it right before your eyes. Also, the salsas are really fresh and flavorful.
I say qualified plug because Mrs. W went last week and got the fish taco combo -one grilled and one fried. She also loved the grilled, but told me the fried fish taco was disgusting.
So, bottom line -- healthier is better in this case.
re: Bob W
At my age, I rarely order nachos any more, regardless of how sinfully good they might be. To think that many years ago I would actually order an Awesome Blossom at Outback and eat most of it myself.
I wouldn't even bother with the plain chips at Baja Fresh, but as a delivery mechanism for their excellent salsas, I can't resist.
Wow, This list represents what the average American considers as good food and now we know why chains are busy.
When I looked at that list I was thinking about my relatives and friends who don't live in America and if I took them to these chains what would I say:
Cheesecake Factory: This is why Americans are so fat.
PF Changs: This is why Americans don't know what good Asian food is.
Red Lobster: This is why Americans don't like seafood - because they think it tastes like this.
Golden Corral: This is the way America tries to kill it's seniors off.
Applebee's, TGIFriday's, Red Robin (burgers excluded at RR): This is where we train people to like highly processed frozen foods.
Cracker Barrel: This is epitomizes middle America
If were to pick some chains to take people to this would be my short list in alphabetical order
Bravo Cucina Italiana
California Pizza Kitchen
Joe's Crab Shack
Legal Sea foods
Morton's Steakhouse (it's probably the best 'chain' steakhouse)
Potbelly Sandwich works
Ted's Montana Grill
I've had quite good Asian food at PF Changs, surprisingly -- far better than a lot of the "authentic" Chinese takeout places in my area. It's easy to pigeonhole it as 'fake Asian', but it simply isn't true.
And being from 'middle America', Cracker Barrel is a mystery to me. They serve pretty lousy 'country-style' food, and nobody I know enjoys the place, yet they're always packed. A better representation of middle America would be Waffle House.
Well I'll answer since I've run across this just now, has been a while and some new things on the menu that look interesting that I'd consider trying. But back when we went somewhat regularly (ever month or two) my go-to was the "fresh fish" menu. They expanded it after a while, but the original preps were the pan seared and jerk painted, and those are pretty good. Originally it was just pan seared tilapia or jerk painted salmon, and either of those combos still works well but now they also have mahi mahi all the time so I'd probably be more likely to get that. Pan seared was originally paired specifically with the cinnamon mashed sweet potatoes, and that combo works nicely.
Another thing we liked about it for a while was solid service. This fell off after a couple years at the local location, perhaps a change in management or something, or nasty corporate change, it is Darden after all. They have nice goofy tropical drinks if you like that. ;-) They long since removed the best dessert, pina colada bread pudding, but they did post a recipe for it. They do still have, amazingly, two of the best appetizers: the fire roasted jerk shrimp and the creole baked goat cheese. The latter was taken off the menu for a while and then returned. Those alone are worth going IMO.
I think I'll have to stop in again next time we go out that way, to the airport or something (it's near the airport here in Pittsburgh area). It's been ages and this makes me hungry for it. ;-)
re. Red Lobster
Though I am an east coast snob and I buy lobster live and cook em at home I have a scoop on RL. A friend from here worked his way through grad school at a Red Lobster in Arizona and did say that the lobsters were delivered alive regularly.
That's not to say I havent cooked some bland lobsters (read not sweet) but at least I can say they attempt to do it right. Still I havent been to one since 1987.
I'm guessing Houston's and Ruth's Chris don't really count.
Now that the W family includes kids, we've been to most of these places. My $0.02:
Cheesecake Factory: decent food, ridiculous portions. I'm proud to say I've never ordered a slice of their cheesecake due to being too full (and having leftovers to take home).
Texas Roadhouse: There's one near our kids' former day care, so we know it well. Very respectable chain food.
Olive Garden: Horrific
PF Changs: Ok, would go if there were no real Chinese restaurants in the area
Carabba's: Some locations are good, others are awful. YMMV
Red Lobster: Horrific
Outback: one of the few chains we used to go to pre-kids. Good food, albeit extremely unhealthy (last I heard)
Cracker Barrel: Gutbusting, heavy food. Eat breakfast here and you won't have to eat for the rest of the day..
Red Robin: Not bad at all. In our current rotation.
Longhorn: Have not been, but have not heard anything good.
Golden Corral: My in-laws love it. Even my kids aren't really that crazy about it. I find it disgusting.
Applebee's: I call it Crapplebee's. Next!
Chili's: Decent but bland food. The name is utterly misleading.
TGIFriday's: See Chili's. Dull.
Ruby Tuesday's: See TGIFriday's and Chili's.
As someone correctly noted downthread, these are far from America's best chains.
re: Bob W
I agree with much of your analysis.
CF: have liked my food but always have leftovers, haven't been is several years
TR: went once. Didn't get the hype. Always a huge wait.
OG: horrific as stated above.
PFC: used to enjoy. Now in PA we only have crappy Chinese buffet nearby so would gladly take this if still as good as it was buti've heard the quality has declined.
Carraba's: hit or miss by location. One near us is decent.
Red Lobster: terrible outside of my area. One if inly seafood choices nearby. Have maybe 3 unoffensing entrees total.
CB: only for breakfast egg sandwich.
RR: only for BBQ chicken whiskey river sandwich and clam chowder. Don't like the burgers or fries and service is always terrible.
Longhorn: mediocre and overpriced
GC: never been
Applebees: only when craving something that inevitably dissappoints, avoid mostly
RT: will eat a few things but menu changes often and I rarely go so it's hit or miss
oops! Forgot Outback: like most of the time
While I try to avoid chains generally, Olive Garden and probably Golden Corral from what I hear about it would be the only two that I refuse to patronize outright.
If anyone wants to confirm that America has an obesity problem, just look at this list. Though not familiar with all the chains mentioned, the ones I am familiar with offer gut-busting portion sizes with outrageous calorie, sodium and fat levels. Just looked at Ruby Tuesday's fit and trim menu on line - a couple of reasonable choices, but some have upwards of 700 calories. Heck of a lot if one's trying to stick to 1200 calories a day.
Living in California, I'm used to being able to see the nutritional values of most chains I'd consider going to. I was amazed when it wasn't available when traveling out of state last summer. Should restaurants routinely provide nutritional information? Or, 'portions per order' information?
It's a survey of just 4500 people, taken from a pool of supposedly 300,000 (can't believe they have that many) mystery shoppers from one firm. Most of them don't have the sort of tastes people reading Chowhound, even on the chains board, would have. ;-)
It never should have claimed "best" though, that's a bit of a stretch. It should claim "favorite" which would be more appropriate and probably about right. I don't think they looked at fast food/fast casual. That rules out things like Five Guys. Seems to be all table service, although Golden Corral is a little weird.
Um, why, because you think this study is statistically representative of "best"?
Here's the article text I'm referring to. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nadiaarum...
I can buy that the 4500 is representative of the 300k statistically, that's fine. I don't buy that these particular people from the mystery shopping outfit can pick out the "best" chains. They can pick out their own favorites. And those favorites aren't likely to match up with people reading Chowhound, even on the chains board.
"Best" is a totally subjective term. However, given the criteria outlined in the article then yes, you have a statistically significant sampling. I'm not going into Chili's and demanding foie gras. I would not personally rank the chains in that order, but it appears that their methodology was valid.
I like Cheesecake Factory; Golden Corral; Chili's; and Mimi's (which would have been my first choice)
Don't care for Outback; Red Robin; TGI Friday's (except for their shrimp cocktail); PF Changs; Red Lobster; or Applebee's.
I've never been to or heard of Texas Roadhouse or Longhorn.
I have heard of Carrabas, PF Changs, Cracker Barrel, and Ruby Tuesday; but have never been.
I have looked at Cracker Barrel menu online and didn't see anything of interest. They don't have them here in southern California.
What do you propose as the best (or least worst) chains in their place?
Keep in mind that they were the top among a shortlist of 51 casual dining chains (I haven't found a list of the other restaurant chains on the list).
Chains much worse than Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Red Robin in my opinion include Bob Evans, Shoney's, O'Charleys, and Ground Round.
While those four are agreeably poor, I'm not so sure they are much worse than Red Lobster or Olive Garden.
While I admittedly avoid most chains (learned experience), a few that I will return to (no particular order, but far better than most of those in the referenced article) include Outback, Longhorn, Ruby Tuesday, Pot Belly, Carrabba's, Landry's, Legal Seafood, Benihana's, Sonny's BBQ, Bertucci's, Mimi's Cafe, Sweet Tomatoes, Five Guys, Dreamland BBQ, Chick Fila, D'Angelos & Shake and Shake.,