HOME > Chowhound > Chains >


Is there such a thing as a fine dining chain?

This is more of a philosophical post with regard to a project I'm working on. I'm trying to compile a list of fine dining restaurants that are not local, but are technically chains. I've encountered the usual celebrity chef restaurants a la Wolfgang Puck in NYC, Las Vegas, & LA. However I feel as though I might be missing other restaurants like Le Cirque. Are there any thoughts or suggestions about how I could do this research. Furthermore is there a chain you think I'm missing. Your help would be very much appreciated!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. There is the Capital Grille chain in Boston, that's a fine dining chain.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jamieeats

      I'd add Ruth's Chris as being close to fine dining (higher end steak house).

      1. re: jamieeats

        I would add Flemings to the list as well.

        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          Agree on the Flemings even though I feel guilty for going, but they always treat us so well and the food is always top notch and the wine is good too. I haven't gone in years though as we try to focus on locally owned places.

      2. Emeril Lagasse's chain of restaurants are considered fine dining, I think. Ditto for steak places like Ruth's Chris, Flemings, Palm, Del Friscos. Roy's and McCormick and Schmick's maybe?

        2 Replies
          1. Thanks everyone! This seems to be a good start!

            1. We have a restauranteur in Philly named Stephen Starr who has opened maybe a dozen places in the city and beyond. They range from high end to beer gardens. But is that a "chain"? I'm not sure as he wants to satisfy multiple tastes, while I think the key to chain restaurants is being the same no matter which location. His name is marketable tho. You know a "Starr" restaurant as a brand. And he does place his fingerprints on every venture; so it's not like he's just buying places and hanging a "Starr" sign over it. Nor is he selling his name to any restaurant for a price.

              1. Would Legal Seafood qualify as a "fine dining chain?" I haven't been in a while, but they always seemed to be quite a few steps ahead of Red Lobster and the like.

                1. in the DC area there is a management group called Clyde's Restaurant Group that runs multiple locations. while each has some individual character and nothing too exciting the food is always reliable and the level of service quite good indeed.

                  1. This would fall more under the "Morton's" or "Ruth Chris" type fine dining. The Keg http://www.kegsteakhouse.com/en/locat...


                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Davwud

                      How about Roy's? Ate at the one in Las Vegas recently and was surprised to find out it is a chain place. Food and service were both great.

                      1. re: Pedr0

                        This thread has identified high priced restaurants, but I would argue they are not fine dining. The service level, the creativity of the food, the options for tasting menus, etc are not present in any of the chains. So... what criteria would you suggest is necessary for it to be fine dining?

                        I would also argue that a restaurant Group such as star's in philadelphia or Clyde's in DC are not chains, but rather financing oragnizations that allow one off restaurants to be opened. In the case of Starr he has replicated several restaurants (Morimoto in both Philly and NY, Budakhan in both plafces..) but the character of each of these restaurants is very different, and in many ways they only share the same name. So I am not sure I would argue these are fine dining chains where similar experience meeting the criteria of fine dining has been replicated.

                        1. re: cwdonald

                          So you disagree with the OP's assertion that "the usual celebrity chef restaurants a la Wolfgang Puck in NYC, Las Vegas, & LA" are chains?

                          Would consider the Prime Rib (Bmore, DC, Philly)? What would you consider Clyde's a chain if they didn't have so many non Clyde's also in the group? Is restaurant group just a fancy way to say chain (in the case of Clyde's)?

                          I agree that "fine dining" and "chain" don't seem to work together. High end might make more sense. Though I would argue that M&S comes close to being fine dining because their menus will vary based on location and season. I tend to see chains as having more standard menus w/little variation between locations.

                          1. re: viperlush

                            Viper, I think I am more inclined to agree that the Puck is a chain, as is Le Cirque. However if each place is unique, we need to differ between branding, and a chain which I am defining as replicated experience.

                            I absolutely agree with your definition of chain Viper, I think what is a bit ambiguous for me is the definition of fine dining. How good does the wine program need to be? Prix fix option available?

                            I have had lots of negative experiences at chains, including M&S, Ruth Chris, Mortons among others.. I know they are chains, but for me they are far from fine dining. Perhaps expense account dining... corporate dining... overpriced dining.. but fine .. not usually. I guess I reserve the fine to the Per Se's and French Laundry's of the world. I have the most problem with the replicated restaurants in destination resorts like Vegas, Scottsdale, Atlantic City where the name of a celebrity chef is used, and sometimes they are trying to replicate a restaurant in a big city.. but it doesn't feel like a chain.. it feels like a product of its environment...

                            1. re: cwdonald

                              "I guess I reserve the fine to the Per Se's and French Laundry's of the world."

                              What qualifies them as fine dining in your opinion?

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                I'd agree -- limiting the description to Keller restaurants only seems to rather rarify the term. Also the idea of tasting menus being a necessary component seems limiting.

                    2. So I want to clarify that I'm compiling this list, alongside figuring out what this particular audience believes delineates fine dining from other dining experiences. I've talked with individuals who do scoff at the notion that a chain could provide a genuine fine dining experience, as well as have other individuals berate me for not considering a place like Outback as one. Overall I'm simply trying to understand and be as objective as possible about it (I tend to go for bistros and gastropubs admittedly). Frankly I've never had the privilege to dine at one of W. Puck's establishments and simply through that out as an example. Feel free to critique away, but please be courteous enough not to flame one another.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: tirah78

                        It might help if you give your meaning of "fine dining" and "chain restaurant".

                        Following this definition of fine dining ( http://restaurants.about.com/od/resta... ) I would think McCormick & Schmick's works.

                        But anything on this list of chains ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_... ) doesn't.

                        What about restaurant groups? Do you consider them chains? Abe & Louie's (Back Bay Restaurant Group) or Clyde's (Clyde's Restaurant Group)?

                        1. re: tirah78

                          I've been forced to eat business meals at six Puck restos and hated all of them - not even close to "fine."

                        2. I like the Hillstone Group. Many have different names but all have similar menus and the quality is excellent.

                          1. @viperlush. Alright, I'll give it a shot. As defined by me, fine dining is when a restaurant offers sit-down seating accompanied by table service with a higher degree of formality as reflected by the table setting, the sometimes expected dress code of patrons, and the quality of preparation and ingredients as chosen by the chefs and sommelier. This is often reflected in restaurant offering prix-fixe menus, food pairings with one another or drink, and having formalized/delineated courses.

                            A chain restaurant is a group of restaurant managed by the same business outfit. It could be a particular chef alone, or it could be a financier individual/organization.

                            Feel free to disagree or posit your opinions alongside mine. I'm not an expert, rather another food lover trying to get a feel for this. So again thanks everyone for letting me know your opinions and providing me with all of this information!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: tirah78

                              I would tend to disregard any where the menu comes down from on high and is coordinated to a national ad campaign, or where the server wears "flair", squats to take the order, offers frequent diner specials, is micro-managed by the 'suits' into being a necessary annoyance etc.

                              but rather consider ones that have some autonomy within parameters and certain standards that are expected to be met.

                              it's a fine line (Supreme Court pornography quote comes to mind "know it when I see it") and your intro is going to have to explain your definition of where Olive Garden stops and Ruth's Chris starts (arbitrary choices BTW). can't just be price point or number of locations after all.

                            2. Il Fornaio
                              Mon Ami Gabi
                              Mcormick & Schmick

                              1. the aforementioned Roys, Kincaids, Morton's, Ruth's Chris. If an entree averages over $40/$50 then to me it qualifies. Automatically disqualifying anyplace that has a uniform menu would automatically disuqalify almost anything, clearly a different agenda.

                                I don't think you could count a restaurant that has three locations in one town or city, or within some other very limited geographic area. Are there still restaurants where the waiters wear tuxedos? Really?

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  The cost of the average entree at Roys, Kincaids, Morton's, and Ruth's Chris is over &40/$50?

                                    1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                      some without sides! They can have cuts of steak or fresh fish over $40.

                                      1. re: smartie

                                        Hear ya. But I'd really be surprised if these places didn't have many entree options below $30.

                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                          Morton's and Ruth's Chris have most entrees over $30, with no sides....

                                          1. re: jeanmarieok

                                            Finally found a menu that included prices. Wow, you guys we're right.
                                            What confused me was the fact that even at the tougher reservation spots that I visit the entrees are not in the $40-$50 range. Not even close. But I guess the style of food (prime choices of meat and fish) along with being a large space with expensive decor equal a heftier bill.

                                2. Surprised it hasn't been mentioned yet...Oceanaire...upscale chain focused on fish/seafood...about a dozen locations in US.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: HDinCentralME

                                    yeah good call, very fresh, slightly retro-y menu in a good way, I've only been to the DC one but it made Red Crustacean look like Jack in the Folded Cardboard Container (I'm trying to be a nice person these days)

                                    1. Del Frisco's, Bob's Steakhouse are both chains and good.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: cstr

                                        Del Frisco's is good... its a chain... it is high priced. I still contend it is not fine dining.

                                        1. re: cwdonald

                                          Serving USDA Prime dry aged beef, really?? it's a chophouse with nicely dressed tables, pretty good atmosphere, deep wait staff, does it have to be French or something?

                                          1. re: cstr

                                            How kick ass is the wine list?

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              Quite extensive, with both reserve and large bottle format sections.

                                      2. What constitutes a "chain"? Is 6 restaurants enough? If so I like Tom Collichio's Craft (whatever) franchise. I have had some great food there in NYC and in Atlanta and consider it fine dining.

                                        1. Not too sure about the premise... fine dining for me is gracious service, gracious setting, lovely ambiance and wonderful food. Are we talking about the same thing?

                                          If so, Del Frisco, Morton's, Ruth's Chris, FLEMMING'S, Perry's,.. Maggiano's aspires, tons of regional possibilities here in the southern states.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Rene

                                            as long as your considering steakhouses, I'd have to add the Palm with more than 25 locations from NY to LA plus London, Mexico City, San Juan, etc.

                                            1. re: bagelman01

                                              And steakhouses make sense as steak is seen as a luxury to a broad demographic. People broadly will shell out for steak. It's value and expense is understood. Truffles and foie gras no where near as much.

                                            1. AFter reading the posts, I still have to wonder how one definitively nails down a definition of "fine dining." I wouldn't, IMHO, go merely by entree or dinner price. To some of my relatives, I'm sure fine dining actually IS Red Lobster. Real silverware/ and white table cloth? Maybe...but then I'd put Maggiano's Little Italy in that category and, much to my surprise, that IS a chain. What, indeed, constitutes a "chain?" Two restaurants with the same name? Luigi's Pizza has to be one of the biggest chains in the world, then, I suppose. With some research projects, defning the scope of the project so it doesn't become onerous or too focused is the most difficult part. There...my 2 cents.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: njmarshall55

                                                One earmark of a chain might be food sourcing from a central commisary or chosen vendors (and defintly Sisco).

                                                However, a fine dining chain might have a common ownership and a corporate structure but the individual restaurants leave the Chef de Cuisine to buy locally or as desired and the GM to run things as appropriate. They are part of the whole but are semi-autonomous as long as they perform within desired parameters.

                                                To recognize one you might have to know the business plan and not how it looks or what it serves. I think many of the steakhouses are franchises, Ruth's Chris certainly is.

                                              2. Perhaps the most famous/infamous one, by a certain famous French chef?

                                                Atelier de Joel Robuchon?

                                                1. There is a small 5 location chain of steakhouses called J. Gilberts. They have locations in Glastonbury, CT, McLean, VA, Overfland Park, KS, Worthington, OH and Des Peres, MO. The CT location, which we frequent is one of the top restaurants in the town. From their web page: "Our menu of Prime wood-fired steaks and seafood delivers honest food with quality ingredients, and dishes always include sides.
                                                  But we’re more than just a steakhouse: J. Gilbert’s offers quality Western-inspired fare with artful presentations and contemporary flavors that vary according to the chef’s imagination, with specialties like Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, Georges Bank Scallops and made-to-order Chocolate Pompeii Soufflé."

                                                  It is one of our favorite restaurants.